#ptsd and imagined death

december 12, 2017



i’ve 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, and this is one of mine. i was going about my day innocently enough and then it started. i imagined that my son went to bed and died in his sleep. that he got in a car accident and died from DIC while in the hospital. that he suffered a horrific accident while at work. they’re always about ugly and violent death. my father was over helping prune some trees in my front yard, and i daydreamed that he fell from the ladder and was impaled on a branch and bled to death before the ambulance arrived. then i imagined that he was attacked and killed by a car jacker while driving home.

none of those things happened in the real world but in my head, i saw them in excruciating detail. in my heart, i felt them. i sat, weeping, as i lived through the emotions of things that never were.

i used to call them daydreams but they’re closer to nightmares. it wouldn’t be so bad if my mind sent me scenarios that left me happy, full of joy, and at peace, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way.

i drift into these memories of things hopefully never to come repeatedly. i’m getting better at hauling myself out; i no longer remain trapped in the same pattern all day, but it’s hard work. if requires practice. it requires vigilance. it requires self-compassion. i remind myself that i am, although it doesn’t feel like it, in control. i remind myself that i can chose to escape. a physical jolt like snapping my watch strap can also help yank me back to the here and now. calling myself an idiot and a fool and a moron helps not at all, though that has been a historical method.

they are always and forever grim. they seemed to be designed to bring me trauma and pain.

it can be a challenge to explain them to people who aren’t similarly afflicted. i didn’t talk about them for a long time. i didn’t realize that not everyone thinks this way. i didn’t understand that not everyone lives through horrifying incidents that haven’t actually happened.

someone once asked me if it’s like seeing a movie in my head. the answer is no, not exactly. they’re more like memories. i am emotionally connected to the events i imagine. i feel them. i live them in my head. the pain, the horror, the loss, and the grief feel as real as my flashbacks.

these day trips are not uncommon in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. experiencing traumatic daydreams is actually one of the diagnostic criteria. who knew?

you’d think that finding out i’m not alone in this kind of behaviour would be comforting, it is, sort of, but i also resent knowing i’m one of many.

for a long time, i believed that the only things special about me were my mental illnesses. i worried that without them, i would be nothing. my disorders defined me. i used to argue with my counsellor about it, about how i labelled myself – i preferred to stay “i’m bulimic” or “i’m ptsd” instead of calling myself a person first, who happens to have those disorders. i discounted the idea that i was more than those things. i ignored my positive characteristics. i’ve changed my mind and am labelling myself more compassionately now.

there’s a kind arrogance inherent in labelling yourself as your illness. it’s a strange kind of gloating. it’s almost a brag. i did it because i worried that i had no other identity; that there was nothing in me that could replace the labels i’d given to myself. i didn’t believe that i was enough, just because. i didn’t believe that it was okay for me to let go of labelling myself as damaged. i didn’t believe that just being was sufficient to validate my existence.

quirks, odd behaviours, and day-mares; elephants, lions, and tigers, oh my. it’s a challenge, but i’m starting to believe that there’s more to me than the sum of my neuroses.

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