I was not the greatest version of myself today. During a regular weekly catch up with my manager I basically vomited every frustration I felt at her. Relentlessly. With a lot of swearing. Hopefully I was at least polite, but I’m not too sure.
After the meeting ended I felt an immediate urge to email her and apologise. I stopped myself because even I needed a break from my own word vomit, so I can only image how she was feeling.
Reeling from my surprise explosion, I switched the news on to watch Joe Biden’s inauguration.
That’s when I figured out my frustration was PTSD in disguise.
There were at least half a dozen 9/11 references in the hour or so that I had it on. I really wish PTSD had an expiry date, but it doesn’t. The references themselves are obvious triggers; they aren’t the ones that sneak up on me. What I wasn’t aware of is that throughout the week I had been absorbing news of domestic terrorism in the US, National Guard soldiers en masse, and the threat of further violence.
I am thousands of miles away from Washington, and logically I was not in danger. What’s been brewing like a bad storm in my head is the fear that there would be more violence. The kind of improbable, incomprehensible violence that killed my father almost 20 years ago. More terrorism, basically.
PTSD is really difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t have it, because it defies logic. For me, it creates a sense of panic that doesn’t really feel like panic. It basically amplifies whatever my dominant negative feeling is at the time to a level that is completely out of proportion to what is actually going on. After awhile, I can identify that I’m out of whack, but the reason why usually eludes me.
After yelling at my manager, I knew I was out of whack. Hearing the word (is it a word?) “9/11” didn’t upset me, but it snapped me back to the reality of what was going on in my head. Terrorism = 9/11 = trauma. Soldiers = 9/11 = trauma. American politics = 9/11 = trauma.
PTSD only looks for similarities between what is currently happening, and what happened to cause it. It takes root imperceptibly; a tangled thought here, some agitation there until my mind is so twisted it’s like I can’t actually see (except I can) but what my eyes are seeing isn’t what my mind is seeing, and I have no idea what my mind is looking at.
Mad, isn’t it?
The good news is that although it doesn’t have an expiry date, it’s not as crippling as it used to be. It still has that potential, but this round was mild.
The other good news is that my manager is pretty chill. I’m still going to apologise, because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe I’ll explain what was going on, maybe I won’t. PTSD doesn’t excuse how I behaved; I wasn’t in a flashback. I can feel awful and still act professionally. Honestly, I can’t remember the conversation accurately.
The best news of all, which proves that PTSD defies logic, is that there was no violence of any sort. You know, because there were National Guard soldiers everywhere. And 45 is out! The madman no longer has the nuke codes! I will relish the comfort that thought brings me for as long as I can (I give it 12 hours).
That should be enough time to untangle the knots…and then maybe work on a new strategy against these sneak attacks.