I was accosted earlier to-day by a gang of teenaged thugs. It was a terrifying experience for me, especially since I’m 65, with mobility impairments, and I have PTSD.
Of course, I did what any of you would do. When the gang had circled me, I dropped my shopping, whirled into the first, and dropped him to the alley floor like a raw egg. The next one I bounced off a trashcan six blocks away. I was getting winded, so I gave vicious kicks to thugs Three and Four, and now even their grandchildren will be eunuchs. Thug number Five remembered a previous engagement. I finished my defence with a dramatic ‘WAH!!’and the thunderous applause of admiring crowds.
That’s what happened when I finally got home. What actually happened is that I mastered my terror enough that I did not try to run – that would have encouraged them. I was lucky there was no violence and this band of children in hoodies merely enjoyed frightening vulnerable senior citizens. I consider myself lucky that the power of prayer is not a myth. I was genuinely frightened. I still am.
I called the police to ask advice for the future, and an officer came by. I think he was disappointed not to take a report, or arrest someone.
It still hasn’t really hit me yet. When it does, my PTSD will know exactly what to do. In the ‘winding down’ phase, I will feel ashamed, cowardly, and weak. I will tell myself a dozen ridiculous things I could have done. My sense of being everybody’s victim will amplify many times over the next couple of weeks. I will feel guilty about having taken up the officer’s time when all there was for him to do was to suggest I get pepper spray. I will be ashamed to be me.
I’ve already talked to one person, and been told, ‘There’s no need for you to feel those things.’ It wouldn’t matter with whom I spoke, because the response is always the same.
What people who don’t have experience with PTSD do not understand is that there isn’t a choice. A single event opens the gate to numerous prior traumas, memories of denigration and verbal abuse about, among other things, being a coward. The emotional cascade I have described is inevitable. It doesn’t have to be a near-attack; it could be a flashback or a traumatic memory that triggers it.
It’s easier to manage these things when I don’t feel that I’m wrong to be experiencing the feelings I’m having. I suppose (I don’t have a lot of experience with this) it would be even easier if I were getting the kind of support that is actually supportive. ‘This is what your past is telling you. In your heart it feels very real, and it’s a terrible thing to go through. This is what PTSD does. You are actually okay.’
When I’ve been a peer support for others in PTSD crisis, I often tell them, ‘this is what PTSD does. You can feel comforted that you aren’t crazy, you aren’t actually those things you feel. In fact, as a person with PTSD, your response is perfectly normal.’
Paul TN Chapman
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