Imaginary death and PTSD.

(december 12, 2017)

i killed my son three times this week, and my father twice, and it’s only tuesday.

anxiety and ptsd can manifest in a variety of unpleasant and stressful ways: this is one of mine. i was going about my day innocently enough, when, bam!

i imagined that my son went to bed and died in his sleep. i imagined a car accident and his subsequent death from DIC at the hospital. a horrible accident at work. a fatal encounter with a random stranger i’m forced to forgive. they’re always about death: only the victim changes. at least i keep it to the pool of heartbreak.

my father was helping me prune some trees in the front yard recently, and i daydreamed his fall from the ladder and subsequent impalement on a branch. he imaginarily bled to death before the ambulance arrived. i then imagined he was attacked and killed by a car jacker while driving home. my brain never runs out of ideas.

and although none of these things happened, i see them in excruciating detail in my mind. i feel them. i sit, weeping, as i live through the emotions of things that never were.

i used to call them daydreams but they’re more like nightmares of the waking world. drifting away from reality wouldn’t be so bad if the imagined scenarios left me happy, full of joy, and at peace, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way.

i instead drift into memories of disasters that never were. i’m getting better at hauling myself out now; i’m no longer trapped by the same thought patterns all day, but it’s hard work. learning to escape took practice, staying out requires vigilance, and recovery requires self-compassion. i also remind myself that i’m in control, though it often doesn’t feel like it. the control reminder lets me remember that i can escape. i can leave the thought stream i’m following whenever i wish. a physical jolt like a snapping watch strap can also help. my de facto pattern of calling myself an idiot helped not at all, though that didn’t stop me from repeating the exercise. i didn’t talk about them to anyone for the longest time, and that’s a shame. i didn’t realize that not everyone’s brain does that. i didn’t understand bouncing between flashbacks and never-was is a behaviour you can eliminate.

someone asked me if it’s like seeing a movie in my head. the answer is no, not exactly. they’re more like memories. i’m emotionally connected to the things going on in my head. i feel them as though they were real. i live them. the emotional response feel the same as the ones i get from existing stimuli.

this kind of dissociation isn’t uncommon in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. traumatic daydreams are actually one of the diagnostic criteria. who knew?

you’d think that finding out i’m not alone with this kind of behaviour would be comforting, but it’s also not. it’s hard, knowing i’m one of many. it’s hard knowing there’s that much pain.

i used to believe that the only special thing about me was my mental illness. i worried that without it, i’d be nothing and no one. my disorders defined me, or rather, i let myself be defined by my disorders. i used to argue with my counsellor about it. i preferred to say “i’m bulimic” instead of calling myself a person first. i’m a person with an eating disorder. i discounted the idea that i was more than my neuroticism. i ignored any positive characteristics or achievements.

i label myself more compassionately now. i’m also more humble (she bragged).

there’s an arrogance in labelling yourself as your illness. it’s a strange kind of gloating, it’s almost a brag. i liked being able to give myself that label: i felt special. i also worried i had no other identity to offer; that nothing that could replace or be as interesting as the labels of dysfunction. i wasn’t enough without the problems, because reasons. i couldn’t accept the idea that my existence was valid unto itself.

neuroticism, harmful behaviours, and day-mares, oh my. hopefully, the sages are correct, and there’s more to me than the sum of my fears.

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