When the Phone Becomes an Enemy: PTSD, Natural Disasters, and Recurring Trauma
It is two days before my 34th birthday, and I’m so wound up with anxiety I can’t function. The majority of the western United States is burning. Friends I have loved and lived with, cried and laughed with are breathing smoke, evacuating, and watching their hallowed and favored places burn in fires so vast the pictures resemble a Pentecostal Hell.
In the east, many others I know, including my father, my grandmother, and dozens of coworkers and colleagues, are stocking up on supplies, fortifying their houses, and/or evacuating in preparations for what may be the worst hurricane to ever hit land. It’s already killed people and ravaged entire islands in the Caribbean, and it is now barreling through the ocean, heading straight for Florida, where millions (including my family) live.
Closer to home, areas where my son’s family and our friends live, work, and play are still flooded. Supplies are short, recovery times long. The streets of Houston are driven by boat, and major roads crossing from Texas to Louisiana have been washed away – maybe forever.
I don’t know enough about what triggers PTSD to write books on it, but I can say this: Whatever those triggers may be, this combination is certainly one of them. And, for me, that’s only causing additional triggers to fire – creating a domino effect of panic.
Every time my phone rings, I jump. My heart races. My brain fills with dread. My mouth goes dry.
Who is it? I think, snatches of a voicemail – “Your mother’s dead” – filling my head. What happened? I wonder, my mother’s heavy sigh, a sound that used to announce each new death in response to my muttered “hello,” echoing in my mind.
This is silly, I know. My phone has rung all day. Work calls. Family calls. A call from the optometrist reporting my contacts had been delivered. A call from my daughter’s school. So far, no one that I know has died. So far, no one that I know has been injured. So far.
My panicked brain can’t help adding that “so far.” My panicked fingers can’t help typing it. Every day, every time my phone rings, I fear the end of this stretch of "so far." Today, with everything that’s going on at this exact moment, I fear it even more, and it is making it impossible to function.
With one ring of the phone, I am propelled into fight or flight. My short-term memory is shot. My heart won’t stop racing. My emotions are dead, and my mind won’t stop circling.
A perceived lack of control is a major trigger for those of us with any form of anxiety or stress disorder, so I doubt I’m the only one out there feeling such a profound sense of anxiety right now. I can’t stop the weather. I can’t quell a fire. I can’t reach across thousands of miles to help my loved ones who are far away. I can’t do anything, except sit here and worry, write, and love those within arm’s reach.
And maybe that’s all any of us can do – what we can, with what we have, where we are. But I’ll say one thing: I’ll be praying. I’ll be donating. And I’ll definitely keep voting for people who believe in (and fund) science, sound infrastructure, and disaster relief. Neither my heart nor my mind can take much more of this.