A New Acronym for Tim: PTSD (On top of OCD, ADD, MDD, and JKLMNOP)

Acronym postOver the course of my journey with mental health problems (my whole life but only 15 years since I saw a doctor for the first time), I’ve been diagnosed by various doctors with the following mental health problems: OCD, Anxiety, ADD, Depression, Bi-Polar II, and just recently, PTSD. This is NOT to say that I necessarily have all of these issues, as any decent doctor will admit that diagnosing mental health issues is a moving target. Even the best doctors in the field can never be entirely sure what diagnosis someone’s symptoms mean. As my doctor says, “I treat symptoms, not diagnoses.” I appreciate her honesty.

So the PTSD diagnosis came from my trip to the Amen Clinic to have my brain scanned…not that they know what to do with the pictures of my brain, but hey, us Type-A folks need to feel like we’re making progress, ya know. Through the conversations, tests, and scans, the Amen Clinic doctor added a new diagnosis (should I call it a “guess” instead?) to my profile: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Hmmmm. I’ve never been to war or robbed at gunpoint or left alone with a drunk clown…In other words, I’m not sure exactly how I could have PTSD as my life is largely trauma free, other than the fucked up brain. Then again, as I’ve researched PTSD, I’ve come to realize that the actual traumatic event isn’t even necessary. What matters is how one responds to his/her environment.

Example: Baseball practice.

As a child, I was mortally afraid I would be abandoned by my parents – obsessively afraid might be a more apt description. Because of OCD, when I was left anywhere by my parents, I immediately began to obsess about whether they would return or not. I watched the clock as I imagined how it would all go down: Everyone else’s parents would gradually come for them; the adults who were supposed to wait until everyone was picked up would need to leave for some reason, reassuring me as they left me waiting alone, “they’ll be here soon, I’m sure. Gotta run! See you next time.” Then I would wait and wait and wait, growing increasingly terrified that my worst nightmare had come true. In the coming days and weeks, no one would believe my story and help me find my family. Instead, I’d become truly homeless, truly alone. (Yes, I’m well aware this is/was illogical. What, are your fears all entirely warranted? Don’t be all judgy, please.)

For some reason, this fear was particularly acute at baseball practice. It was so bad, in fact, that I remember the year I quit playing baseball. The decision wasn’t an easy one because I really loved playing baseball. But the torment of practice – the lead-up; the drop-off filled with questions about when and where my parents return would happen; the inability to pay attention to anything during practice because of the scenes running through my head; the terror that increased when my parents weren’t the first or second or third parents to retrieve their child; the holding back or hiding of tears that would make me look like a sissy to the coach and the other kids…the all-consuming relief when they finally arrived; the shame I felt when I assumed that they could see right through me and must be thinking, “Were you seriously afraid…AGAIN!!!…that we wouldn’t come back?!”; the internal promise that that would be the last time I let my brain torture me like that; and then, the next day, the dread of next week’s practice would begin, unceasing, until I saw my parents’ car returning for me the following week, and the few moments of relief would begin again. Oh, and the shame.

So after a few years of trying to quit being such a damn baby, I gave up and decided that simply quitting baseball would be the simplest solution. I made something up about why I wanted to quit that sounded more credible (cue the obsessive fears of having told a lie and being damned to hell) than “because practice scares the shit out of me,” and I never played organized baseball again because the trauma of going to practice.

Wait. There it is: Trauma. Not the kind that everyone would see as trauma, like surviving a landmine explosion that leaves the people on either side of a soldier dead. But here’s what I’ve come to learn as I’ve studied this: Like beauty, trauma is in the eye of the beholder.

If someone is traumatized by the Slinky that chased him down the stairs as a child, who am I to judge him for his refusal to drive within a mile of a Toys R Us? If we’re all honest, we all have irrational fears. But some are more traumatic than others thanks to the way our various brains process them. All that matters is that the person with PTSD experienced something as traumatic.

(Amusing side note and a true story: I once had a friend who was so petrified of cockroaches that she stayed with her parents (this was a grown woman) after waking up in the middle of the night to something tickling her face. It could’ve been her hair or her sheets, but because it also could have been a roach, off she raced to her parents’ house where she would be safe from the trauma of roaches. Supposedly.)

Funny, no? Unless you’re the one whose terrified of something that others don’t give any thought to.

As I’ve pondered it, I’ve realized that I don’t have PTSD, I have PTsSD: Post Traumas Stress Disorder. There’s no singular trauma that caused this doctor to diagnose me with PTSD, in other words. My traumas were the small sort that an overly frightened child experienced as he went to baseball practice. Oh, and school, and Sunday school, and friends’ birthday parties, and well, just about anyplace that didn’t involve his parents’ presence.

Itsy bitsy teensy weensy daily, hourly, minute-ly, second-ly, baby traumas that raised my antennae to high alert. All. The. Time.

And there you have one of the key components of PTSD: hyper-vigilance. Like a soldier who can never feel at peace because that landmine went off when he wasn’t paying attention, so if he just pays attention ALLTHETIME he’ll avoid the next landmine, I, too, pay attention allthetime because the things I’m afraid of can “explode” out of the jack-in-the-box at any moment. I live on high alert for indications that people might abandon me as a friend, that I might get fired, that my children might die suddenly…that something atrocious WILL happen if I’m not alert. It’s sort of like a superstition that tells me, “Tim, it’s the people who don’t pay attention to whom disaster happens. Keep paying attention and you’ll ward off the horrific TRAUMA through your vigilance. But you’d damn well better stay vigilant. OR ELSE!”

So because of all this, I’m trying a new and very funky form of trauma therapy: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Here’s how it works: I bring to mind a specific traumatic moment from my past and a therapist moves his finger back and forth while I am supposed to “track” his finger AND keep the trauma in mind. That’s it. I think of a trauma and move my eyes, and I pay $150 an hour for it, too.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s a highly researched and promising new form of trauma therapy. The current theory is that the eye movement has a similar effect in our brains as REM (not the band, the Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. For whatever reason, moving our eyes back and forth triggers something in the brain that helps it process information in a healthy way. Feel free to Google it if you think I’ve been hoodwinked by a snake-oil salesman into expensive “therapy” sessions that will do nothing more than leave me with tired eye muscles. It may not work for me, but it’s certainly a growing form of therapy in a field that needs to make some progress quickly! I’ll write a future post or two about EMDR’s impact, but for now, as always, it’s nice to have a semblance of hope that something might actually help fix my brain. We shall see.

At the end of the day, the reality is that we all have irrational fears and “baby traumas” in our lives, so I don’t write this to complain or to prove how badly my brain functions. It’s just been eye-opening for me to take note of how hyper-vigilant I am, and thus how “on track” this new diagnosis might well be. And since writing about things helps me to process them, I share this with you who might be encouraged by my over-sharing ways. Mostly, I write because it helps me (yes, I’m selfish like that). And because it might help someone else (this part makes me feel better about myself). Whatever the reason these sorts of burdens are placed on various shoulders (I’m the farthest thing one could be from a “God-gave-me-this-struggle-so-I-can-help-others” person…happy to share the flaws in that way of thinking with you in a different conversation), perhaps my attempts to process my own confusing existence can be of help to you or someone you know.

Finally, let’s have some fun with our fears…

I’m hesitant to put this out there for fear (irrational?!) that no one will respond, but I think it could be both amusing and relieving to other readers if some of you would share your irrational fears. If you’re up for it, post a comment with your irrational fear. Feel free to use a pseudonym if that helps you get past your irrational fear of responding to this post for everyone in the world to see, thus causing you to become a Monica Lewinsky-like pariah whose only hope for a future job is to write a memoir about what life in hiding is like and what possessed you to do something so foolish as to put your irrational fear on the internet in such a cavalier manner.

But really, I can say with 37% certainty that you won’t regret it as much as Monica regrets her indiscretions.

(Scroll down and take the poll)

 

 

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11 thoughts on “A New Acronym for Tim: PTSD (On top of OCD, ADD, MDD, and JKLMNOP)

  1. My childhood was filled with nightmares about Mister Clean. In these nocturnal sagas he had a wife (Mrs. Clean, of course) and they used to chase me up and down endless aisles of washing machines and dryers. No matter how fast I ran from one of them, the spouse would pop up and terrify me. I’m pretty sure that’s why I have always detested laundry and housework…it’s all just a cruel, clever trap.

  2. I’m not really sure whether this is irrational or not (I’ve been informed by several friends that it is), but I always have a fear in places like libraries or coffee shops that everyone is watching me and judges me when I cough or sneeze or trip over my chair (which happens more often than I’d like to admit)

    1. Creative, first of all, I like your pseudonym. It’s creative. Get it? But let me assure you, your fears are not irrational at all…we are all judging your every action regardless of where you are. I, for one, am a very harsh critic of people who sneeze in public. Please stop doing it. (And just in case it isn’t obvious, I’m kidding, and I think those fears fall very well within the irrational range, so thanks for sharing them (but next time you feel watched/judged just do something outrageous like yodeling very loudly; then you’ll know people are judging you!)).

  3. I lived in GA as a kid while the “Atlanta child murders” were occurring in the early 80’s. Did I bother to research the fact that most occurred near Downtown and that I lived safely in the burbs at least 30 minutes away? Of course not – I was 8. Every night that I didn’t quickly fall asleep after I was tucked in, I’d stare at my backyard window, confident that he was coming for me. Some nights I would hide under my bed, because that was so much safer. I remember how relieved I felt when he was finally caught. The world was now safe because one lunatic had been captured!

    Of course, by that point I was also terrified of vampires. Naturally, if I had my sheets and blankets pulled up to cover my neck, I was a less attractive target – what vampire would make the effort to pull back covers to drink someone’s blood? It was like an unwritten code: no visible neck? Head to the next house and next victim. Even in July on 90 degree nights, the comforter was pulled up to my neck as a vamp-deterrent. I’m a far more rational adult now who no longer fears vampires (essentially), yet I still sleep on most nights with those neck covers out of childhood habit.

    Out of respect for and admiration of your outspoken progress, I wouldn’t dare compare the extent to which your baseball situation may or may not parallel my childhood concerns. I will, however, invoke the name of your webpage while imploring you to keep up the good work. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

    1. James, thanks for the comment. I remember checking in the closet and under the bed for the kidnapper who, for some reason, went to the trouble to find his way into the house and hide rather than just wait until I was asleep to break in and kidnap me. Seems like poor time management and/or strategy on the kidnapper’s part!

  4. I’ve always had anxious tendencies, As a kid, sports and Southern Baptist Sunday school were panic attack trigger points. In Sunday school, call on me to pray, I could pray like Billy Graham. But call on me to read and I would freeze up in total immobilized fear and could not move or talk…total embarrassment! When I was finally out on my own as a young adult, I got a prescription for Xanax for Sunday mornings! So hilarious to think about now…it got me through Sunday School…only problem, I was also in the choir and the Xanax caused me to lean at 45 degree angles during the service…it was noticed! Finally I left the Southern Baptist for a different denomination (Presbyterian Church of America) and no more Sunday School or Xanax! Over the last 3 years, teenagers and mid-life have challenged my coping mechanisms. Chaperoning a youth group trip became a trigger stress event for me and caused me to collapse, involuntary shaking, sweats and no sleep for almost 3 weeks. Finally went to my very good doctor and he had me on Zoloft for 2.5 years. I’ve been off it for 3 months now. Zoloft came in and saved my most important relationships and maybe my life! On the other side of my drug therapy, I sense that my mind had a chance to rest and make some new connections that previously didn’t exist. I can handle more of the stress events now,

    1. Funny you mention the Southern Baptist thing. I recently referenced my “Catholic guilt” and then corrected myself to “Southern Baptist guilt.” My sister, to whom I was talking, said, “SB guilt might be worse because of the fear of being burned in hell forever and having no way of absolving oneself of guilt. At least Catholics can go to confession!” I’m sure I have my theology(s) wrong, but the point is, I think we need to invent a new phrase: “Southern Baptist guilt.”

      1. Yes, I see parallels between the “State church of Italy” and the “State church of The South” when members focus and judge on the surface appearance of religious and legalistic practices, i.e. “Churchiness” as an individual’s expression of “I’m good”. Jesus radically turns those institutions upside down when he goes after the lepers, the woman at the well, and that beautiful variety of struggling sinners He called His disciples. To follow Christ’s example can run us counter to our various “State” churches because Jesus is after the individual’s heart. When He owns the heart, He knows everything else will take care of itself. Unfortunately, “Churchiness” flips that backward!

        1. I love that phrase: State Church of the South. Ironically, both the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches have probably driven more people away from faith (at least recently) than to it. Both have their merits, but both seem far too steeped in dogma, doctrine, and tradition to evolve as quickly as they need to. Here’s a funny example: One of my former students invited me to his Catholic church. He is quite possibly the brightest student of literature I’ve ever taught…as in there were times in class when someone would ask a question and I would stall until this student jumped in to answer the question in far more depth than I could’ve offered. Then I would pretend like that was precisely what I was going to say. Anyway, point being, he’s not someone you’d think would end up steeped in black and white dogma, that being reserved for people who have a difficult time understanding nuance and gray areas. But when I went with him, he must’ve reminded me NOT to take communion about 10 times. I’m pretty sure this is because I would’ve damned myself to hell by taking “the host” without being a true Catholic. I found it both amusing and rather sad that the Catholic church, with their doctrines, makes it that uninviting for the guests in their midst. The Baptist church’s version of this humiliation, at least when I was a kid, was making newcomers stand up for all to gawk at. Thankfully, many churches have righted this sort of wrong, but the damage has certainly been done, sometimes irreparably, as I feel is my case. We’ll see!

  5. Although I’ve never been severely burned, I have a fear of fire. I’ve even asked my mom if I was burned as child because it makes no sense. If you are ever out with me in public you’ll notice I look for the exits in every room (also a fear of crowds and suddenly them all rushing for an exit). My bedroom being on the third floor of my house, I asked for a rope ladder (which would only lesson 1 of my 10-12 foot falls) in case of an emergency. I analyze the falls like a scientist would to figure out what would likely break on each drop. If I believe in past lives maybe I was burned then I have no idea, I just know this is a real fear for me!!

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