Wednesday, June 22, 2011

PTSD

The Byrds--"You Ain't Going Nowhere" (mp3)

"Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you've seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death."

I suppose that the one-year anniversary of the event was observed in the most appropriate, if unplanned, way. At 2:30AM, my cell phone rang. When I looked to see who was calling, all it said was "Blocked," which my sleep-brain couldn't quite figure out, so I pushed the button to answer the call and then held the phone to my ear, saying nothing. The caller kept saying a name I can't remember and something about how if he was going to come he would need to know where to park. I continued to listen silently, my heart pounding.

For the next 4 1/2 hours, I lay awake, recalling what had happened one year earlier: at 3AM, probably because I left the back door unlocked after grilling out for Father's Day, two men entered our house and I interrupted them just as they were beginning to look around, one going through my wife's purse, the other walking into the den, where I had fallen asleep.

There are many, many nights when I continue to listen, my heart pounding.

A slight noise, like the cat jumping from the railing to the steps on the back landing can jolt me awake and leave me listening for the next sound. Rustling wind blowing things around the back yard sounds like people. The new icemaker or even a large fly inside of a lamp in the dark or any of the noises that come with an old house can startle me and then keep me awake for hours. Waiting for that next sound which means I will have to act.

I have been in many beds in the past year. I do not like to sleep upstairs because I feel out of control. I do not like to sleep on the couch where I was when it happened because I relive it. No, I like to sleep in the basement. Irrationally, I feel like I have the best sense of what is going on in and around my house from down there. Not that there is much that I can do about it. I have thought often of putting a golf club by that bed, but I don't.

I did not buy a gun. I thought I wanted a gun, wanted to learn to shoot, wanted to spend time at firing ranges honing my skills. But I was at someone's house the other night, and he has gotten into guns, and the seeing of the shotgun in the corner, the .22 and 30-30 that lie in cases on one bed, the human target with his best "grouping" that lies on the other bed, and the pistol that he brought to the table and the bullets that he passed around so that we could compare various calibers reminded me that I want to have nothing to do with guns, that they are no kind of solution.

With the house work we've been having done, our house is safer. We are more vigilant about making sure the doors are locked. But the murder of an elderly woman during a home invasion last week, not far from us, gave all of us a reminder that we didn't want, especially so close to the anniversary.

And while I liked to think that I was managing all of the psychological issues privately, a couple of weeks ago, I got up about 4 0'clock in the morning to let the cat out, and doing that required my unlocking the lock on the door where they entered. It makes a very distinctive unlatching sound. The next morning, my younger daughter told me she heard it and was awake for hours.

We don't talk about it, but I'd guess, to some extent, we all have it.

My anxiety has ebbed some during the past year, but, if, in the middle of the night, I get in my head the one particular image of that hand reaching into the den and feeling around for the light switch, I still get a full-body chill that rises up into my scalp. It is that one image. What happened before that I recall only from the half-daze of pulling myself awake, and what happened after that is a blur. But the hand pushing the door slightly open and reaching inside remains the crystalline moment of terror. My heart rate speeds up even as I type this now.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to live with a full-blown case of PTSD, haunted by images of what you had done or seen in war, traumatized by having been at Ground Zero on 9/11, or unable to shake some other harrowing circumstances. There are simply too many "triggers" out there--sounds, media images, conversations, well-meaning bumper stickers. It would be overwhelming, especially in our graphic, violence-rich society.

Mine usually only comes at night, and not every night. If I can sleep past the magic hour of 3AM, I'm usually pretty good. By 4:30AM or so, and definitely when I can hear the first birds begin to make their sounds, I've convinced myself that we're all good, that it's too late for someone to be out trying doors of houses to see if they're unlocked. Then I know it's just the cat.

I would like to say that when I see two or three young men walking along Tunnel Blvd as I drive past that I don't wonder whether they might have been the ones, but I do. I do. And Father's Day, I'm afraid, will always be the day that father left the door unlocked, father heard footsteps creaking on the wooden floors, father yelled for help, father ran upstairs and stood while his family locked themselves in a room, father waited for the police. Father's Day is the day that father began his vigil.

2 comments:

John said...

Man, a beautiful post. Sorry that you had to endure that trauma a year ago, but this entry is a reminder of why so often great art comes out of suffering.

Jason said...

I, too, am really sorry that you had to go through that Bob, and I also love the post. As John so aptly said, at least something positive came out of something so horrible.