Many people have topics that they do not prefer to speak about. Ranging from annoyance at political views to embarrassment at not understanding trigonometry to boredom with unending stories about a sister-in-law’s children, listening to others speak about something you are not interested in can be awkward. If you feel the need to enter into the conversation as well, the situation is even more difficult.
However, the way I feel about certain topics goes much deeper than normal discomfort. Panic rises in my when I hear people mention them. Face flushing red, I attempt to escape to a safe place. If I am stuck talking to the person, I usually being to stammer an awkward phrase to change the subject. Sweat glistening on me, my heart beings to race as I slowly inhale in and out to keep myself from hyperventilating.
This heightened response to certain words, phrases, or ideas has happened to me ever since I was about seven. At this age, another child did something that he considered amusing. I, however, ended up traumatized. Suddenly I felt dirty, gross, and bad. Even though I was young, being perfect and pure were already my life goals.
Although it was years ago, this incident still haunts me. Other memories along with this one are the reason for my PTSD. Instead of simply ignoring certain conversations or changing the subject, I get paralyzed with horror and shame while flashbacks play in my brain. Continuously, these videos of past events stomp about inside my head, making it nearly impossible to think clearly to act.
Now, I cannot keep others from triggering me. Sure, I can talk to family and friends about it but this gives little comfort in the times when strangers unknowingly make a dirty joke or my sisters talk about “girl things.” As hard as I may try, I cannot control the world around me.
However, I can make myself safe when certain thing are mentioned. I always read movie reviews to find out all the objectionable parts of a movie so that I will be prepared. When others talk about uncomfortable issues, I practice deep-breathing or take a walk alone. Finally, I attempt to be honest with my family about my feelings. Usually they are pretty good at avoiding certain words that upset me but I cannot expect perfection from them. They need a life of freedom and peace. Weighing them down with my problems is not at all what I wish to do.
Thus, support people, please understand when your loved one cannot handle certain topics or words. Often, there is deep pain and fear associated with those simple noises strung together. Try not to judge or add more shame but instead help the person you know to slowly defeat their past.
The journey out of PTSD is filled with much terror and awkwardness. However being whole and able to stop fearing certain places, things, and words will be worth it in the end.