Very few people know that I suffer from symptoms of PTSD. Even fewer people hear me talk about it on a regular basis. Recently I wrote a post in which I essentially said that I want to start talking about mental illness the way I would talk about any other illness, such as a migraine. I want to be more open about what I’m going through both for the added support and to fight mental health stigma. Today I took a baby step toward that goal.
The episode itself was very strange. I was walking to class and suddenly began feeling intense anxiety. Even now I have no idea what triggered it. As class continued, the anxiety spiraled out of control despite my best efforts. Coping mechanisms that usually work like a charm had absolutely no effect. I found myself visibly shaking, fidgeting, unable to concentrate, and feeling terrified even though there was nothing to be afraid of. I considered leaving the room, but the door was blocked. I’d have to push past people to escape, which I didn’t feel comfortable doing. I trembled, feeling trapped.
A friend/classmate was sitting next to me. At the time, he knew nothing about my past experiences with sexual assault and my mental illness. After a few minutes of deliberating, I decided to tell him. Maybe this would be easier to bear if I didn’t have to suffer in silence.
With my hands shaking uncontrollably, I wrote:
“Good news: I finally have the energy to stay awake in this class.
Bad news: My PTSD just decided to pay a visit for no apparent reason. I can’t concentrate.”
All he said in reply is that he finds it hard to concentrate when there’s noise. Not exactly the empathy I was looking for… but at least I tried.
Over the next half hour, I noticed him looking over at me every few minutes. I was having a hard time acting “normal,” so he no doubt could tell that I was struggling.
Around ten minutes after I told him, he asked if I was okay. I shook my head. “No, but I will be eventually. I’m freaking out right now.” He checked in again after lecture and we parted ways a few minutes later.
I’m not sure why the episode finally subsided. Maybe it was the fresh air after class. Maybe being distracted by a podcast on the way home helped. Whatever the case, an hour later I was mostly back to normal.
I sent my friend a message on Facebook to assure him that I’m okay now and to say that I hope I didn’t worry him too much. He clearly didn’t know much about PTSD, but he was very empathetic nonetheless.
Telling him was pretty nerve-wracking, especially on top of having a pretty intense episode, but I’m glad I did it. It was comforting that someone knew what I was going through and that I could talk with them a little bit about it.
Thank you for reading this post. You can find my backstory here.