This is the story of the end or where it began; either way, it is the story of my new forever.
I hadn’t realized I was dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) until I witnessed a violent incident at work.
I experienced a lot of trauma during my lifetime. I didn’t forget, for my trials are unforgettable. . . to me. I suppose I never connected the effects of my injuries: fear, startled easily, rarely trusting, chronic nightmares, reacting dissociatively, distress following trigger, avoidance behavior, detachment, restrictive affect, negative emotions and beliefs, hypervigilance, issues with concentration, irritability, depersonalization and derealization. I had been living with these things for so long I just thought my reactions and behavior were normal. It is normal. My normal. Normal for a person who experienced many things that are abnormal.
The work-place incident occurred while I was employed at the first prison I was hired at. I had been there a little over three years when a new person came to work there. A woman. I’d known her for five years. We were in graduate school together and had been friends; although I ended our friendship because her behavior was out of bounds. She lacked boundaries in a major way and was unpredictable. In hindsight, I probably ended the friendship because her unpredictable behavior caused me a lot of anxiety. She was flakey, unreliable, and socially inept. What it amounted to is, I had difficulty trusting her. How could I trust her if she rarely kept her word and behaved histrionically. I did not like being around her because she always drew attention to herself and I do not like attention. I’ve since learned my triggers and the two things that awaken my senses are unpredictability and folks with personality disorders. The two tend to go hand-in-hand.
It takes mere seconds for my brain to alert me to idiosyncrasies. I consider it a gift: the way being traumatized repeatedly has sharpened my senses to the point of being psychic. I can watch someone,and before I blink, I will know what they are about and what they will do. I haven’t been incorrect yet.
I had been manning the unit alone for a few months due to a shortage of staff; which meant I had a caseload of 30 when I was supposed to have 15. It was manageable. Mostly because my team understood my position. One day my supervisor came to me and said she hired someone and was going to place her on the unit with me. I don’t know why, but I asked,”What’s her name?” When I was informed of this new persons name I felt dread. I said, “Oh, I know her.” My supervisor inquired,”Is it okay? Can you work with her?” I said “Yes, it’s fine,” but I knew I should of said, no. I reckon everything played out the way it was meant to.
I reached out to this woman in an effort to maintain a work environment free of impediments. I texted her and let her know I was informed she had been hired and that she would be placed on my unit. I invited her to lunch and to my surprise she immediately apologized for the downfall of our relationship. She held my hand and cried. She told me how much my friendship meant to her and that she admired me. I trusted her words were sincere, but when it comes to behavior, I’m a ‘wait and see’ type of girl. I thanked her for apologizing and tentatively agreed to try our friendship again.
She started at the prison the week following our lunch date. It only took a day or two for her personality issues to surface at work. People can only wear a mask for so long. She was fine toward me, but she targeted two of our colleagues: a female psychologist and a male psychiatrist. Her antics (lying and splitting) disrupted our team. I don’t think my erstwhile girl-friend is evil. I think she has some unresolved issues, and she allowed those issues to spill over into other aspects of her life. She lacks insight, lies, plays games with people, and bullies them.
Watching her in action induced anxiety because her behavior was predatory. I work with predators by virtue of my my employment. I was ill-prepared for similar conduct from confrere’s.
I counseled her about her behavior, which is difficult to do when people lack insight and are personality disordered. I only advised her when she came to me about issues on the unit. Otherwise I minded my business. I would point out how her behavior contributed to the issues she brought forth. She never confirmed or denied her part. She would only look at me.
One day the psychiatrist decided he’d had enough of her bullying him. I was in one of the treatment rooms conversing with the supervising RN and our psychiatrist was seated at a table writing med orders and charting. The blighter entered the room with hands on her hips and chastised the doctor for not being present when she sought him out earlier that morning. The castigation continued with her pointing and waving a finger at the doctor; a man 30 years her senior. He’d grown weary of trying to ignore her and silently collected the charts he had been working in and quietly walked past her, exiting the room.
Roughly three minutes after his egress, he returned, and got in the face of his agitator. He was so close I thought he would strike her. I believe she thought the the same because she raised her hands as if preparing to deflect his blows. He yelled obscenities at her as he told her how out of line she was. When he was finished, he walked out and left us frozen in shock. He returned once more and said a few more words before leaving the unit.
I am stuck in a time where people pretty much think about themselves and disregard how their actions effect those around them. She had the narcissistic traits that forbade her to notice much outside of herself. As a psychiatrist, he knew his contender was personality disordered; yet he allowed her to encroach upon his limits until he exploded, and left collateral damage.
One of my triggers are men yelling and/or exhibiting erratic, domineering, abusive behavior. I didn’t know this at the time; if I had, I would of been prepared for what followed his tirade and may have been able to stave off some of the psychological and physiological effects of being triggered.
Triggered: Imagine typing a word or phrase into Google. Google will search and offer many results. I offer this as a comparison for the way my brain behaves when I am triggered. When I saw and heard the male psychiatrists violent behavior toward his female agitator, my brain, like a computer, searched it’s data bank for similar incidents (unbeknownst to me).
As it searched, it probably cross referenced Dale, who I wrote about in the Stalked Chapters; my ex-husband whom I’ve referenced in several of my essays; Advance America, I wrote about in a piece titled Friday where I had a gun held to the back of my head…so on and so forth.
The result was my brain alerting me that I and my female cohort were in danger. At the time I was not aware of the message my brain was communicating to my body. I have since decided to become somewhat of an expert on the topic of trauma, responses to trauma, and PTSD.
After the event, I suffered anxiety attacks when I thought about going to work, on my way to work and while at work. At first I didn’t know I was having anxiety with panic attacts. I thought my heart was pounding as a result of being severely anemic. I was very anemic at the time and as a result, occasionally my heart would race or drum in my chest and I found it difficult to catch my breath.
Finally, I relented and contacted our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). When they asked me why I needed to speak to a therapist I told them, “Something happened at work and I think I have anxiety associated with PTSD.” I was given the names and contacts for several therapists and by chance (nothing is by-chance) chose one who specialized in PTSD. So when I told him I thought I had PTSD he said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure you do, but I don’t want to label you.”
“A moment of danger can bring about a temporary cessation of the stream of thinking and thus give you a taste of what it means to be present, alert, aware.”