Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Day with PTSD

Rather than kick this off with alot of definitions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, how many people have it and why, I thought it might be more fitting to start off by describing bits and pieces of an average day from my perspective as someone who has PTSD and seems to be managing to function with the condition reasonably well.

3:30 am.

I wake up in bed with my little boy Alex standing next to me. He wants a glass of water. My twin boys wake up in turn between three and four in the morning, every morning like clockwork. They are like having an alarm clock that will only turn off (go back to sleep) after I have staggered out of bed, down the hall...provided them with their drink of water, hugs and ruffled their hair and sent them back to bed.

Normally this ritualistic waking up in the middle of the night would be bad enough. In my case it is especially bad because I know...

4:00 am.

I wake up in bed again. Somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 my other son has climbed into bed next to his Mother. They are all sleeping and snoozing peacefully. Exhausted but knowing if I don't haul my ass out of bed I'll lay on my back staring at the ceiling for the next two hours until the alarm clock goes off for work. Its quiet outside. No morning bird sounds yet. If I can just pee and fart around for a little while I'll be able to crawl back into bed before the birds start their morning routine. I know if they start up...if I'm awake until 5:00 am or so that I won't be able to go back to sleep.

So I climb out of bed. Get my own drink of water this time. I turn off a light and peer out the windows. First the back windows then the rear windows. I check the locks on the doors and make sure the place is locked up even though I did the same thing before going to bed. I don't go so far as to walk around the perimeter and check that all the windows are locked.

I -could- be inclined to do that on another night if I had been rolled out of bed by the sound of a passing police siren. A police car that rolls through the night with its siren on within a half mile of our house is sure to wake me up. A police car with a siren going within say a quarter of a mile of that sounds almost close...and at night will have me walking the interior house perimeter checking the locks on every door and window.

If one pulls up across the street I'll be sitting there guarding the door.

My name is Ed, I was an actual police officer for a fairly brief period but then worked in the security and investigations business for twenty some odd years...frequently in big city areas and I have PTSD.

With the doors checked...which I do every night around this time, I grab a book and read for a few minutes so I can make myself unwind. Most nights, like tonight...I manage to get tired enough to go back to sleep again by about 4:30 am.

That's a pretty narrow margin. If one of the kids wakes up or something after that my sleep for the night is completely fucked. The extra hour to two hours I can grab between 4:00 am and 6 or 6:30 am seems to be just enough to make me feel somewhat rested in the morning and ok at work until about 4 or 5 pm.

Of course I'm frequently floating on three to four hours of sleep each night. Not good. Not enough to be sure but when I get really tired my wife helps me out by letting me drag my ass exhausted to the point of nearly passing out into bed early...say around 9 pm when the kids go to bed.

Morning - At Work

I work to help people with head injuries recover. This is somewhat ironic because my PTSD impacts my memory in a way very similar to what a head trauma patient might experience during recovery.

When I'm not especially stressed I can focus pretty well. Sometimes though a particularly nagging thought or worry will keep floating into my thoughts. I'll realize that I only heard the first half of what someone has been telling me while the last five minutes I've been so totally absorbed by this other random thought that I hardly even have a sense of the other person or what they are saying existing.

Its like waking up in the middle of a dream but without having been asleep. I have to ask my friend to repeat the last half of what he said. On a good day I only have to ask someone to do that about once every couple of not bad really. Not even enough for someone to notice unless of course they happen to live with me...

My wife for instance was ready to clobber me after having to listen to me asking her to repeat herself so many thousands of times. Was I having selective hearing? Was I going senile? For me it was a relief when I was finally diagnosed with PTSD. At least I had something I could now understand and address.

When I'm stressed its a different story...half way through the day I get a very nasty email from a guy I accidently pissed off. The response seems way over the top from my perspective than what it should be but then, I'm always second guessing everything I do, say or write at this point.

I try to apologize to the guy even though I feel like his reaction is over the top. I'm feeling stressed out and angry but instead of expressing my anger I stuff it down inside because I'm at work and I have things to do. Also I know that reacting with anger to the guy is not going to help anything.

Feeling stressed out from the email gives me that "my head is filled to the top" feeling which I get at least once every day or two. I know that more than half of what people try to tell me at this point is going to be someone pouring more water into an already full glass...the information, questions, comments, their emotions and even entire moments dribble down my sides like water.

I catch pieces of it in sound bites and try to piece it all together like an investigative reporter trying to tape together documentary photographs on the news room wall. Trying to make some sense out of the story.

I cope by writing alot down. I make myself check my planner and notes frequently during those times otherwise I'm likely to completely forget important appointments, details...

Somewhere in the evening after the boys are in bed and its quiet in the house sufficiently for me to decompress I try to make sense of the angry email again and fail. A get another angry email from the same guy that night. He wants to talk to me on the telephone but I'm so exhausted from the day that I'm in no mood to listen to him any longer.

What's the point? Have him call me so I can have him yell at me over the phone rather than in emails? I'm half tempted to let him call me. I know if he starts interogating me or yelling its going to blow my stress level again and I'll not even be able to hear or remember most of what he says. His pissed off at the world, angry screaming bitter ugliness will shatter against my PTSD like an exploding shower of glass...

My little boy is standing next to my chair and is repeating his question. He's been standing there for I don't know how long and is asking me again to read him a story. I was in another place, completely sucked into my own angry reaction to the guy's email. Hell this time I didn't even see my boy walk into the room...or the room...I was so sucked into my own thoughts.

I give my boy a hug and answer his question.

I realize I can't talk to the guy who is angry. It'll blow my stress level for days. In a day or two I'll email him and tell him to stop contact me. I'll maybe make up an excuse to avoid the confrontation because I know how bad my concentration and ability to function is going to be for days after having to deal with him.

Later that night my boys keep waking up because they had a long nap during the day. They get out of bed over and over and over and over. I'm exhausted because I only had four hours of sleep the night before and worked a twelve hour shift today.

I can hear myself purposely...biting my words and forcing be calm....and kind...instead of flying off the handle at my kid and yelling at them to get back into bed.

I take a deep breathe and relax. I breathe. I close my eyes. I open them and smile at my boy and tell him I love him.

I ask my wife to take my boy to bed so I can crawl into bed myself to go unconscious until I wake up staring at the ceiling at 4:00 am in about five hours.

My wife, ever my angel of mercy...agrees to take my boy back to bed so I can get some sleep.

4:00 am...its 4:00 am and I'm staring at the ceiling again. I don't even have to look at the alarm clock to know what time it is within five minutes.

I crawl my tired ass out of bed and go to the front door. I click off the living room light that is always left on by my if anyone -did- happen to be messing with our cars or trying to break into the garage or something..I won't be totally back lit by the light in the living room...

I check the back door as well and wonder if I can get back into bed before the birds start to make their morning racket...

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