I’ve been attending a “movie night” with friends at a friends’ place almost every week for a few months. I will have to explain why this is tricky for me.
Those of us with PTSD have what are called “triggers” that can seem to come out of nowhere, which bring out our “fight or flight” symptoms and make us differing degrees of miserable, depending on the trigger. I think this article from About Health does a great job of explaining triggers. The article isn’t very specific, though, but I’m going to talk about one of mine anyway. I have a lot of trouble with noise. Sometimes it bothers me and sometimes I’m okay, I think depending on how tired I am and what I’ve been dealing with that day or that week. There are a lot of “coping techniques” for triggers, but it depends on, again, how you’re feeling and what else you’re dealing with if the coping techniques (such as breathing, taking a break, etc.) can take care of it right then, or if it’s time to go. Part of the problem with my PTSD is that I’m still trying to figure out what all of my triggers are and how to deal with them. PTSD symptoms (including triggers) don’t all just “show up” right after trauma. They can take years to show up, as most of mine have, and come and go (again) depending on what you’re dealing with in life.
I struggle with action movies. I thought I’d made progress with this recently. I successfully watched both The Avengers and Captain America 2 here at home on my small computer screen. So, when I went to “Movie Night” and their top two picks were two action movies, I thought I was going to be okay. My exit strategy over the summer was to go upstairs and read a book and watch the sunset. We watched Captain America 2, but immediately I could tell that it wasn’t going to be good, even if I’d seen it before. It was on a very large screen, and as people usually want to, they had the sound up pretty loud. When there was dialogue, it was okay. As soon as the action started, my body started to shake inside and the “calm” I had during the day was gone. This was way beyond the degree where I could control it in the moment. It feels like my mind and biology take over and there’s no going back. I had to gather my stuff and go upstairs. One friend insisted on going with me so I wouldn’t be alone (I am very blessed when it comes to friends) and then another followed, saying she’d already seen it and could take me home.
When I’m typing the analytical details of my illness, it makes it seem less real somehow, and the emotion is gone. The truth is is that I hate all of this. There are other things that I can do, and that I get to do, for a social life. I don’t have a car and yet friends give me rides. I can usually get the other places I need to go on the bus. I hate the weeks where I have multiple days that I have to stay home and can’t go anywhere because some family issue or medication issue has made my anxiety worse. In the moment of these things that I go through when I’m around people that I know, I get pretty discouraged. I see that everyone else is just fine with the high volume level (in fact one person requested it higher because she has hearing issues) and they want all the lights out and are annoyed when they can’t all be out. (Not when they know why, though.) But the idea that I will always be in someone’s way and that in so many ways I can’t be normal is enough to struggle over for a while. I don’t know what I’d do without a therapist who understands these things, and has been there before, and for others who are going through it as well. Is it “in our heads?” Well, our brain is in our heads, yes. Can I make it go away through sheer perseverance, ASAP, so I stop annoying people? No. It’s not a particular hobby of mine to want to annoy people that I’m related to or who don’t understand.
However, it could be a lot worse. That’s not always a lot of comfort, but I still need to remind myself. I’ve been blessed with friends and some family who want to understand. I make it to church almost every week (as long as I’m feeling well) and I need it desperately. I need it just as much to see others and their needs as I do to just be out of the house and be reminded that people care. I have two great roommates. I have hobbies that I love, and even though I can’t always do them when I want to, I do believe that things will improve and that I’ll get to. Life has ups and downs, and so does my health. Finding triggers and healing them can be really unpleasant, at first, but if it heals me then I’m all for it. I just wish that it was easier to find the triggers and to know when they were going to show up. It’s part of my “full time job” of healing, finding new methods for healing, and working to figure out how the methods I know already can apply to help me out.