The Trap of Being Strong - Avoidance and PTSD
This is all based on my own experiences. It doesn't represent anything else, and this blog is just to let people know they're not alone in all this.
If you're experiencing symptoms of PTSD and haven't been diagnosed, please get help. You deserve it. You ARE worth people's time.
I'm a paramedic. One that loves her job. And I'm as guilty of forcing myself to stay strong (as many in different industries do). There was a lock box. I put things away, locked them up to look at them later.
I remember a partner of mine saying something like that after a particularly rough call.
"I'll just lock that up in my box and never take it out again."
I agreed, with a laugh. Maybe even a joke. Then we both carried on our way. We did calls, we cleaned units. Not a second thought was given to the "rough one" we put in our lock boxes.
Now, this isn't entirely bad. You gotta keep working. Not like we can fall to the ground and sob after every code. Certainly not after every trauma. There's some bad calls, yes. But a code doesn't necessarily fall into that trap.
Paramedics aren't the only ones who have to do this. Dispatchers, cops, fire, medics, nurses, doctors, military... Hell, I probably forgot a ton in this list.
Could you imagine if every nurse fell to the ground and sobbed after someone died?
We don't have enough people in the job to be able to do that. It's not feasible. It's certainly not economical. We'd just have to have hundreds of employees on call to come in on the daily while people took every call to heart.
A lock box is necessary. To society as a whole, to companies, to the economy. We all need lock boxes, we all need to push things aside at some point in our lives.
That's the issue. Avoiding is a good SHORT TERM coping mechanism. It's an evolved coping mechanism. It allows humans to look forward and carry on.
My problem started when I refused to take things out and look at them ever again. That avoidance takes energy. It wears on your psyche. The constant need to push things down, to refuse to look at things grinds you into a pulp.
Then you're left exposed.
The strength turns into a weakness. Being strong or lacking emotion ends up being your worst enemy.
I'm learning, in my journey, that processing something doesn't necessarily involve crying. Sometimes it involves thinking of the incident while doing a hard workout, or of just talking about it (not over alcohol... the rule is that if you cry about it while drinking, it doesn't count). Sure, you may need to cry about it. If crying isn't your go to, you need to put that grief somewhere else.
I don't cry.
I still haven't cried about the call above. I haven't even talked about it.
But maybe I should start.
After all, to be a functioning member of society, I need to be able to unlock the lock box. Even if it's just once in a while.
Maybe, just maybe, blogging is healing as well. Because this is the first time I thought about that call in 3 years.
Avoidance is a sign of PTSD. "Have you been avoiding the memory of the trauma?" Has been asked, in different phrasing, on every single PTSD questionnaire I've filled out (like 100... Maybe more. A shit ton of times).
That's always followed by the question - "Are you experiencing unwanted memories of the trauma?"
Those are the exact opposite things. Why are you asking me both of those questions?
It's funny, I answer yes to both. Always.
Why is that?
Because your lock box is actually a pipe bomb. You can keep stuffing it full, keep refusing to open it an look at it, but it's not going to go away. In fact, the more you avoid the memory, the more likely it's going to bust out at any given time. Actually, at the most inopportune time.
You're only so strong. This is true of everyone on this planet. There is no Wonder Woman or Superman. Everyone's brain has a breaking point. Just because you haven't hit yours, doesn't mean it's not right around the corner.
Once that pipe bomb explodes, there's no going back.
So, you gotta take shit out of that lock box. Pull some shit off the shiny red button that says "detonate" on the inside of the box (sick analogy, I know).
You gotta process it. Or your lockbox will turn out like mine, a f*****g explosion in your head that permanently injures you. Sometimes it even feels like it's imploding. There's pain and confusion.
Your illusion of strength becomes your worst enemy.
And now, I have to pull shit out to look at it. I have no other choice. If I would have just done that in the first place, then I would still be at work.
But hey, at least I learned my lesson.
Sometimes, you have to speak slowly to me in order for me to really understand.
There's always hope. I'm rebuilding my lockbox. The twisted metal is being welded together. It might not look good, but it's functioning.
And this time there's no red button that says "detonate".