It Comes in Waves – What my PTSD Feels Like

Lifestyle / Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Trigger Warning

Imagine I am a city. A great beautiful city that is thriving, bright and boisterous. There are some cracks, crime, and flaws in the city, but for the most part, this city is absolutely grand. Then, one day, an earthquake hits. It’s little, almost unnoticeable. It’s over before I know it and I quickly just try to forget the sudden fear I felt during it.

Then another earthquake hits, and another, and another. They get bigger and stronger and last longer and soon it tears roads apart. Buildings topple to the ground, people are screaming, fires break out, much of the city is destroyed. The big one happens, again and again, aftershocks, they’re never-ending

The earthquakes are devastating. Absolutely horrific. Everywhere I look I see something else that looks as if life will never again be good. Thankfully, the earthquake stops. Damage control is done. Before I’m even able to gain my bearings, let alone think about rebuilding, the sound of rushing water hits my ears. A tsunami hits.

A huge wave, it rushes in. I panic. This was unexpected, the earthquakes were the worst thing I imagined that could happen. I hadn’t realized I was in a tsunami zone. I freeze in terror. The water floods in effortlessly, nothing has a chance; its dirty water picks up everything in its path. It’s all consuming and it’s coming right for me. I try to run, but I’m not entirely sure what to do. Quickly, I decide to try to get somewhere where the dirty water can’t get me. The wave never seems to end, the pressure, the power, the pull. I grab onto the most stable thing I manage to find and hold on for dear life.

Eyes tightly shut, my body is cramping, my brain is screaming and all I can do is try to hold on. The tsunami is strong, and I’m just not strong enough. Slowly I feel my grip slipping, fingers sliding apart, my breath quickens and more panic sets in. I fear not making it out of this terrorizing experience alive.

I cry, scream, kick my legs and maybe I let go and start to flail in that wave. Grasping at anything, everything. I may grab something to help keep me afloat, maybe I float faster as the tsunami moves inland. At least my head is above water, but this isn’t ideal. Thankfully I’m able to find something stable to grasp, I climb up a bit and hold on with every bit of energy I have left. Everything becomes a blur, I start to hope this is just a terrible nightmare.

Eventually, the water starts to recede, slowly. It’s unnoticeable at first. When I start to come down I am still in a panic, fearing it will happen again. Wondering how in the world I’ll be able to survive that again. Wondering how I’ll be able to rebuild. I look around, seeing how much I’ve lost.

Shock, disbelief, and a myriad of other thoughts and feelings run through my brain. I start to find my senses and take a step forward. Cautious, timid, afraid. But I can’t stay like this. I want nothing more in the world than to not have to experience this any longer than I have to. This is not suitable for sustaining life. This is not how I want to live.

I look at my feet as I take the first few steps. Carefully side-stepping debris and trying to formulate a plan. I startle as I hear movement, it’s a person making their way to me. I’m both relieved and scared and sad. I’m not alone, yet what will this person be like when I make contact, and what will become of the both of us?

More people come down, some faces I know, some faces I don’t. Slowly I start to rebuild. The earthquake is over. The tsunami has hit. I am exhausted. The beautiful city everyone once knew is destroyed. There is nothing around me that allows me to see that one day life will be as good as it once was.

It comes in waves, what my PTSD feels like

My abusive relationship was the earthquake, the tsunami is my PTSD. For a long time this is what it felt like every time I was triggered. Every time I saw, felt, heard, smelled and sometimes even said things myself, something that turned on the light in my memory box filled with abuse, this is what I went through.

I was once a beautiful city. Bright, big, open and welcoming. Hopeful and constantly under development getting bigger and better. And then my was a city destroyed. It looked as if I had no future.

One day I figured out that I needed to get to higher ground when the next tsunami hit. The next time I saw that wave coming in I ran as fast as I could to a safer place. Sometimes I wasn’t fast enough, but sometimes I was. Sometimes I had other people reaching out to me, grasping for me, trying to pull me up, and sometimes I was all alone.

It felt like every day, multiple times a day I was being flooded, unable to rest, unable to recover, unable to prepare for the next one. Eventually, the waves came less frequently. I started to rebuild. It was a miserable time, and just as I started to make progress a new wave would sometimes hit. Sometimes that wave brought me further behind than where I started. But when that water receded, I was still breathing. I was still alive.

This was not only causing me extreme misery, it was also infuriating. I just wanted it to stop. Yet I couldn’t control any of it. The only thing I could do was survive the wave and start over again. I had to start with the basics after every wave. It was slow going at first, but I learned some tricks to speed up the first few steps in the process of rebuilding. That, and I gained some skill in the process.

At some point, I looked around and noticed that I had a little village. A tsunami hit, but the people in this little village always came back and helped rebuild. We all got some skill in rebuilding. Soon this wasn’t enough though. I wanted more than a small village. I wanted to be more.

Creating a town was a difficult decision. It meant that it would be more devastating if another wave hit, but it also meant that I would be another step closer to being that grand city again. A town was created, a wave it. Destruction, a village, a town, a wave… this pattern continued until one day I didn’t have a town, I had more. Not a grand city, but something more than just a small town. Small towns are simple and rather unprepared for many things. I wasn’t that small town anymore.

Now I had a few precautionary procedures in place and well known to every person around so that I was better prepared for a tsunami. My buildings were built stronger. The population grew and contained people who were prepared and willing to run for the hills. Best of all, they were all ready and willing to come back and continue to rebuild and make my city grand again.

Soon I started to set up boundary walls, I had alarm systems set and sirens put in place to give me warning of when I need to brace myself for the impact of a wave. The amount of destruction a wave would cause was never known until after the wave returned to the ocean. Yet every time it did, I was still standing. Sometimes the wave took out some people. Sometimes the wave provided an opportunity for someone to be a hero. Sometimes the wave showed exactly where I was vulnerable and I learned. I became better prepared for the next one.

My PTSD comes in waves. Sometimes it’s a tsunami, and sometimes it’s just a small storm that caused whitecaps. 2 years later and most days I feel like I’m a large town that is ready to gain the status of a city. Nothing grand, but I’ve got some major development plans for the future.

The tsunami hits so rarely, and I’ve done my best to prepare for the next big one. I never know when it will hit. I never know how big and strong it will be. But I’m not as afraid of it happening anymore. I know I’m capable. I know that in the middle of a big wave I can easily get swept up, but I have so much around me to help me stay above water. And I have so many people who are dedicated to reinforcing and rebuilding that once grand city. Only with plans to make it even more magnificent than it once was.

This is my PTSD. It comes in waves.

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