The Attack of the Lamp

I’m up at 3 a.m. on my way to the bathroom. Since we use the one in the garage now that our mom uses the primary bathroom, I have to walk through the kitchen. As I turn on the garage light, I happen to glance back into the dark and see the dim outline of the mock kerosene lamp that hangs over the kitchen table. I freeze and am unable to move.

A part of me tells myself, it’s just a lamp, the one over the kitchen table. It doesn’t even look like one of those surgery lights, round and bright, that you freak out over. But I feel in dangerBecause I know I am stuck in a PTSD moment, I ask myself what I am feeling: helplessness, dread, terror. The lamp could kill me. I force myself to step down into the garage away from the threat.

I woke up exhausted the next morning. My neck, shoulders, and back of my head ached, and I remembered that I’d had  nightmares. A friend from Boston (note Boston Massacre) is out to kill me. He’s got a huge bunch of explosives. I hide in the bathtub, along with my black cat Posie (who died years ago), and feel safe, which is ludicrous because I’m not. I get up and leave the apartment and feel safer. I steal a small, beige, plastic replica of two fused heart-shapes but return it when I realize that security cameras may have filmed the theft.

After writing down my dream, I tried to capture what I’d experienced when the lamp attacked. Dread, danger, helplessness–as if the lamp had power over me. I felt pressure to succumb, to give in. As if I was being taken over, hypnotized, drugged. Agency drained away. The rest of the day, I was tense and irritable, and some of the symptoms from a concussion I sustained in 2011 returned. Self-soothing was in order, but I did not know how to help myself.

As an infant strapped to the surgical table, likely unanesthetized and drugged by a paralytic, the bright lights shone above me. They became associated with danger, entrapment, terror, and death. To this day, as you can see, my instinctual trauma response (Tinnin and Gantt, The Instinctual Trauma Response & Dual-Brain Dynamics, 2013) is active; I was especially vulnerable since I was in sleep-mode. It’s hard to believe that something so innocuous as the mock kerosene lamp hanging over my kitchen table can become an object to fear. But this is what post-traumatic stress does. It has its way with us until we figure out how to pull the plug on the flashbacks and nightmares and find freedom.  Stay tuned.


0 Responses to The Attack of the Lamp

  1. great piece of writing Wendy.
    hard experience. I partly wish I too could be in touch with my feelings like you you are and be able to understand my life , why i am afraid, why I can’t go for some of the things I would like.
    But maybe I have all I can handle.
    I think your writing is so descriptive and clear.

  2. Thank you, Ellen. I’m sure that when you are ready to understand your fears and limitations, you will. And if you don’t, you don’t. Don’t you think that we all have to do things in our own time? Anyway, thanks for caring and sharing in my experience.

  3. With Ellen, I love your rich and evocative language, Wendy. Thank you for putting into words and images this very troubling episode and its terrible background: it helps me to sense something more of why and how your early surgery still affects you.
    As you know, your story was probably more harrowing than mine, even though I too have continued to be affected by ptsd. And my memory is not as retentive as yours, whether that’s due to the early starvation that came with my PS, or through my gene code or male constitution – I’ll never know. It underlines how even with similar stories we are each unique.
    Your many stories remind me never to dismiss somebody else’s pain.

  4. Some of my ability to remember my past and be aware of clues to my changing consciousness has to do with my training as a writer, believe it or not, and my dedication to retrieving many memories of my pre-five life while in therapy. After a therapy session, for example, I would sometimes write for hours, excavating a feeling of shame or anger or an issue of great personal importance. Because I was in touch with so little of my true emotion before age 26, writing enabled me to sensitize myself to feelings and to retrieve material from long ago. I used a technique called free writing. Perhaps I’ll write a post about this. It’s associative writing that sidesteps, waltzes around, and just plain confounds logic-oriented, chronological, ‘rational’ reasoning. 🙂

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