Society & Culture

PTSD Triggers Are Real. Don’t Be A Dick About It. A Rant.

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Today, a guy walked really fast up to me on the subway platform with his hands in his pockets. He was trying to pick up a paper I dropped, but I backed away and started to tear up. He then looked at me like I was crazy and made a comment about me thinking he was some sort of criminal. I wanted to explain my actions but he had already walked away.

I have PTSD because of something that happened 2 years ago—right around this time. The store I was working at was robbed in the middle of the day. One guy held me to the counter and pressed his body and hands on my ass and up my leg. The other guy pointed a concealed gun (which he showed me in his bag) and took money from the cash register. It must have only been 45 seconds. Now whenever a person walks really quickly up to me (like the robbers did) or looks like they are hiding something, it brings on a panic attack.

That wasn’t my first robbery experience. Two years prior to that one, the store was robbed and I was also the only person on the sales floor. It didn’t affect me as much—even though the robber digged the gun into my stomach and pressed with every hesitation I made at the register. I was just starting grad school and intensely focused on my semester—basically running on nerves and putting the memory in the back of my mind.

Even though it’s been awhile, I still get that warm rush of adrenaline every time I see a dodgy person with their hands in their pocket. Oh man, especially on the subway. Every Christ lover and homeless man turns into someone with a gun. It’s awful.

That guy this morning had zero right to say that to me. Fuck you, I don’t think you’re a criminal. I think you’re an asshole that’s so conceited you couldn’t think past yourself and why I might of been upset. I’m really anti people that aren’t self-aware /aware of triggering situations, but blame emotional reactions on something petty. Okay, cool…you have no idea why I got upset. How about you ask instead of jumping to conclusions? Or how about you step back and let me calm down? One time, this guy playing music on the subway asked the women to smile at him…and when one woman didn’t he called her out on it…and this woman was clearly upset. All she said was, “My mother just died.” Why try to include this woman in your stupid performance?

People, please, just be aware of the world around you. It doesn’t revolve around you. Others are going through shit/trying to handle the world in any way they can/attempting to go to work without having a panic attack.

A person recently told me to ‘just get over it.’ Gosh, I wish I could. I wish it would wash away. But once your sense of security it taken, you can’t really look at the world the same. I’ve gotten better, though.

Even if I did get over it, that’s still a pretty terrible thing to say to someone. “Hey, you know that thing that made you lose sleep from crying all the time? You should just forget about that. Get over it.” Whatever the scenario becomes apart of your DNA, and it’s hard to ever really feel safe again. Believe me, I’ve tried.

My situation is minor in comparison to other people’s PTSD triggers. And those people with way worse situations probably have some asshole in their life that has told them to get over it.

Tips on being an ally for someone with PTSD (from my own experience):

* Be Patient. You don’t just get over it. It takes awhile to feel secure after you have a shock to your system.
* Be conscious. You want to go on a date? Awesome. Don’t take them to laser tag quiet yet.
* Ask boundary questions. “What don’t you feel comfortable with?” is a great start. Depending on the situation, you may have someone that is totally okay with a hug but not with any sort of grabbing.

If you are a person dealing with PTSD, or want to learn more about it: check out the National Institute of Mental Health.

Image: Salon.com

Laura Delarato is a web producer, writer, social media consultant, video creator, and the brain behind Pass The Cake, Please fashion blog. She has spent a lot of the past 10-years of her life in internships, college, part-time jobs, graduate school, and in front of a computer typing away her next brilliant idea. Her work has appeared in Playgirl Magazine, Kong Magazine, London Glossy Magazine—and at one time CosmoGirl! Magazine. Laura spends a lot of her time typing code to make the internet work, performing improv at The Magnet Theater in NYC, and performing burlesque on every dingy bar stage she can find. Laura likes to be a total badass by participating in body-positive/fat-acceptance activism, crafting pasties, discussing the beauty of pornography, and wearing all the short skirts. Follow her at @lauradelarato

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5 thoughts on “PTSD Triggers Are Real. Don’t Be A Dick About It. A Rant.

  1. “That guy this morning had zero right to say that to me. Fuck you, I don’t think you’re a criminal. I think you’re an asshole that’s so conceited you couldn’t think past yourself and why I might of been upset.”
    Blatantly hypocritical.

    Stop pretending this has to do with self-awareness. This has to do with Laura-awareness. You aren’t willing to see past the strangers comment and wonder why *he* would be upset; yet you expect him to be aware of your trigger?

    You are absolutely valid in trying to change the world, but you should be leading with love. Saying “fuck you” to the poor awkward guy who didn’t understand your reaction is hateful (even if you only said it later on the internet). Do you think you changed the man? Even if he reads this article, is he going to see the world anew?

    Furthermore, if you’re going to change the world, you probably shouldn’t rely on this abstract notion that people can magically be aware of everything ever. You can’t expect that of people – not because people are stupid, or incapable – but because the goal itself is impossible. You aren’t any closer to being “aware of the [whole entire massively strange and complex] world around you” than the well-meaning stranger is.

    What you’re experiencing with PTSD is 100% real, and I’m not dismissing it at all. But your stranger’s experiences are real too.

    • While I think you have a valid point, the part that I was more focused on was the fact that guy jumped to a major conclusion and people should be more aware that the people around could be dealing with something beyond themselves/in their head on an everyday basis; which is also why I brought up the story about the woman who was upset on the train but some train performer just didn’t think, “Shit, maybe this person is upset about something.” Or “Maybe I shouldn’t single out her because she might be having a bad day.”

      Yeah, maybe I am being too Laura-centric. But I’m pretty sure that I would give up having PTSD reactions if I could, and that I was too distracted by my body having a reaction to come from love. I get it. But I still stand by thinking that guy was an asshole. That’s fine he wanted to help by picking up something I dropped, but if he is actually reading this. Here is my message.

      Dear That Guy,

      Thanks for picking up that piece of paper for me. I didn’t realize it slipped out of my pocket. It was a tiny piece of paper, which I probably why you put it in your pocket. Sorry I got upset. The way you put both of your hands in your pockets–with your finger jutting behind the fabric to look like you were holding something–not saying a word to me, only starring directly at me, gave me a PTSD reaction. Maybe next time you can visibly show what you picked up, try to get my attention verbally, and maybe try to get my attention with a wave–since you were directly look looking at me/I could see you/we were in each other’s line of vision. Sorry my reaction made you think that I thought you were a criminal. But I do think that you could have done that better.

      • In a world where men are increasingly seen as threatening, sexually perverted, abusive, etc – I often find myself feeling defensive. I’m a pleasant and well-meaning guy; but I’m also big, hairy, and awkward at times. Even though I’m self-aware, it can be challenging to balance the thousands of complicated mundane social interactions I encounter during the day. In recent years there has been a lot of attention on identity politics. For example, there have emerged discourses about the balancing acts that put pressure on women; to look ‘sexy’ but not ‘slutty,’ to be ‘assertive’ but not ‘controlling.’ Society is full of conflicting pressures, and they’re tied to our identities. In this case, maybe it’s the victim-aggressor relationship that puts pressure on men (as aggressors) to achieve an impossible level of sensitivity. Being perceived as an aggressor is not empowering, comforting, or pleasant. I can sympathize with the stranger-guy in your story because I know how it feels to think of yourself as a kind and caring person, but have the world react like you’re a threat.

        Your new response to the stranger speaks of reconciliation. You shouldn’t have to apologize for having PTSD, or for your (real and undesired) reaction, but given the opportunity to reconcile – to acknowledge what happened – deescalates the tensions going on. I think it brings about a more direct interaction between one person and another, rather than the abstract relationship between victims and aggressors.

        That said, I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I’m blaming you for your reaction. I personally find it nearly impossible to act according to my ideals (in this case love, leadership, and reconciliation) in real-time. Sometimes the best I can hope for is to look back and carefully reflect on what happened.

        All the best

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