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 danger. Because 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.