When The Lights Go Out

Normally, I am the most prepared person in the world. I am calm, and collected, and even when my emotions are raging on the inside, I can compartmentalize things and be “hyper-rational” to get whatever needs to be, done. But a few nights ago I came a little unhinged.

I have mentioned my PTSD before, but when it comes to actual episodes, it rarely comes up. I’ve learned to manage it, without medications, after more than a decade of dealing. But there are things that are necessary for me to have such a good handle on things. First, there is my ever-patient and loving husband. Next there is a hardcore alarm system and many deadbolts or special security doors/locks. Because again, it’s not paranoia if that shit actually happened before.

If my husband wanted to go to bed early, but I wasn’t ready, he used to just doze off on our couch in the family room, until I was. I never asked, but he knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable downstairs at night by myself. This was before we got our alarm. But last Friday night, he wasn’t feeling well, and I knew he was super tired, so I said, “You know you can go to bed. Now that we have the alarm, you don’t need to stay down here with me.” I had said it before, but that night was the first night Roy (my husband) took me up on the offer.

So, I did the whole dog outside, check the special locks on the outside doors, the garage, and all of the other nighttime checks that are my going-to-bed ritual before he went up. And then he did, and all was well. I read a book (a Sweet Valley High book, I want to keep it brainless before bed) and Angel (our dog) curled up next to me, because she is my guard – she won’t go to bed until I do, no matter how much she wants to. Around 11:30 I decided it was time to head up myself. I could keep reading, but I was starting to feel my body tell me, “Let’s do that sleep thing now. Maybe we’ll actually catch up for once.”

angel_sleepingI went upstairs to our room. Roy didn’t wake up until Angel jumped up on the bed, landing on his chest, but no one ever said this system was perfect. I put my phone where it always goes on the headboard’s shelf behind where I lay down, and then went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. And then… it happened.

Everything flickered, as I turned on the water to spit and before I could even get rid of the toothpaste in my mouth there was total blackness. Since I am such a light sleeper, the wooden blinds on our bedroom windows allow not even the tiniest hint of light from the street, and our bathroom has windows to the back yard, but our neighbors behind us still had their power. Something kicked in that did not allow for rational thought or being calm or cool or collected. And I freaked.

I spit quickly, hoping I hit the sink and started yelling, “Roy! Roy!” I knew he was awake and was waiting for me to go back to sleep, but even if he had been out, I still would have been yelling his name. My phone was forty feet away on our headboard and I didn’t have a way to even make it to the bed. But that wasn’t why I was freaked – our power was out, and it was night, and all I was, was scared.

Roy told me it was just the power and came to me using his phone as a flashlight and I went to get my phone to use it the same way, but knowing our power was out didn’t make me feel better. I needed to know why, and who it affected, and make sure to recheck everything. So I did. And I guilted my husband into following me, or maybe he just felt bad for me and followed me because he is so nice and he knew I was scared.

First I went to see if our neighbors across the street were also affected. But then I remembered they usually didn’t have their lights on our front after 11:00, so that didn’t tell me anything. But I do think I should get credit for not freaking out that the people behind us DID have power. Because through my panic and the adrenaline rush I knew that they were on a different power grid – it was not new information. Then I went to the alarm to make sure it was still active. One of the many things that I NEEDED in an alarm system, and one of the reasons we chose the company we did, is the whole backup battery thing. Our alarm was still activated, so the backup worked (it was the first time it has been tested) and that meant we would be good to go, even if the power was still out well into the next day.

Then I checked all the locks again, looked around the main level, and went back to our room, Roy right behind me. Once there, I locked the handle and used the ceiling bolt for further security and finished getting ready for bed. When I actually was in bed, however, I couldn’t sleep. Because I was still freaked. And I cursed myself for not having an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax on hand anymore, but as soon as I had that thought I laughed to myself, because I no longer have a current prescription because I never took it. When I felt the need to take it, I would refuse because I was worried it would make me drowsy and dull my senses. And if my body was on all-alert I was meant to stay on alert. This is what I always tell myself when I am fearful at night. So something to make me chill out… even if I had it, I wouldn’t take it.

I’m not sure why the darkness freaks me out, or why I am more edgy at night, particularly since little of my trauma actually occurred at night – it was usually during the day and the most violent experiences always during the day, specifically in mid to late afternoon. I think it’s just because my hearing is almost nonexistent so I rely on my sight. And it is harder to see in the dark. I doubt that knowing why would change anything, because the nighttime is definitely my trigger time regardless. I don’t see any sort of knowledge changing that.

I think I’m just surprised at how quickly I unraveled because of something so incredibly silly. And I’m scolding myself for not reacting the way I would expect myself to. For example, I know it is 42 steps from the sink where I was at, to my side of the bed, and I know I turn left on step 36. I know where my phone was once I would have reached the bed, I know what potential hazards in terms of clothing or furniture would be in my path and when to sidestep them. I know all of this because hyper-vigilance is something I can never turn off, and I probably wouldn’t even if I knew how to. And I know how many steps there are between various pieces of furniture in various rooms in my house, just as I know the stairs, the likely pathways to every exit, various hiding places etc. Because this is my brand of crazy – super, super prepared. But instead I just stood there, seemingly paralyzed, not knowing what to do like some sort of dumbass.

I guess that much as I have “a handle” on it, this was just a humbling reminder that Post Traumatic Stress is still a part of me. I can deal, I can “not think about it,” but it doesn’t mean that it’s gone. It’s just in the background waiting to make itself known, which always seems to happen when the lights go out.

-DMW

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