Anytime I’m traveling by car – whether I’m the driver or a passenger, whether it’s a quick jaunt to the store or a half-day road trip – detailed visions of gruesome car accidents repeatedly interrupt my thoughts. These intrusive images are involuntary and a common symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (typically comorbid in those with dissociative identity disorder). Until recently, I didn’t understand why these particular intrusive images plague me so. I’ve never been in a serious car accident. It surprised me to learn what now seems obvious: any form of potential danger can trigger PTSD symptoms.
The Symptoms of PTSD Thrive on Fear-Based Beliefs
Adults with dissociative identity disorder learned very young that the world is a dangerous place. Post-traumatic stress can therefore manifest for someone with DID around anything that has the potential for danger, whether it relates to their own trauma history or not. These are just a few of the unlikely places PTSD symptoms flare up in my everyday life:
- Construction sites. Heavy equipment, tools that could be lethal, and vulnerable human bodies come together for me in a minefield of anxiety. It’s embarrassingly normal for me to turn around and drive back by a site I’ve just passed in order to somehow reassure myself that those guys with the concrete saws know what they’re doing.
- Rainy days. I live in the Pacific Northwest where it rains six to eight months out of the year, primarily in fall and winter. Those gray months are wet with drizzly rain that makes the roadways slick and impairs vision. I don’t have to be in a car to experience intrusive images of fatal car accidents on rainy days.
- The state between wakefulness and sleep. I suppose it’s because people are more vulnerable when they’re sleeping that the descent into slumber is so fraught with post-traumatic stress for me. Usually my intrusive images are of others being hurt, but when I’m falling asleep the visions that jar me awake are of my partner stabbing me with a knife, the ceiling abruptly falling and crushing me, and other equally irrational and improbable scenarios.
PTSD Symptoms Don’t Wait for Historical Evidence
I believe my experiences with posttraumatic stress disorder are fairly representative of what a great many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder live with on a daily basis. But it’s not hard to see why PTSD can be a debilitating condition ,whether the sufferer has DID or not.
I’ve never witnessed anyone hurt or killed at a construction site. Rain can certainly contribute to dangerous situations, including car accidents, but it’s never done anything to hurt me. No one has ever stabbed me in my sleep and I don’t know anyone who’s been crushed by a ceiling. Yet these are hotbeds of PTSD symptoms for me. Posttraumatic stress, I now know, doesn’t discriminate between conditions that have been historically traumatic and conditions that merely have the potential to be traumatic, however remote that potential might be.
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