[!] *Seinfeld voice* What’s the deal with being hyper vigilant???

Long time no see, blog pals. Things have been busy in a million and one ways and I just haven’t found the time or place to kick out a new post. I’m kicking myself in the ass, don’t you worry.

Anyway, back to the point. I feel like kinda diving into some of my thoughts on living as a Hyper Vigilant Crybaby from Hell and my experiences with PTSD recovery as a whole. I added the little warning text in the title because this may get a little tough not only for me but for some of you as readers and I’d rather y’all be safe and cozy. I know most people reading this have a general understanding of what I lived through and where I am now, but maybe I’ll get some new friends checking this out at some point. Talking about my past and the abuse from those times is tough for me, but I’m trying to get better with it. I feel like it needs to be talked about to really work on recovery.

I guess we’ll get started! Keep in mind that I’m trying to find words to express things I’ve experienced and don’t have a whole lot of practice talking about this specifically. This might be a huge hecking mess and for that I apologize!

[Potential warnings for: mentions of (child) sexual abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, drug use, death, suicidal thoughts/self harm/eating disorder, etc. This is not and will not be a post that dives into what actually happened to me at length. I don’t think that’s necessary right now.]

I’ve been told my PTSD goes as far back as seven years old. I was just barely seven when my dad died due to his heart giving out from his cocaine use mixing incredibly poorly with his newly prescribed bipolar medication. Shortly after that, I experienced at least eight years of constant abuse from the man that would become my stepdad. It’s been maybe nine years since the divorce was finalized and almost four years since he died of pneumonia. I never pressed charges for the things he did to me. My mother never pressed charges for what happened to her. She spent years not believing me. Sometimes I think she still doesn’t want to believe something so blatantly obvious because it’s too much for her. That’s on her now, not me.

To the point, though, I don’t think I remember a time where I didn’t exhibit hyper vigilant tendencies.

Definition: Hypervigilance is one of the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD and refers to the experience of being constantly tense and “on guard.” A person experiencing this symptom of PTSD will be motivated to maintain an increased awareness of their surrounding environment, sometimes even frequently scanning the environment to identify potential sources of threat. Hypervigilance is also often accompanied by changes in behavior, such as always choosing to sit in a far corner of a room so as to have awareness of all exits. At extreme levels, hypervigilance may appear similar to paranoia. *

I know a big part of PTSD and even mental illness in general can mess with memories and all of that. I don’t really remember much in mass detail from twenty-one and lower though I am capable of remembering specific childhood moments like it was yesterday. Regardless, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel this way.

You know the feeling that comes after watching a scary movie or playing a scary game where you wonder what’s really in the dark down the hall or behind the shower curtain? It’s kinda like that, only about everything you could ever think of. I’m almost always on guard, even in my house. I’m always afraid that someone or something is going to come after me and I suddenly won’t know how to protect myself.  Mind you, all of these thoughts aren’t running through my head every time I want to go out. Some days I do great! Sometimes only a few “worst case scenarios” pop into my head. Other days wear me out with the fear and being “on” for so long that I won’t leave the house again for a few days or even a week or longer. Recharge time is always unknown for me.

Let’s look at one incredibly common example– shopping. I barely even enjoy shopping to begin with for a handful of reasons, but say I need to pick up a medication or get groceries…

  • I wanna go to the store? I better sit and think about that for a few hours to see if I really need to even leave my room in the first place. Who knows who I could run into!
  • Is the landlord from across the alley over there? Will he still be the gross old man that tries to pick me up ever since I turned eighteen or has he realized that I hate his guts?
  • I have to debate the pros and cons of going by myself, asking a friend for help or company, or calling public transit. How am I feeling physically? Some days my hips hurt so much I can barely get out of bed.
  • Can I ride my bike? Oh the tires need air badly, I’ll think about doing that another day. Can I walk? How’s the weather for that? Is it too hot? Raining? Snowing? Will I burden my friend? I don’t want to upset anyone. Will someone scary be on the bus? What if the driver yells at me again when I’m not doing anything or they nearly side swipe a semi again?
  • If I can manage to have the courage to walk anywhere by myself, I’ll plan routes that sometimes go a bit out of the way because some days I want a route with a lot of traffic to see me and others I need to avoid people all together. Was I harassed on that path recently just by existing and wanting to walk home? Better not take that one for the rest of my life and figure out a new one. Have I heard anything bad about the neighbourhood and because of that I need to adjust for that as well?

Sometimes just thinking about all of those possibilities and outcomes is so exhausting that I put off going to the store that day. I start thinking about it as far ahead as a week sometimes because I know I have these troubles. I wish that was the only part to it.

So I’ve managed to get out of the house to do the shopping…

  • I have to make sure I can constantly have a secure hold on my bag at all times.
  • I make sure I have a pair of sunglasses to avoid eye contact. I can’t let anyone know I’m anxious.
  • Gotta make sure my phone is charged and that I’m at least actively texting someone in case something happens! I make it known to several people that I’m leaving the house most days. Y’know. Just in case.
  • I often think about what day to day items I carry on me can be used for self defense. I’m pretty small and am not sure how much power I’d really have to break free from anything.

And this is where the fun stuff kicks into overdrive.

  • If I walk by anyone I don’t actually know my heart rate goes out of control. I’m used to people yelling at me for any number of reasons. My hair, my outfit, how fast or slow I’m walking, not responding, not responding to the name they’ve thought I was, etc. People deliberately walk into my way so I have to walk around them on some routes. I’ve been followed for several blocks and left alone only once I found a building to duck into. My gut reaction is that any of these things can and will happen again.
  • Don’t even get me started on cars that slow down beside me. I remember back when I was a kid, my babysitter at the time wound up scaring the hell out of me because a car was stopped in front of my house and we didn’t know who it was. She was so sure that we were about to be shot at and we hid behind the couch for over an hour until she thought we were safe. I wonder if she had the same struggles. Turns out the car was there because there was a huge back up of traffic even though I’m on a back road! Sometimes I get scared because it’s a reality in this town and so many others. I’ve had people slow down next to me, not because of a stop sign, and yell about whatever the hell they thought was necessary. I’ve been reached for. I’ve had the hoots and hollers and grotesque facial expressions that imply gods know what. I try to not listen anymore.
  • Once I’m in the necessary building, I always scan and rescan the area for quick exits. I’ve memorized the least traveled aisles to navigate quickly and avoid most interactions. I think about what I could or would do if someone came in with a gun. Or if a past abuser showed up. Or even someone that looks or sounds like a past abuser.

In dysphoric hyperarousal, the PTSD victim may lose contact with reality and re-experience the traumatic event verbatim. Where there have been multiple traumas, a person may become hypervigilant and suffer severe anxiety attacks intense enough to induce a delusional state where the effects of related traumas overlap. This can result in the thousand-yard stare. *

The thing that sucks the most about all of this is that nothing has to happen and I’m still scared. I just expect it and try to prepare for the worst because things have happened in the past. Most days when these fears surface I’m able to acknowledge them, understand why they’re happening, but truck through it. Sometimes it’s really slow and it takes way longer to accomplish things, but I do end up completing them. Other days the anxiety takes over so much that I lose sight of myself and go into this weird auto-pilot mode. That’s more so when the feared events happen even in the slightest, though. Things like people yelling (even when not directed at me), sudden car honks, or fireworks can cause these flashbacks that put me into the auto-response of how I was back then. I curl up, I stop talking, I start to shake, sometimes I cry. Actually I cry most of the time because I can’t process my emotions properly in those instances.

Those bad days are tough. Maybe I already started the day on the wrong foot with a bad nightmare or was so emotionally drained from something that I’m more easily affected by those things. I’ve struggled with self harm since I was a teen be it cutting, burning, having a pill addiction, or refusing to eat because I felt like if I was already so broken down I didn’t deserve the nourishment it brought me. Disconnecting from myself and reverting back to those habits is a scary thought. I can’t even recognize myself in those moments. Not every flashback runs those risks but once I start down that path, it’s not too difficult to wind up in the mindset that everyone that has ever hurt me is coming back to get me right in that moment. It’s wild, having the logic and ability to tell myself “I’m ok, ___ is dead and can’t come back” or have someone else say the exact same thing and just because I heard a loud noise and someone stared at me longer than I’m comfortable with I can’t shake the feeling.

Even though I feel like I’m more to a point where I can call myself a survivor, I know I still have a long way to go. Little things set off these fear based flighty responses. I’ve lived through child molestation, being beaten down physically and mentally, being at gun point several times, had my windows screwed shut, wasn’t allowed to join anything extracurricular, I was a prisoner in my own home. I was in and out of abusive relationships, most of which emotionally than physically, which only added to how I reacted to some things. My family was not a source of support, it was a source of guilt and I was merely a holiday dinner talking point.

I don’t know how to calm that panic entirely but I’m learning to manage it. I’m finding ways to feel safer which in turn allow for me to do more things at my own pace. I’m taking more control over my life day by day with the help of a wonderful support system of friends and a great therapist (soon a new, less scary and dangerous feeling psychiatrist!). I’m so incredibly thankful for that. Maybe someday I can adjust my brain accordingly and not be this scared all the time. Maybe someday the logic can win. Just maybe.