Describe the last nightmare you remember having. What do you think it meant?
PTSD nightmares are simple. You replay the incidence incident over and over again. If it is Viet Nam, you go back there every night trying to fix the hell that it was. If it is a rape, you try to escape every night. I am one who thinks that PTSD have two origins both with the same causes. I’m not sure they should both be labeled the same thing. I think their “patches” are vastly different. But I think we slammed both with the same label. While certain therapeutic techniques work for both since they originate along the same pathway, they aren’t the same.
The rape victim is NOT the Vietnam Vet. One had a brutal, relatively fast attack unless it is under the conditions I am going to describe for the Vet. What they suffer from is different than the Vet. There are those like children or sex slaves who are raped repeatedly for long periods of time before the abuse comes out.
With the Vietnam Vet, it is a long-term sustained action that undermines reality making everything uncertain. You can trust no one and nothing to be what it seems to be because any of them can lead to a violent incident like the rape or a murder. You are conditioned into PTSD [I really do like Shell Shock better as a term because it is a better description for the Vet.]. Nothing can ever be trusted again and anything will create a battle reaction.
Mine came not from the military, because I served in peacetime, but from the sudden realization, I was in a very bad place and I could probably trust the inmates more than I could trust my co-workers. If anything happened, I would be dependent on them because my co-workers would probably abandon me. What happened to start this? I watched the guy I was assigned with sleeping in the day room. There were criminally insane inmates out there and this moron was sleeping. I went into the staff office and locked the damn door because we were the only two on the unit because at that point if they wanted to cut the fuck up’s throat, they were welcome to do so. He was the building joke of fuck ups, skating on duty and all sorts of other goodies. I wasn’t going to have to watch him and the inmates too. I called the boss but by the time the boss got there, the guy was awake. Then I laid it out. I was never going to work alone with that jerk again. IF everyone else went to lunch, the boss or my nurse better be there.
That was the start. I realized I couldn’t really say if anyone else I worked with on that unit would do what they were suppose to do. Once you aren’t sure of your surroundings? You learn not to trust anyone and anything. You spend you days on high alert. At this period, we were all having nightmares. The boss had one where he walked into a unit and it was covered in blood and the inmates were wearing guard uniforms. After a year of this, I finally gave up. I was tired of watching and waiting for the explosion. Might it not ever come? Sure. Might it? Sure. I quit.
My blood pressure was 200/150 the week before I quit. The week after I quit, the blood pressure was 98/60. He asked what I did and I told him. I quit. In 15 years, I had never worked in a place before that I questioned my own co-workers. We may have our spats or our gripes but we would never have let the other person down. Why? We knew that our asses depended on each other.
What caused me to hand in the notice? I took a month off. At the end of that month, I was in Kmart picking something up for my mother. Someone called a Code C on the loudspeaker. It sounded just like our emergency code, Code 7 because the loudspeaker wasn’t working right. I went straight up in the air and was running before my brain registered I didn’t know where the hell housewares was and then that it couldn’t be a Code 7. I was shaking because I was flooded with adrenaline for the fight and then because I had no way to burn it off, I got sick. My sugar always dropped after a fight and I had to eat something so I went to the snack bar, got a coke and a sandwich to restore my sugar. And thought long and hard if I could go on living like this. And I couldn’t.
The bad thing was, it didn’t go away. I still had the nightmares. I still had trigger reactions. I still couldn’t stand to be in large groups of people. I did a lot of shopping at Walmart at midnight and 3 a.m. I avoided situations that put me in mind of work. When I went back to college, I made sure I was right next to the way out. I live where I live because it is one of the few places I trust my neighbors. Hell, I love my neighbors because I can trust them. It’s quiet. It’s safe. It is as far removed from the situation as I can get. The nightmares have slowly eased. I can have them if I am under stress but most times, they are confusing and not well formed. They now mainly consist of me going to work and trying to tell them I don’t work there any more even as they give me an assignment.
It’s a far cry from the original. The original… well… let me give you an example. We are in the dining room. A riot has started. There are more inmates than there are guards. I won’t go into details but it isn’t pretty. I get to the phone but I can’t call a Code 7 because Marty is goofing off on the loudspeaker singing Jingle Bells. I’m listening to that damn song and screaming “Marty shut the hell up” and watching everyone die and I can’t warn or save anyone.
I had a friend who talked to me about his Vietnam dreams. He said the same thing I said “You watch them die over and over again and you can’t change a damn thing”
We were just lucky it didn’t happen. The bad thing? It could have happened like my dreams at any time. Every last one of them was so real, it left me wondering if it did happen.
Do I still have the dreams? Yeah but they are different. Today I am telling them I don’t belong there and am NOT going back. But today I am an expert at avoiding the triggers. My life is very different than I expected or what I planned because of this but for today, it’s okay. I just wish they would understand I don’t work there any more. No, you never get to leave but sometimes it gets a bit better.