Well, saying a moment is a bit silly; PTSD is constant…but sometimes there are just moments where it comes to head. Or when I realise actually how much the past abuse has impacted on my ability to do some “normal” things.
Like this morning. I found myself in a situation which, arguably helpfully, meant I saw one of the symptoms that I simply had never noticed or considered before. I’d thought my behaviour to be entirely normal and reasonable. I was asked “why can’t you ever be five minutes late? Why is it such an issue?” My immediate response was “I just need to be on time! I can’t be late! Or early!”
But why? Why, when I was saying this, did I find myself suddenly in floods of tears and absolute panic at the idea I would have to be five minutes late? Why can’t I afford myself 5 minutes?
I cried…I left, I cried…I phoned a friend, and kept crying, I got onto campus and hid in the girl’s toilets, and cried some more. I felt ridiculous. My friend asked if I was okay… how do I explain “the thought of being five minutes late did this to me?” I self-analysed. I had now realised there was an area of my behaviour that was clearly dysfunctional. I explained that the idea of being late, or early, terrifies me. When you’ve been on the wrong side of the five minutes too many times, you become scared of it. Like in the past; if I’d not been five minutes late maybe that child wouldn’t have got hurt, maybe my girlfriend from years ago would still be alive, maybe I could have prevented the horrors that happened. If I hadn’t been five minutes early, maybe I wouldn’t have been the trigger that caused more abuse, or maybe I could have prevented whatever horrors happened after I left. Somehow I need to always be precisely on time, which is never the case because no two clocks are the same, and so I’m constantly stressed and wound-up. This is especially the case if I’m going to meet a friend, as was today, because I have this complete heart-attack that if I’m late something awful will happen to them, that I could have prevented had I been on time. Sometimes this can have me crying and shaking and I run to make sure I’m on time. Every minute of the day that passes scares me; my life for years was so unpredicatable and could change so fast that I’m constantly expecting it to change. When I was younger I could be curled up in bed asleep one minute, with children around me…and the next minute a man comes running into the room and starts beating us up and holding a gun to our head until we conform to his desires. It could change that quickly. This hasn’t left me.
It’s in some ways harder now that I’m safe, because the changes are far less and so I’m ever-more up tight and waiting for the huge traumatic change that never happens. In a normal world it’s generally okay to be a few minutes late or early, but it gives me a complete heart attack everytime. I refuse to wear a watch because the idea of watching a minute pass, and then another minute pass…it just makes me go cold. I feel sick just thinking about it. I’m either scared of whether the next minute will suddenly be horrific, or I am back in the cold cellar, tied to the drainpipe, and counting the minutes. Counting the drips was the only way to keep a sense of time, and it was a bizarre form of torture. It was extremely lonely and everytime I was convinced I’d be left there. Each minute that passed felt like another minute nearer to starvation.
I’m scared of time. I remember as a child I’d stop the watches and clocks in the room; I got told off for it at school a few times. It wasn’t because I wanted to be annoying; I just wanted to pause time. It scared me watching the big “second” hand ticking away, round and round, and watching time pass. At school it was just ticking down to when I would be home, and therefore where the abuse would start again. At home each minute just meant another extreme change. Trapped in a cellar each minute meant a second closer to…what exactly? Being let out and tortured? Or dying of starvation? The hours I spent wondering which would be the better deal frightens me now. The idea that it was normal to wonder whether torture would be better or worse than dying alone in a cold cellar. The number of times I’d arrive to a scene of something horrific and know that if I’d just been on time, it wouldn’t have happened.
My fear of time, as random as the fear is, is a part of the PTSD. I had never realised. I believed my behaviour to be entirely normal and it never occurred to me that nobody else panics so much if they’re running a couple of minutes late.
Something my friend said helped a bit though…that I should also remember the times when I was there to prevent something happening, which are far more than the times I was too late. It’s just so much easier to focus on what went wrong, than what went right…or as “right” as it can do when trapped in a world of abuse.
So this is an area of PTSD I can start working on, now that I’m consciously aware of it. Somehow I need to gradually work so that 5 minutes isn’t so scary, and then 10 minutes…and so on. Who knows, maybe one day I might be able to wear a watch.
It sounds mad, but it really scares me. The idea of being “happy” with being five minutes late for anything sounds miraculous. Time frightens me. It’s unpredictable, counts down to…who knows, and everything can change so fast…
What a random fear. PTSD is a funny thing…