Hijacked by PTSD

written by Joyelle Brandt

Anxiety hijacked my day today. It showed up out of the blue this morning, this frantic, anxious feeling that hounded me all day. Usually I can identify a trigger that brought on an attack like this, but not this time. It occurs to me now that maybe I spent all this time researching triggers in a vain attempt to feel like I had some kind of control over this, and today the universe is laughing at my ignorance. When you live with PTSD, all the controls you try to impose, all the tools you have for self care and regulation mean absolutely nothing some days.

A therapist recently explained to me that there are three elements to trauma: you aren’t expecting it, you don’t know when it will end, and you feel powerless to stop it. She told me that whenever I feel helpless and hopeless this will be a trigger for me. Today on top of my already high base level of anxiety, I was dealing with a toddler whose favourite phrase right now is “I don’t want to!” There is nothing that makes me feel more helpless and hopeless than a defiant toddler.

Things that are hard for me when I have an anxiety flare up:
-trips to the grocery store with my toddler in tow
-dealing with toddler tantrums
-sensory overload (too much noise, stimulation, etc)

You know what the worst time of day is? Getting dinner ready. I hate this time of day with a passion. My kids are always hyper, I feel this rush to get all the food on the table, and suddenly it just all feels like too much and I’m yelling at my kids to shut up and I want to cry and curl up in a dark, quiet corner alone. It feels like someone is sending a low level electrical current up my spine. It feels like teeth-on-edge, fingernails down a chalkboard. It feels like I want to peel off my skin and crawl out of it.

fingernails

After dinner I tell my toddler not to hit his big brother and the first thing he does after I turn around is just that. I drag his screaming, writhing body up to his room for a time out. I turn to my husband and tell him I need a Mommy time out and I am going for a walk. It’s raining outside, and I start walking around the block, trying to figure out how to release this feeling. After my second turn around the block, I find my older son waiting on the front stoop for me. I feel such crushing Mommy guilt that my son is worried about me, but I can’t go back in there yet. The next loop I walk out of my complex, and as I get more distance I can feel something in my throat. It’s a scream that wants to rip out of me. Sobbing now, I quicken my pace. I need to get to the ocean and release this scream, it feels so urgent I start to walk faster, but when I get to the forest path that leads to the water it is still covered in ice from a recent snowfall, completely impassable. I feel so utterly defeated in this moment.

Looking around me in the dark, I see all the fallen branches from the recent storm and start looking for large sticks. I grab one and give a strong heave as I smack it into a nearby tree and hear a satisfying snap as it breaks. I grab another, and another, until I feel some relief, a bit of release of the pressure in my throat. It’s not enough, but it will have to do for now. My family is at home waiting for me.

I am greeted at the door by my older son, who is still watching from the front stoop, and my toddler, who hugs me and says he is sorry. My husband puts the little one to bed, and I curl up on the couch and watch tv with the big kid. After a cup of tea and some comedic Netflix binging, I start to feel better. I tell myself that tomorrow will be a better day, and I hope that I’m right.

 

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