There was a loud click, the slight whining of electrical units shutting down and blackness.
This evening the power went out for the entire postcode area where we are on holiday.
L immediately asked if I was ok, because he’s just that thoughtful and that aware of different things that could frighten me or make me panic.
I was totally calm. Absolutely fine – almost like I knew it was coming so wasn’t surprised. I just reassured L and turned the flashlight on my phone on – glad to say it’s fricking strong!
I went in to super-capable-Ruthie mode. Obviously L, already having only 10% of the vision the rest of us have, is completely blind in a phone light lit blackness, so his hand grasped I led the way outside to see if the cottage owners – who lived in the next cottage, thank goodness! – could help.
We were standing in the drive trying to see if there were any lights on in the house – or any house close by – when the lady came out apologising, said the whole street looked like it was out and she had candles she’d get for us. Bless her for remembering us and being so sweet. She later texted me and said the whole postcode was out.
We had spag bol – which had just about finished cooking – just without the spag and with bread and butter instead. We ate almost all of it by candlelight and just as we were finishing – bam! The lights were back! They were a bit flickery to begin with, but way too many hours later they are still working perfectly. Beyond thankful for how short the blackout was for and that we have so much access to electricity all the time.
It was only after L asked if I was ok after supper, and I’d said of course I was fine in a slightly hyper tone, and he’d then asked if I needed a bit of me space before we watched a film, that I realised …
I’d responded to a slightly scary, unexpected event with a typical PTSD response, one that I do often and can recognise in others, but just in that moment I identified when I do it myself … and how often I do it.
I thought I was just quite good in emergency situations. Even when I was little I was the one who kept her calm when others didn’t. When my mother and sisters folded under stress, emotion, shock, exhaustion… I was the one who kept on going because that was what needed to be done. Someone had to keep going and get things done, and apparently I was that person.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had my moments! I think there were a good number of years, when I was most ill, that I hid from life and all but abdicated responsibility for my life. But throw an emergency at me …
Tonight – as in so many other situations – I slipped into fight or flight mode. I’m not often one to run away. Fight is my go-to setting. Yes, yes! It really is. Maybe not in an outward way that many of you might recognise, but trust me I’ve never really had a time when I haven’t been fighting. Stealth is my game! 😉
Without acknowledging it at the time or even being aware that it’s happening, I hone in on the immediate issue, blocking out all of my emotions. I can sense other people’s and take their needs into account, but it’s like anything personal to me is just, gone somehow.
I act sensibly (mostly) and compassionately (I hope) but it’s like it doesn’t bear any relation, or have any impact, on me. I do, I prepare, I reassure, I make plans for the worst case scenario, I am overly cheerful.
Then the situation/threat/emergency/hard task is over. Exhaustion floods me to my bones. My heart is beating really fast. I realise my chest is tight and I’m not breathing naturally. My muscles are stiff and I’m on super high alert – paying attention (often subconsciously) to the slightest change in sound, a flicker or shadow – even a tiny change in the tone of a voice or an expression.
Oh yeah, adrenaline has just been pumping through my system like crazy, only magnified by my brain hurtling straight to DEFCON 1 in a millisecond.
It’s five hours after the lights first went out and my brain and body are still feeling wired. It hasn’t been helped by some minor noises – L taking his boots off and plonking them down on the floor – and surprises – me not hearing L coming in the room – which have scared me enough to make me jump and gasp … what can you do but laugh at yourself? I do anyway!
We’ve watched some film, listened to some audio book, had some much needed brandy. Against all my common sense I’m still on edge listening and waiting for the next ‘thing’ to happen …
Why I hadn’t fully connected my calm in emergencies/crisis to my PTSD before I’m not exactly sure. I was recently going on a bit of a private guilt trip that here I was being all ‘tired’ for nothing, because my symptoms are pretty minor to nonexistent, I was just making a big deal out of an un-officially-diagnosed condition that I was using as a cover for my own laziness (whole different story, don’t ask).
Umm, maybe not. Maybe it’s easier to see those symptoms and how they affect daily life in other people. Maybe it’s easier to be understanding and considerate to other people. Ok, not maybe – definitely.
I don’t really have a conclusion to what has turned into a bit of an essay… I just startled and had a shock of fear go through me when L, sitting in bed next to me listening to his audio book, said a word out loud to ask if I knew what it meant … I guess I haven’t calmed down then yet.
Maybe … just be kind to yourself today. Take a little time to understand your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions. Take a little time to give yourself some love – some of the love you’d show to a friend. Make yourself a cup of tea when you’re tired; don’t force yourself to cheer up when you mourn the loss of a situation, friend, time; don’t beat yourself up over dropping the egg, forgetting to post the birthday card or whatever little thing you didn’t manage, because right then, for you, it was too big a thing, for many reasons.