An audio version of this post is available here.
I’m writing this as part of Twitter’s #TimeToTalk day, encouraging people with MH issues to speak about it (and, very importantly, other people to listen!).
There’s this thing you do if you have PTSD – or maybe it was just me, maybe nobody else does it, but that seems unlikely. You mark your calendar with the dates that are triggering. You don’t do it because you want to remember, you do it in the way a road worker sprays bright yellow paint around a hole, so people don’t fall into it. You’re afraid of those dates, those days, those moments when the Earth treads back through the tracks it made a year, five, ten years ago. Somehow when this happens you can feel that event still occurring, through the thinnest veil (time is not substantial, after all), and the gravity of it pulls you to pieces. Again.
Human brains prioritise fear. It’s not a choice, it’s mere biology. You can’t “snap out of it” once your amygdala’s gone into party mode, any more than you can will your liver to process an aspirin more quickly. It’s an organ. All animals’ brains will prioritise the things that frighten them, because doing so helps the animal react and survive. This is great until you have PTSD and your brain is prioritising something that isn’t happening, as if it was.
Years ago – and that was years after the event – I deleted those calendar entries. It made no difference, of course. The dates rolled around. Up pricked my ears. The fear engines started up again each time, and I would know weeks before the date, that that date was coming. I don’t mean I’d sit and think about it. But it was there, like the world’s worst sort of exam-dread. Manageable (in the day). Unavoidable.
Something happened, though. Last year I noticed it. The Earth rolled back into its own footsteps and … wait. Was it the 30th? Or the 31st? I stared at the blank calendar. It was gone. I mean, it wasn’t totally gone. I knew it was the 30th or the 31st. I think it was the 30th. But here’s the thing: I AM NOT CERTAIN. It has faded.
Then a date I do remember rolled around. And on that date, I thought, once, briefly: “oh, it’s that date”, and it rolled past, with that as its only memorial, as unemotional as noticing the weather. I had other things in my head that day, normal things. Maybe I’ve grown a whole new head. I’ve definitely stepped out of that worn-deep track of behaviour and memory. I’m not standing in that muddy ditch any more.
Anyway, the point of this is this: when you feel you can without it making you panic, delete those calendar entries. It won’t make those days less awful. Not for a long time. But it is the start of the process that leads to those days becoming just days, and to you becoming a person who steps out of that worn trench and chooses where they walk. x