Author’s Note: While this story is a work of fiction, there are events and descriptions of symptoms that could trigger someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you think you may be triggered, please think before reading further.
I wake up next to a woman who loves me. I commute through a bustling city in a packed bus to a nearly packed train. I work in a building of over a thousand people. I go to dinner with friends I've known for years. I take time in the evening to talk to siblings and parents. I go to bed holding the woman who married me. A day surrounded by people. A life surrounded by people. Amid it all I stand alone, drifting through the abyss of PTSD.
Not every day is like this of course. I have good days now. Better than those that I survived through. Some days I feel cared about, and I know I have support and those I can rely on. Then there are the days that I am alone. Lost in my thoughts, memories and living in the chaos that is my mind dealing with what happened. On the outside, I look normal and stable. If only they knew what goes through my head. If only they knew I can be in a crowded room and the most isolated person in the world at the same time.
I walk into my house at the end of the day and Lucy isn't home. Sometimes it's better. Gives me time. I go to the fridge and grab a beer. Numbing? Maybe. Sure. Necessary? Absolutely! Then the door opens.
"Hi Vinny! How was your day?" With the blowing of a kiss she goes bouncing off to throw off work clothes and get into a pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt of mine.
"Fine. Busy. You?" I'd rather her do the talking today.
"It was great! Super busy, but it made it go by. We had this big project and..." She'll fill me in on the inner workings of her day. It's her voice I care about the most. She thinks I'm not listening when I don't remember a detail or she asks a question I wasn't paying attention to. Truth is it's the soothing of her voice that I'm listening to. The innocence and calm voice.
"Oh yeah? Wow." I respond so she knows I'm here and participating in the conversation.
"Yeah and then she was..." The response will hold her over for a bit. I love her and we often have the most heartfelt and deep conversations. Today, though, is different. Just feeling off. Feeling the anxiety of nighttime and of falling asleep.
We make dinner together and this is my favorite part of the day. I just focus on the kitchen, the dicing and chopping and stirring. We play music and talk. Really talk, not just my passive listening.
After eating dinner, I take out the trash while she cleans up. Taking a longer route back to the front door, I look at the stars. I think back to when I was a kid and would look at the stars through my window. So strange to think that I would be alone looking at the stars and feel like I was part of this huge universe, and now I can feel so isolated and alone in the most crowded of spaces. Looking at the stars and thinking of my childhood amplifies my anxiety as the night goes on. I try to push that out of my head and use some of the calming techniques my therapist and I have worked on over the years. It helps, I think.
"Where did you go?" She worries about me. Too much I think and I don't deserve it.
"Took the longer way. The fresh air was nice and the sky was so clear tonight."
"Do you want some tea?" Here it comes. "We can talk about what's on your mind."
"On my mind? Nothing."
"Come on, Vinny. I know you. I can keep asking or you can just tell me." After nearly 10 years she can see right through me. "What's going on?"
"Nothing, Lucy. Really." I'm such a liar.
"Fine." She walks to the kitchen to make tea. She gets frustrated and I can't say I blame her. She just doesn't get that not only do I feel alone even when I'm with her sometimes, but that I feel like I deserve to be.
"I'm sorry." I really am. "I'm trying. I'm always trying."
"Okay." She needs some space now. It takes a lot of energy to hold an entire conversation from one side.
I walk to the bathroom and jump in the shower. Letting the hot water wash over me I start to feel calmer. I make it hotter, never really hot enough. I just stand there, thinking while some tears fall down my face mixing with the water.
A while later I come out feeling calmer and more relaxed. Back to my baseline self. We settle into the couch with our tea and watch a few episodes of whatever show we are binge-watching. I start falling asleep and she does to. We decide to shutdown the house for the night and go to bed. I go on my phone for a bit, doing the very thing they tell you not to do for a good night sleep, and scroll through social media. I put the phone down and start to drift off to sleep.
Then it happens. I start flinching and twitching. Not fully asleep and no longer awake. I see flashes of images from so long ago. I want to open my eyes. I want to wake up and sit up. She feels me shaking and starts to call my name and pushing me to wake up. I start screaming and saying "No! No! No!". I hear her and don't hear her at the same time.
Finally, I snap out of it. Gasping at air to catch my breath. I sit-up and process. I get out of bed and she follows me. After a little while I assure her enough that I'm okay and she goes back to bed. I sit down on the couch and turn on the TV so she knows I'm trying to distract myself. Pulling out my journal I try to write about what happened. Therapy says too, but in practice it is less easy. I get a few words in before the tears start flowing.
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