7.17.2015

Hearing is Believing

I have never understood why, but accepted that sometimes the very small and seemingly inconsequential things in life really strike me as profound.  More specifically, they can remind me who I am when the grandiose gestures don't even faze me, most notably when I've lost the ability to reason.  I don't know if this is something that others with mental illness (or even without!) experience, but I'm thankful for it.


(Antelope Island State Park, Utah) 

One thing that PTSD does is really lower your cognitive skills, especially in times of great stress. It's not fun to give the impression of being stupid, or internally feeling stupid because some tiny part of you, that human part, knows that you are better than this, that you're rational, that you're capable of handling things without curling into a ball.  That other part of me often sits and watches in the back, quietly and impatiently going "come on, you know better." But knowing what you're capable of doesn't change the effects and behavior of operating in what I (cynically) refer to as "Vietnam mode."

So yesterday I lay there, in the dark, trying to feel safe, and trying to not feel bad for being so stunted with my reasoning. I was upset because I had tried to paint my nails, and later noticed that I arbitrarily skipped over my right ring finger for no apparent reason--just being a space case, mentally unaware. Somehow that visual, physical reminder that my brain is not working correctly really hit me hard--or as hard as anything can when I'm bouncing around inside my own head with no real direction.  On top of being dazed and mostly dissociated, I felt disappointment with myself.  Not sure which is worse.

The inconsequential thing happened right then, when I lay down in bed in the dark to curl in a ball and submit to everything I felt. I lay on my side and put my arm up to my head, to use as a pillow. The room was silent as well as pitch black, and after a few seconds of not noticing, I was surprised to realize I could hear my own radial pulse (due to my ear being directly over my wrist.) I've taken it plenty of times, and taken more pulses of other people than I can count at this point, but I've never actually stopped to listen to my pulse as it thumped along under the skin in my wrist.

Normally my pulse is pretty weak and slow, thanks to low blood pressure and being generally healthy, but since I've been stuck in an extended fight or flight mode, it was fast and loud and strong. I think that with having a medical background I'd be typically be concerned--my body is under stress, my heart is working overtime, that's not good--but I just felt so grateful to be laying there in peace and quiet, hearing blood moving through my hand. I was thankful to be alive, obviously, to hear such a basic bodily function that happens over and over and over for years and years and years, and I was thankful that my body was making an effort to protect me. It was working hard and I could actually feel it and hear it, intimately.  So surreal for me.

I suppose the moment really had a snowball effect on my thought process (what little, broken thought process I am able to have) and one reminder turned into many: I remembered then that I am an EMT, that I have a job where I put my adrenaline and instincts to use, that I have a bed to sleep in and the luxury of collapsing on it for peace and quiet when I'm not okay, I friends to talk to who know everything...I've never had that before, people who actually know what my mental illness is--and coming full circle, I have a body that carries around my very eccentric and sometimes inefficient brain, and my body does whatever the brain tells it to do (in this case, BEAT FASTER HEART! GET THAT BLOOD PUMPING THERE'S A HUGEEEEE THREAT!!!!! REASON? RATIONALITY? FUCK EM!!!)

I remembered that even though I'm not functioning well now, I will get through it somehow and keep moving on. And that in the meantime, my blood was still moving, my body was still working. Even though my thought process was broken down into "wow, you really suck at everything, so the only option I have for you is to lay in the dark in a ball of stress and wait for death" my body simply kept doing what it has been doing for years. Hanging in there with me.  Keeping me alive.  It's no secret that PTSD is fueled by fear, but fear itself is always an overcomplication of the simple biological need to stay alive.  To fear death.  When you feel that fear in overwhelming amounts for years on end, a few minutes laying on your bed and recognizing you are actually alive may seem silly, but it was what I needed.

I hope that others who have PTSD, or any other situation that makes them fearful or stunts their ability to reason themselves out of an ugly mood or Vietnam mode, have those moments. They don't change your life situation or make you a different person--my day was still absolutely difficult and I have no idea how I suffered through work until midnight--but do they help? More than even I probably realize. And they give me hope, which is probably the most important part.

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