The more I learn about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), the more I understand the choices I’ve made in the past and the opportunity that exists for making new choices that enable a more self-actualized and joyous future.
Yesterday, at the California State Fair, I searched for a ride my partner and I could enjoy. One by one, each was nixed. We finally took this lame ride on Planet Pandora. It was a haunted house type of deal, where a car moves along in darkness on a track, bumping open double doors that should reveal a freaky hologram or a giant spider web with a black widow hovering dangerously over your head. NO such luck. All we got were pictures of Frankenstein and Avatar characters on the walls and a ghoul behind glass looking down at a fake chunk of human meat. Quite frankly though, except for the kids’ rides, it seems all I could handle.
My last major carnival ride kept raising its ugly head. Years ago, I rode The Flying Bob, a series of carts that ran on a circular track. The track rose and dipped, making for more thrills. Mid-ride, the cars slowed, stopped, and then ran backwards. I felt a sense of dread at this change in direction. I hung on, gripping the bar, until the nightmare was over and afterward, dizzy as hell, sat on a bench crying.
Late one night years ago, I took 200 Bufferins hoping to die, but in the morning, I woke up. I was lying on a cot in the attic of an abandoned house I had climbed into. I cried out for help, but no one came, so I had to act. Standing was difficult–the dizziness was profound, for the floor rose and fell like ocean waves up and down, but also left to right. A super strong part of me took charge, directing my footsteps one at a time across the floor, then down a staircase, through the living room and out the door.
Home from riding The Flying Bob, I relived the attic experience. I screamed and sobbed, letting out my feelings about that terrible incident for perhaps the first time. These emotions, I knew, had to play themselves out, but what I didn’t realize was that they were part of a bigger picture: PTSD. I had been experiencing symptoms for years–from not being able to travel on a bus or a train while facing the direction opposite to where I was headed to avoiding any dance move or play that made me too dizzy.
As I sit here thinking about why I wouldn’t even go up in a ferris wheel at the State Fair, I’m remembering the helicopter ride that I took with my brother at the Flemington Fair in New Jersey when we were kids. My brother and I were squeezed into what was basically a seat for one in a whirlibird helicopter–the small one, like a see-through bubble, without doors. The pilot strapped us in, but part of my butt was literally hanging over the edge of the seat and hence, the side of the craft. The entire ride, I was jamming myself up against my brother, terrified I’d fall out. Well, who knew when I sat down today to write this post that I’d realize this!
It’s so important to understand what PTSD is and to know whether one has it or not. Knowing about its causes and symptoms enables one to have compassion for oneself. Rather than thinking what a scaredy-cat I am about the State Fair rides and how I’m a downer to be with, my feelings make sense. Something caused my fear; it’s not just the way I am. It’s the result of trauma.
So I’m already thinking about trying the ferris wheel next year. Not the one where your legs hang down from a seat dangling in the air but the one that is like a tea-cup, in which one sits in a group of four. Another plus: the ferris wheel goes forward, not backward. I could do this. It’s possible.