Tag Archives: PTSD

You Can Get Better: Struggling with Panic Attacks

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article about a former CNN reporter who struggles with panic attacks. Although both of ours stem from PTSD, my experiences seem to pale in comparison to the reporter’s; witnessing an electric-chair execution of a convicted murderer is something that I cannot fathom.

I can trace my PTSD back to my childhood. I lived in constant fear, wondering when my dad would explode with rage and begin beating my mother and me. Even now, when someone is walking too closely behind me, as the reporter states in the article, I “feel as if [my] world is ending. [My] heart is racing, [I] begin to hyperventilate, every nerve in [my] body is exploding — it seems [I’m] about to die, and [I] have an overwhelming sense of doom.”

Luckily, I now have medication and coping skills such as breathing techniques and prayer that help me when I get panic attacks.

The worst attacks come when I’m driving on a wide-open interstate or highway, however. The above symptoms usually force me to pull over to the side of the road. I have often been late to work or late getting home as a result.

I can trace this back to my college days when I used to fly single-engine airplanes (Cessna 150s and 172s). One time in particular, I made the huge mistake of making a solo cross-country jaunt without feeling totally comfortable with my instruments. Who needs instruments when it’s a clear day? That’s what landmarks are for.

However, I failed to realize the consequences of a recent flood in the region: Once I got in the air, a uniquely-shaped lake had become completely unidentifiable. Seized with panic, I tried to figure out which way was which. I had to make it back to my tiny airport which had no control tower. It didn’t help that (a) the short runway resembled a postage stamp tucked away in the hills and (b) my precious fuel was being depleted.

I will probably always struggle with these panic attacks. What encouraged me about the reporter’s story, though, were his words toward the end: “For those going through anxiety issues, I have a message: You can get better, you can work through it. It may be therapy, medication, or just the realization that you aren’t alone.”

You are not alone. No matter what you are struggling with.

You can get better. There is hope.

~t


Growing Up with Verbal and Physical Abuse, part 2: A True Story

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Credit: K. Alexanderson via flickr.com

“I told you to stop hounding us about &#%$ trick or treating, didn’t I? DIDN’T I?!”

The side of my head slammed onto the musty floor of my bedroom, a jolt of pain ripping through my skull. I didn’t have a chance to see if my thin vinyl skeleton costume had torn after my dad shoved me; luckily my plastic mask with the elastic band was safely on my bed.

I looked up at him, glimpsing the Jack-o’-lantern decoration behind him that my mom had put on my door. A smiling black cat, part of the combo pack that she bought last month, looked out over us from the wall above my top bunk. I loved waking up to the sight of it each morning, one day closer to the big night.

I nodded quickly. “Yes.”

“Speak up, &$#%! Act like a man for once in your pathetic life!”

But I wasn’t a man. I was a 7-year-old who lived in terror of when my dad’s next tantrum would come. It was like being in the middle of the calm sea in a row boat, not knowing when the next big storm would come and capsize my world.

Dad, I love you, I wanted to say. We all do. Mom, Michael, Kay. But I didn’t dare. It would have made things so much worse to speak out like that.

He picked up my plastic orange trick-or-treat bag with the cut-out handles that we had gotten for free at the mall. A grinning Jack-o’-lantern sat on top of the block letters that spelled out Safety First.

“You think you’re going trick-or-treating tonight? Huh?!” He tore the bag apart like it was tissue paper.

Tears trickled down my face. Through my blurred vision, I watched my dad throw the pieces of my bag at me. I wiped my eyes with my costume sleeve, the smell of vinyl filling my nostrils.

“Get up, you piece of *&#$!” My dad kicked me in my thigh, the nerves screaming out and shooting straight to my brain. I yelped like a defenseless dog.

“Bruce! You’re hurting him!” It was my mom’s high, pleading voice. Knowing that she would be my dad’s new target for a while, I cried harder.

My mom’s intrusion made him even angrier, but instead of hitting her, my dad grabbed a clump of my light brown hair and pulled upward with ease; compared to his 240-pound flabby frame, I was a rag doll. With my head and leg throbbing, I leaped up to stop the excruciating pain that pulsed through my scalp.

“Bruce, stop it! You’re acting like a crazy man!” she screamed, pulling at my dad’s thick arm.

I dropped to my knees, too frightened to stand up. The pieces of my trick-or-treat bag littered the floor near me; part of the Jack-o’-lantern’s stretched-out face covered a section of my Hot Wheels race track. I wanted to disappear into the cardboard grandstands among all the tiny spectators.

Did he really just slap my mom’s glasses off and grab her around the neck? The scene before me had a dreamy, yellowish tint to it, like the dreadful calm outside the window just before the twister passed over our neighborhood last summer.

I didn’t know why my mom purposely stepped in the path of the beast that lived inside my dad. She always ended up getting hurt worse than I did.

My younger sister and brother were hiding somewhere, probably in my sister’s room behind her dresser. I didn’t blame them; I hid on my top bunk whenever my sister got in trouble, which wasn’t as often. I guess I was a worse child than she was.

I should have let my mom eat dinner in peace instead of asking her twice about trick-or-treating tonight. It was Halloween, though, and my classroom party today made me even more anxious about going around the neighborhood with my mom and sister, complete with our costumes, flashlights, and bags.

My dad grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. I felt his powerful fingers dig into my skin. With his other hand, he pinned me to the upper sideboard of the bunk bed by my throat. I suddenly felt embarrassed wearing my costume at that moment, like the sissy that my dad always called me.

“Why are you such a $#@&*? Huh?!”

I got a whiff of my clean, crisp bed sheets as my dad’s grip tightened. I tried to say I don’t know. I’m sorry, but no matter how hard I tried, the words did not come out of my mouth.

“Answer me, &%@$#!”

“Bruce, you’re going to kill him!”

The grip on my neck loosened, and I collapsed on the floor, gasping and clutching my neck. I heard repeated slaps and then my mom let out an eerie whining sound. If I ever found myself inside a real haunted house, I bet the ghosts would sound just like that because it was the most chilling sound that I had ever heard in person.

The flat ding of the doorbell echoed from the cheap speaker in the hallway. Some kid was probably standing on our porch with a smile beneath his mask, maybe holding his mom’s hand – or his dad’s.

I wouldn’t know because I stayed in my room the rest of the night until my mom sneaked in later to tuck me in, sobbing the whole time. She let me wear my costume to bed with my grinning skeleton mask beside me on my pillow.

The periodic sound of the doorbell and the fear of my dad bursting into my room again kept me awake for a while. I clutched my mask and waited for sleep to come.

~t

(I was urged by a friend to enter this in the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.)


Growing Up with Verbal and Physical Abuse

Credit: Unprofound

During my youth, from as early as I can remember until I finished high school, my dad (I hesitate using the word father) made my life — and the rest of my family’s — a living hell.

He was angry a lot of the time. My grandfather was worse, and my great-grandfather was the devil incarnate from what I was told. The times when my dad was happy not angry were the worst because he was like a landmine field. My mother, sister and I had to tread carefully during those times; in the blink of an eye, my dad would transform into a raging monster. I would compare it to The Incredible Hulk, but at least people could see the transformation of David Banner into The Hulk and run away. With my dad, one minute we would be at the dinner table having a normal meal, and the next minute he would be screaming at my mother, berating her and, depending on his mood, slapping, hitting, or choking her.

It made for an excruciating childhood. I have a younger sister and brother, so I’m not sure if being the oldest child mattered, but I seemed to be the one who got the full brunt of my dad’s temper. I won’t go into great detail here — I wrote about a particular experience that I can post at a later time — except to say that I was verbally and physically treated the same as my mother.

The verbal abuse was constant: I was a “retard” because I wasn’t athletic (even though I excelled academically); I was a “mush mouth” because I wore orthodontic retainers for a number of years that hindered my pronunciation; I was a “worthless piece of #!$&” because, well, because I existed; and lastly, I was a “faggot” because I was shy and never had a girlfriend during my high school years.

The degrading names weren’t limited to the above four, but those were the main ones. I was told by my aunts and grandparents that, when I was a toddler, my dad would set his glass of Coca-Cola on the very edge of the living room table while he and my mom watched TV. Whenever I knocked over his glass, he would scream at me and lock me in my bedroom. It was as if he would create situations in order to pounce on me.

To this day, I can hear my dad yelling at and berating me whenever I make a mistake. When someone is approaching behind me, I have flashbacks to when my dad would sneak up behind me and give me a hard shove. And, worst of all, when my wife gets angry at me for not taking out the trash or not helping her around the house, it’s not my wife yelling at me; it’s HIM. As a result, I immediately get defensive and escalate things to full-blown arguments. My wife ends up in tears because I’m so difficult to deal with at those times.

The arguments with my wife don’t happen as much these days, but for the longest time, I really didn’t know why I was so defensive; on occasion, I would lie or pass blame on our kids — anything to get out of the hot seat. My marriage was not a marriage: It was a return to my youth, the cycle of hell repeating itself all over again. I still walk on egg shells most of the time when I’m with my wife.

It wasn’t until I was hospitalized after my suicide attempt that I learned about PTSD. I always assumed it was only related to war veterans. Little did I know that I was suffering from it.

I have to deal with PTSD in all areas of my life, even my career. I used to have a primary care physician who I quickly got rid of; I now see a PCP in the same building. As with all things, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, the first doctor was the latter two.

Soon after moving back to the U.S., I went to see if he could prescribe Xanax to me. Not only did he refuse, but he blurted out, “You have anxiety and social phobias? Why the h*** did you become a teacher?!” A valid point, but there’s no way that I’m going to pay toward his country club membership and tolerate that kind of attitude. (I would expect it from a shrink because they’re not exactly “normal.”)

Anxiety sometimes gets the best of me when I’m in front of my students. I had some horrible experiences straight out of graduate school because of my insecurity. I was hired by a university as soon as I finished school, and I wasn’t ready to be in the trenches. College students can be as bad as public school kids sometimes.

I may think that a particular student is smirking at me because I’m inept, or I might believe the whole class is masking their contempt of me because I’m not as good as previous teachers who they’ve had.

The doctors say that the verbal and physical abuse was a big cause of my various mental health issues.  I know that I can’t blame it all on my dad; that would be the easy way out. I’m sure it also has to do with my illness and with my own character. It seems like the boundary between all three of these is blurred. I have no idea what I can change and what I cannot change (Yes, I’m familiar with the Serenity Prayer).

Even though I am free of suicidal ideation and depression for the most part, that darn PTSD still rears its ugly head regularly. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never dealt with it. This week I have an appointment with my therapist, so I’ll bring it up. Maybe it can explain my abnormal marriage.

When I write a blog post, I try to end everything on a positive, spiritual note. Today, though, I find that difficult. So, I’ll just share that Serenity Prayer with you:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

~t