What does it feel like to be triggered back to hell?
At first there is a feeling of intense claustrophobia breathing is difficult and there is a roar in my ears, intense and solid it’s almost impossible to think through it. A creeping numbness crawls through my limbs, panic slowly builds and I need to run. I need to get away from this place.
I can no longer see the people around me. My children yes, but anybody else? No.
If I am lucky it is at this point that I pass out. If I’m lucky.
If I fight too hard and my children are close by, I will fight to stay conscious but this comes at an immense cost. First of all, I am a wounded animal that is holding onto consciousness with every fibre of my body. Any attempt to hold me, contain me or comfort is seen as dangerous and hostile. There is no frontal synapse activity, the reptile in my brain is in control and it is an angry, wounded beast that knows this is a fight to the death.
For somebody observing this there is little to see.
They might notice the paleness, the waivering and trembling but mostly people are remarkably ignorant. If, again, I am lucky, I can reach my children and get the hell out of dodge. If my way is stopped or there is no escape, I have one option and one option only. Fight. And fight I do. The point of the fight is to get the aggressor to leave, to go since I can’t by any means possible.
What is happening in my brain?
God awful images upon images. Smells and sounds. Death and hell are all around and the present is switching in and out, there is only the worst of pain. Men bleeding, bloodied. Children murdered. Hacked to pieces. Pain in my body from punishments no child should ever experience. Sanity is a precious commodity and one I have fought for my whole life.
By fight I do not mean physically. In truth I am barely able to remain standing when triggered, for the most part I simply collapse. If I need to fight, it is to remain standing and push those around me who are a danger away through the only weapon I have, my innate ability to hurt with my razor tongue. Those wounds are worse than any physical bruise, I am not proud of that ability and with all my heart wish it were not so as the ability to repair the damage done is not always there. If there is a darkness in my soul it is the knowledge that I can read adults perfectly and instantly, I can within minutes digest their inner voices and I do this because I learnt I had to as a child. I had to figure out who was a danger, who had a weakness, adults were the ones that would hurt me and I made sure I had weapons to use – a child does not have physical strength but a brain and tongue that can be used to effect.
If you have a loved one that has Complex PTSD and you know they have been triggered do not try to wrap them in your arms, or talk them back to the present. If you truly love them, get them out of danger. Get them away quietly, confidently and without drama away from their nightmare. Do not insist they stay or put up with it, or get over it. They can’t. I can’t.
Yesterday my lover and his friend were chatting about army stuff. Sharing stories. I wasn’t really listening as I tidied the kitchen. But suddenly B was standing beside me mimicking a prisoner about to be interrogated with his arms tied as British trained forces tie their enemies. I literally crumpled. The image of other men in exactly that stance, smells, sounds and the emotion from that time drowned me. It can happen that quickly and without warning.
B knows better than to dash towards me and pick me up. He knows to let me be, the dogs raced over and did what they do: forming a protective shield around my inert body whilst I worked on all my learned skills to put the ghosts back in their boxes. When I could breath evenly and quietly, when I no longer had those smells in my brain I asked for help to stand up. Again, no hugging nothing that would compromise my sense of freedom, the ability to flee if I needed to.
Equally important is our dignity.
Drama and a song and dance is not what we need. Ignoring what just happened and treating it as just one of those things. That is what we need. Keep the drama for the tv.
These are very important things to know if you love somebody with PTSD.