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.