My name is Daniel and this here is my brand-spanking new blog! I’ll level with you. The reason I’m starting this blog is because I won’t have a job in February 2016. Well, to be slightly more accurate, my contract of employment won’t be getting renewed. Shitty, hey?
I work for a call centre that pays pretty well. But to honest, I don’t enjoy it. I work there because I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and there’s a part of me that thinks that it’s all I can do, all that I’m good for. It’s obviously a little more complicated than that (and it’s obviously not true, either!), but I’ll keep going, it’ll make more sense in a moment.
Sometimes, I get really bad flashbacks when I am working. Someone looks at me funny, or I stuff something up, or I get feedback that suggests I should have done this in that situation or that in this situation. And I go in to panic mode. Alarm bells go off and, metaphorically speaking, a red flashing light starts whirling. The room gets fainter, the lights get brighter. My heart starts to pump furiously and my stomach aches as though I’ve eaten 17 burritos in a Burrito eating competition.
Mysteriously, my back starts to ache and tighten, too. And my thoughts…Well, my thoughts are the topic for many-a-more blog posts. Put mildly, though, I get scattered. And scared. I can’t think straight; whereas I assume that “other people” generally can think in a somewhat linear fashion when they’re mildly distressed (e.g., “My stomach probably hurts right now because of that mouldy cheese Derek suggested I try yesterday”), I go to dark places where my doom is predicted frequently and intensely by a very frightened and self-destructive part of me (e.g., “Oh-my-god-what’s-happening-to-my-stomach-I-should-quit-this-job-you-always-quit-you’re-such-a-failure-you-should-just-end-it”). Bit of a contrast.
But the experience and recurrence of these flashbacks over the years, and in so many different settings, has led to something of a generalisation. That is, though the original threat that led to my fear response being activated has long since disappeared, my response to that threat has become generalised to various new circumstances and triggers. What a bitch, huh?
I watched Silence of the Lambs the other day and there’s a scene where Clarice Starling (I don’t care what anyone says, Jodie Foster is a total babe) is petrified and alone in a pitch black room with a serial killer who has night vision goggles on. She can’t see squat-diddley, and she’s shaking like mad. It’s a terrifying scene and, though I have watched it countless times, the need to clench my buttocks to refrain from soiling myself remains a subconscious pastime each time I watch it. To me, having a flashback feels like being in a dark, unfamiliar room with the knowledge that a harmful presence is in my midst. They say: “It shouldn’t feel like this”, but it does; I “shouldn’t think like that”, but I do. And my favourite: “Can’t you just get over it?” Empathy and personal experience: they’re a helluva thing.
You might have guessed that internally, it’s a pretty dramatic place to end up for such a minor thing to have occurred (“Somebody get this guy a Mylanta, am I right!”). And it’s not easy to talk about this stuff, either, especially as a young bloke living in a culture where traditional forms of masculinity still exert their influence, albeit in subtler forms. And while mental illness and mental health become more acceptable and relatable topics at the dinner table here in Melbourne and in other progressive cultures, still, it’s hard. After all, I’m still out of a job in February and, while I will find something else, will it be something I chose? Or something that’s chosen me because of my PTSD?
Don’t get me wrong, this blog hasn’t been created for the purpose of a free-for-all pity-party. And some people probably think I’m dead-set, bat-shit crazy. And that’s OK. To be honest, I am a little bit crazy. But with more recovery comes a more reflexive, healthy thought: “What others think of me is none of my business. And I think I’m starting to like me, too.” Shit yeah!
I’ve visited many a shrink, many a head doctor, to ascertain why this process of fear occurs at the drop of a hat. “Why do I feel like I am about to be eaten by a tiger when someone stairs at me funny, Doc?” More or less, that coke-addcited Viennese psychiatrist, Freud, was right: It’s due to some stuff – memories and events – that happened in my past that have gone unchecked for a really long time. And those events, and their memories, overwhelmingly flood back in to my immediate consciousness demanding immediate attention when I get triggered.
And it’s really hard (but not impossible, I’m learning) to think more rational thoughts when I get triggered. Slowly, the process has become uncontrollable, like – how did Robert De Niro refer to his mother’s cancer in Meet the Parents? Like an unstoppable rebel force. That’s it. It’s become like an unstoppable rebel force. Actually, this “force” may fit more or less neatly in to a box labelled Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the research for those who have it (a significantly higher portion of the overall population than is reported, I suspect) is very, very promising. But more on that in other posts.
I used to have a recurring nightmare as a child that a shadow was engulfing me, paralysing and choking me as my father and grandfather sat with vacant stares in a nearby darkened room. Only light from the TV reflected on to their faces, and when I tried to scream for help, nothing came out of my mouth; the shadow had even swallowed my ability to cry out for help. What a shitty dream, right? But what an apt and prophetic metaphor for mental illness.
Anyway, I may or may not have been very clear as to the purpose of this blog. I tend to go off on tangents when I write, like a kid who just doesn’t care about the lines in his colouring book. Its purpose is to keep me active. It’s to keep me sharp, and hopeful about recovery. Because there is hope. The purpose of this blog is to document this process of recovery as moving away from the darkness and suffocation of my shadows and in to the warmth and hope of a bright future. To comment on it, to dissect it. To offer tips, musings, insights from the battlefield that is mental illness and the Hero’s journey to recovery from it.
I look forward to sharing it with you.