Some of you know that I work on as an on-call Crime Victim’s Advocate. I have about 8 shifts a month with half of them being a 16 hour weeknight shift from 5:00 pm – 9:00 am and the other half of them being 24 hour shifts (typically on weekends) from Saturday at 9:00 am – Sunday morning at 9:00 am. Last January I went through a 30 hour training course in order to be qualified to take the calls, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being on the crisis line for nearly a year now is that sometimes you can never be qualified enough for what you’re about to hear.
I took a call a few nights ago that I’m still thinking about. I made a vague post on Facebook about being sad that I wasn’t able to help her. Many of you wrote very kind and sincere responses. Thank you! Without going into too much detail, it became clear to me that this person was suffering from mental illness. Yes, I specifically used the word suffering. She kept repeating the same three sentences over and over again during the hour we were on the call. I’m not going to reveal here what she was saying because it doesn’t necessarily matter what she was saying, but that she believed what she was saying. It made me really sad because, in her mind, that’s who she is now. This caller has had some sort of trauma in her life that made her cling to the last time she felt normal, loved, appreciated, and made her feel like she had purpose and she couldn’t understand why the world around her didn’t see her that way.
Imagine that for just a few minutes. You feel a certain way, you know yourself a certain way, but the world doesn’t understand you. You’re trapped inside of the words and pictures in your mind. Regardless of whether someone else is seeing it, understanding it, or feeling it, you are experiencing all of these in real-time, all of the time, on repeat. And it’s frazzling.
This is part of what having PTSD can feel like. It’s like a hamster wheel of turmoil that you can’t get off of. All of those words, pictures, flashbacks, and the multiple emotions are washing over you like a weighted blanket. Your brain is in overdrive while it’s trying to dissect every single thought, emotion, and flashback at the same rate they’re crashing into your mind. Suddenly, there’s a multi-level back up and everything is tangled up and there’s a mess everywhere. Everything has to be pulled apart, sorted, cleaned up, and eventually the road will reopen. It’s not like this all of the time – thankfully, but there are certain things that trigger that type of response, and it’s important to know that it’s not just an emotional response but a full body response. Adrenaline pumps through your veins like white-hot electricity, your bones crack as they try to break free from underneath the skin that covers them because the skin you’re in is uncomfortable and raw and can feel like razor blades on fire tearing away every shred of who you are until you’re screaming in agonizing pain for it all to just stop.
And as my counselor has told me time and time again, all of those things might be happening to me on the inside but on the outside I look calm. Even my voice and movements are steady and precise. I think this must come from how our brains work (without us knowing) to protect ourselves. Instead of your brain “allowing” something so volatile to happen to you it replaces those thoughts with happier moments, days where you felt carefree, a time when things weren’t so complicated. I think this is where that lady’s brain was at the other night. Instead of being the emotional basket case that I have been in the past, her brain allowed her to remember a pleasant time, except now that’s all she can see. Some might think this isn’t so bad, and maybe it isn’t, but the gap between that time in her life, her trauma, and where she’s at now is significant.
The reason it struck me is because I am afraid of that mindset leading her to what mindset I’ve had before. Will it eventually drive her crazy that nobody in the world can see her for who she believes she is? I’m worried that it might. And there’s nothing I can do about that. There was no way for me to help her and when I couldn’t help her, that translated to me that I had failed her. “I’ve been there before, I see all the signs, I can fix this!” But I couldn’t and it was an awful call to hang up from. And I’ll never know what will come of it…