Sometimes, I'm still crazy. I thought about not sharing this story, because I was embarrassed. Because I'd like to say I'm all normal and silly things don't freak me out ever. But then I realized that silly things DO freak me out. I'm not "normal", and that's okay. It sucks to still have to deal with trauma related shit, but it is what it is. Part of recovery is learning how to deal with triggers.
Scuba diving in the pool went great. In the pool, if I felt anxious or if something wasn't going quite right, I could come up and talk to my instructor. In the open water dive, I knew that wouldn't be possible. If you're forty feet underwater, and something isn't right, you still have to take your time coming up (or cause yourself serious injury).
I passed the written final. I passed off everything in the pool. I was all geared up and ready to do the open water dive. And then I got dizzy and nauseous and I couldn't breath. I thought it might be because the water (and the cave around the water) were really warm. I walked outside, and I realized it wasn't the heat. I was about to have a full-blown panic attack.
At this point, I didn't want to go back in and look like a fool. I also didn't like just walking away and having the instructor worrying about where I'd gone. I walked back in, told them I wasn't feeling well, and I'd make up the dive later. One of the worst parts of dealing with PTSD or panic is dealing with other people's thoughts and opinions of me. It sucks to have people think that you're crazy and out of control, but I learned a long time ago that trying to control other people's opinions of me didn't make my life better. It didn't help me recover. It didn't help anything... except that we all got to live in a delusional world. I don't know what instructor dude thought of me, but he told me it was fine.
At first, I didn't see how panicking about scuba diving could possibly be related to trauma. I was sexually abused... there was no water around at the time... what the what?
One of the skills I've learned in dealing with fear (irrational and rational) is to ask myself two questions:
- How old do you feel?
- What's the worst that could happen?
How old do you feel? often shows me what is triggering me. A few years ago, I was having panic over buying brand name shoes for myself. When I asked myself that question, I realized I felt like a little girl. My dad didn't see the need to buy brand name shoes (and when you're buying them for a ten year old, it makes sense). I was still holding on to what he'd said. As soon as I realized that, I let go of that old story, and just enjoyed my shoes.
This time, that question didn't do any good. I couldn't link to any specific age or event that would be triggering this.
What's the worst that could happen? usually helps me to get to the root of my fears. When I asked myself the question this time, I first thought, "I might drown." But that didn't really trigger any fear. When asking myself the question, I have to pay attention to what I think would be the worst, not what OTHER people would think is the worst.
So I just kept asking myself.
What's the worst that could happen?
The worst that could happen is I will be trapped under water, and I won't be able to use my voice.
I won't be able to tell people what is happening.
I'll be hurting and have no way of communicating my hurt.
Trapped. No voice. No way out.
That's when the flashbacks started. I was suddenly back trapped, no voice, no way out, and in so much physical and emotional pain that death would have been a welcome relief. (No wonder drowning didn't trigger any fear.)
I called my friend Steph. She has an amazing ability to make me laugh at things that aren't really funny. She teased me about what a storyteller I must be: Why else would I be afraid that I wouldn't be able to talk underwater? How could people know I was funny, if they couldn't hear my jokes?
And then she empathized. It sucks to have such silly things feel SO big. It sucks to have something so unrelated (like scuba diving) trigger trauma and flashbacks. She understands. Been there and doing that herself.
What she said next is the main reason I am sharing this here. She told me I was a hero. Not because everything is perfect. Not because all of the flashbacks and trauma symptoms are all gone, but because I keep fighting even though they aren't. She also pointed out how rarely this stuff comes up now, and how it takes so much more than it once took.
That's what recovery from PTSD and sexual trauma and shit looks like. Sometimes it's just messy. Sometimes you look crazy, and a lot of times you feel crazy. And we just keep going anyway.