What’s in a name?

Remember when Phoebe changed her name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock?

A bunch of years ago, I changed my name to ‘Care’. A friend shortened it. Sometimes my Mom called me it. But suddenly, I’d taken on something totally different. A totally different person.

And I developed her into a thing. A brand. An identity.

Carrie, my full name, is a true and accurate representation of me at my rawest self. And lemme tell ya – I’m built on a solid foundation of shortcomings, inadequacies, anxieties, and nuances. I am challenging, and stubborn, and frustrating, and opinionated, and loud. I curse too much, and I talk too much, and I share too much. I’m also fearful of big crowds, I have horrible stage fright, I hate my midsection, and I have a tendency to run away when the going gets tough.

I also have severe PTSD, that has been triggered repeatedly in the last four months. Almost the same frequency and recurrence as I did the year I was diagnosed.

I had a meltdown last night. I had a PTSD episode.

What are they, exactly?

Well, I don’t know what they look like for other people, but there’s what they are for me: a flashback to when a traumatic experience happened in my life.

That’s the text book version. Here’s how I’d explain it:

Imagine you’re lost in a daydream. Your mind is exploring some neat new world, or concept. You’re staring into the clouds, in a blue sky, and suddenly the things around you fade away into less than existence; sheer white noise in a tumbling tornado of thoughts and wonderment. You float away from yourself; you’re now high above reality, fumbling through real and fiction. You can hear the voices below you, but somehow they’re not really there. Not really.

That’s a PTSD meltdown. Except you’re not feeling like rainbows and unicorns. You’re feeling the darkness of the night around you. The pulsating of your blood pumping through your veins as you run. The tripping, and falling, and coolness of the concrete underneath you. You can remember the colour of her shirt. And the itchiness of the blanket she brought. And you can feel the snow beneath your boots, and the agony of your knee as it breaks the ice below you. Instead of clouds in the sky, it’s the edge of his sword by his side. His stride doesn’t break pace. And his eyes narrow deeper. You can remember all these things.

Somewhere below you can hear Jan yell, “baby, come back to me,” and “who am I, Carrie? Look at me, who am I?”

And suddenly you’re very aware that you’ve not taken a deep breath in minutes, but it might as well be lifetimes. And your heart hangs in your chest like a clock with a swinging arm, unable to rest or to keep pace with the chimes. You hear the voice in a distance, but where does it belong? How do you break from this? You’re aware of everything in both worlds happening above and below you. Where are you?

Are you on the concrete sidewalk, listening to the sirens wailing in the distance?

Or are you in your bed, with your partner, hyperventilating over a thing that happened five years ago?

I changed my name to ‘Care’. Carrie is meak, and sometimes weak, and sometimes needs Care to take over. To smile, and nod, and get back to work, and to pump the lungs full of air to think a clear thought. To be confident, and courageous, and brave, and real, and ready to pick up where Carrie left off. Like siblings. One protecting the other.

How do you cope, manage, or live and adapt with PTSD? It’s not as simple as pulling on a drama mask and walking out the door.

It takes time, effort – real concerted effort – to learn your triggers, and learn to live within the confines of them. To learn to breathe. To hear yourself, and be prepared to find your way out of a labyrinth of lost memories drowning you in a tsunami of trauma. And to lean into your partners. Be unafraid to be real with them, so they can help coax you back to peace; help you cope with these flashbacks. Be unafraid of counselling, of therapy, of being in tune with your mental health.

Mine might only last minutes; but they might as well be hours, days, years. And they take time to unpack; emotionally let go. Remind myself that I’m in control, and I’m in charge, and then I’ve taken back what happened all those years ago and now allowed it to dominate me, or my life.

And sometimes, I call on the ever-confident Care to smile when Carrie is done right out of tears.

— c ☆

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