Monday, October 25, 2010

PTSD Observed

It hasn't been the best fall ever.  Due to an extraordinary amount of stressful events, I've been in adrenaline overload and very jumpy.  (I call it a PTSD "Flare Up")  So when we discovered that the furnace needed to be replaced, I immediately was CERTAIN that the Sears installation guys were really murderers.  (Remember my Dad was murdered by roofers)

And when we discovered mice in the pantry, it seemed like every bit as dangerous and life threatening as murderers installing a high energy efficient furnace.

And then my world was put into perspective by the discovery that Charley has cancer.

Okay here's what happened:

First of all, when the day for the furnace to arrive came, I realized that no matter how hard I tried to be rational, I just wasn't going to make it.  I am "not entirely sane" but I can see sane on the horizon.  So I looked through my phone book and at every name I asked myself, "Am I okay with this person knowing I have PTSD?" If the answer was, "Yes." I called them and asked them to call me during the day on my HOUSE phone instead of my cell phone. So the murderers installing the furnace would know that, although I am home alone with my disabled son, people are checking up on me.  My friend Eileen actually came over, which was completely awesome.  Having another person in the house was so great.  And the phone never stopped ringing!  Which made me very grateful for good friends.

It was especially terrifying when the Sears Furnace Installers (Otherwise known in my mind as "The murderers") arrived.  They had that lean, nervous look that reminded me of not only the 4 crackhead roofers who murdered my dad, but also Ralph the serial killer.  Eileen hadn't arrived yet, but I called both my brother and my friend who both know first hand what this feels like.  They didn't think I was stupid for being completely freaked out and they really helped me calm down.

So lesson one: ASK FOR HELP

The furnace is great, by the way.

For the next week or so I was only able to sleep if I turned the burglar alarm was on at night.  This is something my husband really doesn't feel comfortable about, but went along with since it was clearly necessary. (Thank you, Charley)


Then we found evidence of mice in the pantry.  This paleontologist's daughter completely freaked out again.  Even with the burglar alarm on, we are not safe from invaders!  It felt like a massive emergency and I spent way too much money at Home Depot buying things to iron clad the pantry from further incursion from these plague carrying tiny monstrosities.  Fossil mouse jaws: OK.  Mice, scorpions, rattlesnakes, etc. in the desert while camping: OK.  Live mice pooping in my linen drawer: apparently NOT ok.  Not by a loooong shot.

This might have been an over-reaction.

I mean, most people live their lives with the illusion that they are safe and in control.  They get a lot more accomplished than I do because they don't waste as much time as I do worrying.  I have no such illusions.  No one is really completely in control or entirely safe.  That's true.

But during a PTSD flare up, I also have no sense of relative danger.  Mice in the pantry, furnace installers, putting Sam in the car in the Jewel parking lot, all seem like life-threatening emergencies.  I live with the illusion that I am in constant danger and that I have absolutely no control over my circumstances.  I have trouble thinking of a good reason to leave the house.  And then I worry about invaders.

It seems possible that reality is somewhere in between the common illusion and my personal illusion.  What is needed is perspective.  Which brings me to Charley's recent trip to the hospital.  He's 58 years old and he has prostate cancer.  Wait.  What?  That's just not fair!!!!

But the thing I'm noticing is that HE is less worried about this than I am!  He is listening to the doctors and doing what is required without procrastinating.  He's a little nervous, but he's okay.  He just might be responding appropriately.

Lesson Three: LEARN FROM THE REACTIONS OF OTHERS.  They might be more sane that me.

But here's the thing I'm pondering now.  I'm really upset about this cancer thing, of course.  But I'm LESS upset about it than I was about the mice (or the furnace installers).  Does this mean that the current flare up is dying down?  OR is this just a deeper PTSD reaction?  Here's something I know how to do.  I can deal with hospital crises.  I know how to nurse.  I know how to take care of medically challenged family members.  I can and will take care of Charley.  No One is going to die on MY watch.  Christmas this year will be me taking care of Charley and Sam, both of whom will require full time, round the clock care and I'll be doing it all by myself.

Isn't that the way life is supposed to be?  No wonder I'm calm!  It's PTSD Nirvana.

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