Precieved vs Real

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with extremely challenging PTSD symptoms. I have learned how to manage the everyday symptoms that just come with living with this mental health condition by employing a whole lot of tools from my self-care tool-box.

But since the attempted break-in of my home (read about it here: Don’t Open That Door )I have experienced an increase in some very distressing symptoms including; fear, panic, extreme hypervigilance, and sleep disturbances. All of these leave me exhausted, a bit confused, and rather lost at the moment.

So what is happening? Right after the perpetrator was arrested, I felt like I did what I needed to do for my body. I stayed present, I let myself shake, move, sit, shudder. Whatever my body needed to do right after the event, I honored that. I walked outside in the neighborhood so I knew I was safe and that this was My space, not some random thief’s space. I didn’t alter my routine as far as daily living. 

I spoke about the incident with family, friends, neighbors, my acupuncturist, and my therapist. I sought support, and even though this happened in the bright sunshine of the morning, we installed four new security lights. Importantly, I understood how random this was and that I was safe in my house.

About a week after the attempted break-in something felt amiss. I began to have hellacious, screaming nightmares every night. The same nightmare every night; sometimes multiple nightmares in one night. My anxiety is increasing and I notice I’ve become even more hyper-vigilant coupled with full-blown panic attacks or crippling fear.

I began to keep myself tuned in to the part of the house where he tried to break-in and my eating has become a bit disordered. Also, the comforting settling noises of my house have now become a constant ask of, “what was that noise?” These are huge, uncomfortable, and exhausting symptoms. I was totally caught off-guard by them and I could not figure out why after being so purposeful in getting good, solid support after the event that this was happening.

My therapist has been working with me to catch myself with my increasing avoidance behaviors. She is trying to encourage me to take back the parts of my house I’m now avoiding. We’re working on new sleep tools and she is working hard on having me acknowledge the fear, accepting it, hearing it, thanking it, and letting it know we are safe. Good, good things that are helping me find some control, self-compassion, and grounding.

Yesterday I was speaking with another survivor who had similar pervasive trauma like I did. She suggested that I have lived with the perceived threat of my perpetrators coming to hurt me (or insert threat here) for decades and that this attempted break-in with the drama and the intensity around it was indeed a real threat to my safety.

This was a real light-bulb moment for me. Real vs Perceived! It made absolute sense in my mind.

Most people would be upset and a bit traumatized by confronting a person actively trying to break into their house. For me, it had activated all the times in my past that I had felt scared, unsafe, violated, and feared for my life. Days after the event, I spoke with a woman who lived in the senior-living apartment building where he broke-in and vandalized before he came to our house. When  I heard how violent he was, and that he was indeed trying to find a place to hide, in my mind he became even more dangerous to me. A real threat in real life.

I know logically that this person will not be coming back to my house. I know that this was random and not personal, and I know that this triggered an avalanche of PTSD symptoms that had laid dormant for a long time.

All these things are true, and I will find my way back to the middle. But for right now-after all these years of learning and repeating that I’m safe and that my fear was because of a perceived threat, I have now (again) in my life felt the fear of a real threat. This may be a small part of the healing process of the intrusion, but to me it’s an explanation and a jumping-off point for understanding how my mind is working and why I am, again,  working through the oh-so-tangled web of PTSD.

Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash

Don’t Open That Door!

How many scary movies, thrillers, and mysteries have we seen where we find ourselves saying out loud, “don’t open that door!” And then joke because of course, they were always going to open that door, answer the phone, or look under the bed.  Often after we scolded the protagonist, we would add,  “I would never do that!” And then real life happened, and I Opened The Door. 

This past Monday morning at 7:15 with the sun shining brightly, someone was actively trying to break into our house.

I heard a noise and was walking to look out the window, thinking that something was going on across the street. As I was walking towards the window, my dog bolted past me to the locked deck door, where I saw the screen was open and a man was peering in the bedroom window where my husband was sleeping.

It was as if something went primal in me. Without any thought, I unlocked and opened the deck door, went out, and started screaming at this robber. I was yelling, “Who the f**k are you, and What the f**k do you think you’re doing?” I was wild and aggressive, approaching him with so much anger and fear that I didn’t even realize what I was doing. This was not smart for So many reasons.  

First, I opened a locked door and entered a small space where this perpetrator was leering into my house after trying to get into the door. As I’m yelling, I put myself within six inches of him, with the door wide open behind me.  I’m not even 5 feet tall and the only thing I had on at the time was a sleep shirt. No shoes on the snowy, icy deck just me in a t-shirt yelling and becoming more verbally aggressive. I must have scared him because he turned around and started going back down the stairs. He said something to me, and I mom-scolded him, wagging my finger yelling “I’m calling 911.”

I went into the house and called 911. Almost immediately two squad cars pulled up in front of my house. The person was standing there taking off his jacket and dropping all his stolen goods as the police pulled up. Apparently, this person had gone on a robbery spree at some senior-living apartments and the police were down the street when I called 911. I watched him get arrested and taken away.

One of the police officers checked our house and cars and made sure we were ok. I told him how I confronted him, how I just didn’t even think about calling 911 at the moment when I saw him on the deck. I told him that I was so shocked because I acted exactly the opposite of what we are all taught to do and I understood how much danger I put myself and my family in. 

The officer listened and then sternly said to me, “Don’t ever do that again. This guy is so high he doesn’t even know what planet he’s on and that could have turned out very badly.”

I understand that he could have had a weapon, or he could have easily moved me aside and walk through the door that was now wide open which would have put us in a potentially very dangerous situation. I’m so grateful and relieved things turned out okay.

So whoa! The after-effects of that event has been a roller coaster of processing. First, the physical and emotional dump of adrenaline was exhausting and confusing. I made sure on Monday to take lots of walks around my neighborhood so I understood that it’s a safe place to live and that this is the first incident we’ve had in 22 years.

I reached out to people to get some good support. I needed to tell people what happened; to talk about it. I knew my PTSD triggers were activated but didn’t quite know which symptoms or memories were going to come oozing out.

And ooze out they did. Every fear of being hurt again was front and center on Tuesday and Wednesday. That feeling of not being safe anywhere in the world was right there; front and center. My hyper-vigilance, fear, nightmares, anxiety were all front and center for two days after the event. 

Today is three days after the incident. I’ve settled down, we installed 4 more security lights, I’ve received wonderful help processing this with my therapist who had some good ideas and grounding tools for symptom management, and I have wonderful support from friends and family. 

Unlike those first twenty years where there was no support and no resolution, this incident had both. Although still feeling violated, I do hope that person gets the help he needs and perhaps chooses a life of no drugs and no crime.

For me, I learned that I had the capacity to fight-not just flee or freeze. I could never fight any of my perpetrators in my past. It wasn’t an option-ever! It appears now I can and will. There were many lessons on Monday morning, and the ability to fight for my safety was one of the takeaways. But by far,  the biggest lesson I learned is, Don’t Open That Door!!!

photo image: Pexels

Fireworks and PTSD

We are heading into the week of 4th of July.  The holiday lands on a Thursday this year. The firework store billboards are now up, looming huge on the side of the road, and the fireworks-stands seem to pop up out of nowhere in the parking lot of strip malls. Business must be pretty good, because already many, many people are shooting off fireworks and firecrackers at all hours of the day and night.

I understand the fun and enjoyment some people may have from setting off fireworks. Although there are many legal fireworks for sale in the state where I live, there is a never-ending supply of both legal and illegal varieties lying in wait for the excited revelers to buy just across our state-line. There you can purchase the big ones, the percussion of which shakes the houses in the neighborhood.

We have become accustomed to many of our local county fairs shooting off a fireworks display at the end of the night before they close down for the day. But over the last few years, people are shooting them off at random times during the day, and the night. Sometimes at midnight or later, we will hear a loud percussive blast coming from somewhere in the neighborhood. Just one, loud blast that jolts you from sleep, and can cause great distress for animals, and young children.

Unfortunately for some of our combat veterans, the random fireworks/firecrackers going off can be extremely anxiety provoking and be triggering. For some vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, that string of firecrackers may sound like automatic weapons fire, and the big explosions may sound like the IEDs that threatened so many of their lives.

Flashbacks are a horrible reliving of past traumatic events. When you are setting off these illegal fireworks, chances are there is someone hearing them who are struggling with their combat-related trauma.  If you are unable to resist the urge to set-off those huge explosions, then please consider driving out somewhere that is less populated.

For many dogs, the sounds reverberating off the other houses can often make them disoriented and traumatized.  Their stress level becomes unbearable and some of our animals run away or get lost. There are numerous stories about the many dogs winding up in shelters, especially during the days right before and after the 4th of July.

If this is happening in your neighborhood, try talking to your neighbors who are setting off the big ones, or write them a letter. Often people don’t know that they may be causing harming to some of our vets, scaring our little children, or making our animals shake with fear.

In many neighborhoods where I live, the 4th of July has gone from, the ooh and ahh of fireworks displays at the local parks, to almost every house having their own sunup to sundown fireworks/firecrackers celebrations.

People who suffer from PTSD, (whether it is combat-induced or trauma-related) will try to do what they can to take care of themselves over the next week. Typically, I would escape to the secluded boundary waters canoe area for four days, coming back after the 4th. This year, I need to stay home and care for my dog who is becoming more and more agoraphobic the past few weeks with the increasing lighting of firecrackers at all hours of the day and night.

Please be courteous when setting off your fireworks and firecrackers at your home. Be thoughtful not only of our veterans but also the small children, the elderly, pets, and others who may suffer from illness and startle easily.

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

Time to Press the Reset Button

When I react from a place fraught with anxiety
and heavy-leaden exhaustion.
When anger, frustration, and thick frenetic energy courses through
my body and mind, leaving me breathing hard, and tight as
if I had just run a marathon, top speed through
the seven gates of hell.
When I can’t stand to think, read, engage, or ground.
When that becomes my existence, my life, my scraggly mood than
I know that I need to press my Reset Button.
My Reset Button reminds me that I’m able:
To experience and not think
To listen and not speak
To allow time to play and laugh with glee
To rest and not judge
To connect with the trees, water, fire, and land
To leave worry and self-doubt behind
To Just Be
I just pressed the Reset Button…I can breathe!

©words and photo: Alexis Rose

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

The Body Electric

I’m going to
Dance it off
Jump it off, sing
Shake out my hands, then my feet
Take a deep breath, maybe two
okay three
Exhale!
Incorporate the possibility that maybe
it’s just frenetic energy.
That it’s not the beast of anxiety
gnashing its teeth, trying to turn
a passing moment, a fleeting thought, a gust of wind
into the choke-hold of frozen fear and breathlessness.
Dance, walk, sing, breathe
A symbiotic relationship with a frenetic moment of the body electric.

©Alexis Rose, Photo by Daniel Wirtz on Unsplash

Thank you for reading my new book, If I Could Tell You How It Feels, available in both ebook and paperback from Amazon.