It only took 9 words to trigger me so badly that I had to hang up the phone and fight for control of my brain. It only took 5 seconds for my body to flood with chemicals so hard that I could feel it happening and knew I had to get clear of anything that might compound the trauma I had just experienced (being triggered can be traumatizing) before I put myself at risk of losing control of my car again. I got triggered by a comment that conjured up a past horrific experience while driving on the road I nearly died on 5 years ago next month. There is no way to explain the pain and fear.
But I can explain that I knew how to manage it. I got off the phone quickly, I started breathing deeply, I reminded myself that I can perform mechanical tasks just fine when under extreme stress – and driving is a mechanical task – I reminded myself that I was safe from the thing that was terrifying my brain even if being on the interstate at a high speed was not particularly safe, that even if I wasn’t in control I never really am anyway so that wasn’t worth expending energy on, and if I wanted to drop my plans and go home, I could do that. If I wanted to pull off the road and get someone to come get me, I could. If I wanted to never talk to that person again, I could. If I never wanted to work again, I could. If I never wanted to drive again, I could.
I got to my work meeting and parked, then sat in the car for a minute to collect myself and check in now that I wasn’t focused on highway survival. It took 90 seconds before I started feeling tired and defeated. That kind of experience – going from focused and intentional to fighting for your life in the space of less than 10 words – is one that I’m still not sure how I survive.
What I can’t explain is how I called the person who triggered me back and made sure they understood that they can never use that phrase with me again. Ever. I can’t explain how I walked into the meeting and was fully present and engaged for five hours, including calling back a difficult client during the break and walking through what he was requesting. Or how I drove straight to another client’s office to sign legal paperwork needed required for a project, checked in on project progress and had a long chat with the admin about something I care nothing about (but she does) before I got back to my office to finish and submit an application that has a critical deadline more than 24 hours before that deadline. I turned right around on a phone call and addressed an asinine response from a city official to plans I had submitted, made the “corrections” to keep the peace (even if everything was right there in the documents and the revisions were a complete waste of my time) and finished up with a 10 hour day…10 hours after I was triggered.
I ate whatever the hell I wanted for dinner. Which amounted to half a baked potato and a slice of bread in addition to what was otherwise a normal keto meal.
PTSD is a living hell. But life goes on, and I’m going with it.