Friday, September 25, 2015

Trigger . . .

I have PTSD.  I don't talk about it much, and I have done really well working through it. It's a relatively recent thing for me.  I'm not a war veteran, I was in a bad car accident last fall.  All the airbags deployed.  I must have instinctively turned my head away from the accident at the point of impact.  I'm left-handed, so it's natural that I would have turned my head to the left - unfortunately, because I did this, when the side curtain airbag deployed, it deployed across my right ear and the right side of my face, pinning my head to the driver's side window rather than mitigating the impact.  I was trapped in the car and when I came to/opened my eyes after the impact, I could not move and I could not see.  And there was smoke.  I thought my car might have been on fire - and I couldn't get out.  For someone who was already mildly claustrophobic, this was not a good thing.  I somehow managed to calm myself down enough to figure out a way to get my seatbelt off and open the car door, and the smoke was from the radiator.  The car was NOT on fire.  Unfortunately, since the accident I have had episodes of PTSD.

I've worked through the episodes I initially had that would occur while I was driving or when I was at intersections similar to the one where the accident occurred.  Now, it's very rare that I have one in the car.  I'm certainly a more cautious driver, though, and I don't think I'm the best passenger any longer because it's sometimes way more frightening when I am not in control of the vehicle.

I buy seats for plays, concerts and events defensively now - I go for aisle or box seats where I won't be crowded and pushed and shoved, and I have to make sure I know where the exits are so I can get out.

For the most part, I do really well.  I know that the accident was not my fault.  I worked with my former therapist to develop some coping strategies that really help when I'm driving, and I know that now, it's mostly very crowded situations that trigger for me - situations where I feel trapped or where I feel like I can't get out.  I left a number of holiday parties last December because there were just too many people and I was afraid that if something were to happen (you know, like a fire . . . ) that I wouldn't be able to get out.

I take the train to work every day, and I have never had any PTSD episodes on it.  I try to always get a window seat and I know where all the exits are.  I even sit in car that's more toward the end of the train because in the cars up front, people stand and block the exits long before their stop is called.  I've never had an issue.  Until today.

I made a brief post on FB about my experience today, and three of my friends clicked "like."  I couldn't understand why they would say they liked that I had a PTSD episode on the train - and then I figtured that I must not have been clear in my post so I deleted it.  But my heart rate is still up and I've been off the train for more than an hour, so I decided it might help to write a bit about it.

The train I take is an electric train and there was a problem in the main station that left tracks 4, 5, and 6 with no power.  I got on a train that never left and we were all instructed to get off the train and wait for the train to come on track 3 - it would not run express but would make all stops.  When something like this happens there are hundreds of people stuck trying to get home.  You can't get your regular train, which means that there are a LOT of people all wanting to take the first available train.

I got on the first available train not thinking anything of it.  I got a seat and they announced that there were two more empty trains coming right behind that one that people could take.  In hindsight, I should have gotten off the train and waited, but I was reading and it didn't occur to me at all that the situation might not be best for me.  It was standing room only.  People got off at every stop, but as we got closer and closer to my stop, I realized that there were still a LOT of people standing in the aisle and blocking the exit.  I started doing the breathing meditation that often helps me in the car:  Breathe in Peace, Breath out Fear. It wasn't helping very much.

I stood up just after the stop before my stop to try to get to the vestibule.  I moved past people who were not getting off at my stop, but I couldn't get out to the vestibule.  If I could have gotten out there, I think I might have been OK.  But I couldn't.  I held it together and I was able to get off the train without pushing anyone out of my way.  My heart was pounding and I just kept moving down the platform to the stairs, through the tunnel, and then practically running out to the sidewalk past the post office where I had to stop and attempt to get my fight-or-flight under control.  I walked home with my heart pounding.

I guess this is a very good reminder to me that (1) I need to pay attention to my surroundings; and (2) the holidays are coming and on the day before a holiday when people often get out early, the trains are going to be really full - I should probably plan to take a later train or stand in the vestibule all the way home.  And now the adrenaline has worn off and I'm exhausted.  Going to figure out something for a late dinner and lie down on the sofa for a little while.

My exciting Friday night . . .




8 comments:

Michelle said...

I knew about the accident, of course, but not these long-lasting effects. I'm so sorry, A. Another blogpal had a frightening experience in a convenience store which made her realize that she didn't pay attention to things around her as much as she should. I didn't think she could have done much differently. Sometimes bad things just HAPPEN to us, through no fault of our own. I don't know what the answer is, except to rely on the Lord for protection and healing.

Darth Knitter said...

I can't remember if I was one of the three that "liked" your Facebook post or not, but if I did, it was because I love and support you, not that I liked the situation you were in. That's the problem with those silly buttons.

Anonymous said...

A, you're not alone in this. I have anxiety attacks periodically and claustrophobia. Crowds tend to bring it on. And I tend to stay to myself when out in public or avoid peak times of activity or stand at the back of the room. No, I don't have PTSD, but I understand your concern. Remember that you have come a long way from the accident. You are doing well. You are a strong person.

A :-) said...

Michelle - thank you. It was scary, and unfortunately, my usual coping strategies didn't work this time, but I learned something and I think that's important. I think I will be able to do better next time :-)

A :-) said...

Tammy - it wasn't you, but thank you for that take on the "like" button. It never occurred to me :-)

A :-) said...

Thanks Anon for the reminder that I am doing well :-) In the moment sometimes it doesn't feel that way (like on that train). Your support is appreciated.

Izzy said...

I do not have PTSD, but have a lot of anxiety and claustrophobia. The first time I had a panic attack was when we were planning our wedding 9 years ago and it just got to be too much. I thought I was dying. I'd never had one before, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't focus and I couldn't get out of the room fast enough. I pay a lot of attention now to how things are when I'm out and about. I like to cruise and i've had a couple of incidents where I was in a large group of people, basically trapped and burst into tears and started to hyperventilate until Dh realized what was happening and got me out of the crowd. DH & I always go last for the muster drills now so I can be on the outside of the group and close to the door. Most of my friends are aware of my issues, but they still come up frequently. Unfortunately it seems the older I get, the more anxiety I have. I feel for you. I hope you are able to work through this. Definitely pay attention to every situation you are in, where the exists are, how far you are away from them and what is an obstacle in your path. It will help. Knitting has also helped because I have something else to focus on, but there are times when even that doesn't help.

A :-) said...

Izzy - thanks so much. I'm sorry you suffer from panic attacks. i have a friend who used to get them - maybe you could talk to a therapist, too. I guess PTSD is similar in some ways, it yanks you right back to the incident/situation that caused it. I felt like I was back stuck in the wrecked car. It's unnerving as well as, eventually, exhausting. I have not had another episode :::knocking wood::: and yes, I will definitely be paying way better attention to my surroundings.