Mind Tricks

I had a strange PTSD moment this weekend. I just moved into the basement apartment of a mansion with a heated pool and a library that belongs to a relative on my mother’s side. I didn’t know he existed until a couple of months ago. My mother has been dead for 24 years this month and the extended family is not very close. We met when we realized by chance we lived in the same city. I clicked with his wife and teenaged daughter, and they called me family and asked me to move in, rent-free, no strings attached.

Sounds awesome, I’m sure, to a “normal” person. I was terrified. 

I had been kicked out of my own home at 16. Although it was temporary, I had no idea each day where I was going to sleep at night. Then, as an adult, when I called home from a shelter, I was told no, I couldn’t come back to the house I’d grown up in. So my relative’s use of the word family made me uneasy. I didn’t know how much, if anything, I should tell them about my illness and recovery, that I don’t drink, that I need privacy to disappear into my own world, and all the other harmless things I know make people uncomfortable. I ended up telling them only the last part, and they ended up running a background check to make sure I’m not an ax murderer (I’m not). And after a dinner, a chat over coffee, a trial run, and many talks with my therapist, I moved in, almost two months later.

Soon afterward, on a Sunday evening, I sat at the desk downstairs thinking about how odd it felt when I walk through the house to hear the parents laughing together upstairs in their bedroom, to see their teenaged daughter so doted upon, protected, well-adjusted, and feel the calm of predictability and safety their daughter can’t possibly understand how lucky she is to have. I suddenly heard banging and someone urgently calling my name. My first thought was someone had been hurt or locked out or I’d done something to make someone angry. I ran upstairs to find the mom standing calmly in the kitchen. “Is everything alright?” I asked. God knows how I looked. She looked confused. “I heard someone banging and calling my name,” I explained. Then, as I realized I had heard nothing of the sort, added. “I thought maybe someone was locked out.” She looked at the whisk in her hand and the nearby bowl of frosting. “It was probably me just banging the frosting off the whisk and calling my daughter,” she said. They were making cupcakes. 

My brain automatically interpreted a vague, unusual noise, that turned out to be a bucolic family scene, as catastrophic. My C-PTSD symptoms have and continue to evolve. I’ve probably experienced them all over the course of my life. But I’m coming to understand them. When I need to use GPS to find my way home on the same route I’ve used for a week or more, I know the Amygdala part of my brain that controls emotion is flooding and the left side of my brain, that I use for things like factual memory and direction is shutting down. Until I pause and figure out why, not even GPS can help me. 

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