Monday, July 16, 2007

It’s Not Paranoia if They’re Really After You

Shortly after I changed my name I decided to try one last time with my brother. I don’t know what possessed me to tell him. He knew I lived in New York City, although he never visited, citing excuses such as, “You are living in Gomorrah and I will not be a part of it” to “I heard you don’t have a door to your kitchen. I can’t stay in a place without doors inside the home.”

The phone call was the last one, and didn’t end all too well. Not too long after that I got a letter in the mail from an inmate in a maximum-security prison. It was addressed to my new name, one that outside of work – my brother knew. The letter-writer teased that he’d let me know who gave him my name, but never did. In it, the prisoner stated that he understood we were very much a like, and that he would be released soon and wanted to meet me.

Well, that just shot my sense of security to hell. And really, the main way he could have gotten my name and identifying information (as he said he knew about me) was one way. I looked up the prison and saw that they did have personals for ‘outsiders’ to write the inmates. I figured my brother (or mother, last I knew he still shared a lot with her) had sent in my name and address.

My PTSD is what is called subsympsomal for the most part. That means below symptom level. I ran on high, in a trauma state, for many, many years. However, when my sense of security is threatened I go back into hyper vigilant mode.

There was a time when I was really ill. My stomach was in constant knots and my job absolutely horrid. I was hired to do some quality assurance for a special unit in a hospital, but everyone fought against it. I didn’t have a computer for 3 months and then I found out my supposed ‘manager’ was a secretary who had stolen the new computer I had received, and the one I ended up getting was her old one. Every time the nurses went by my desk they would hit the back of my chair ‘accidentally.’ For a week they harassed a secretary in another unit (but our office space) by posting up signs that she was bi-polar. They did this in the elevators and waiting lobby so even the patients could see. When the taped signs were taken down the ‘perpetrator’ took to super gluing them around the hospital. This should give you a glimpse of the people I had to deal with. They were a vile bunch that even laughed about stuff they stole from the patients.

I was triggered. I had to get out, but couldn’t figure a way, as I needed the health benefits. I needed to save money (money is a major way to trap people). My stomach started gurgling like crazy and for the first time in about a decade I was vomiting. The only other time I had thrown up was in utter disgust about something my mother had done, I can’t vomit to save my life even if a victim of food poisoning, but disgust me enough and I need a bucket.

My mind didn’t yet make the connection between the stomach problems and what was happening at work. I was diagnosed with GERD (Gastro-esophageal-reflux disease), which I was told I had since a very young age. This explains my constant sour stomach growing up, or part of it. It also explains why I couldn’t eat very much which aggravated my mother to no end. I still can’t even tolerate black pepper.

I had a corner desk, as the nurses rounded it they would often leave their coffee cups and wadded paper on my computer. There was one trashcan we all shared, and we all tossed our papers in it. One day a nurse came by and left a broken pen. I asked her to pick it up and put it in the trash, and she denied it was hers. So I tossed it in the trashcan. The next day I was called into a new supervisors office (the old one having gotten a promotion). I had been written up for ‘hurling a projectile’ at a co-worker. I explained the set-up and constant abuse and he just nodded and said he’d need to explore the issue more.

I explored more and went to people higher than him. I asked about the secretary that was sabotaging everything and refusing to give me all the forms I needed to reconcile practices. He told me many horrible things, and that she had a thick file. He also said that they had spent a lot of money recruiting her boss and she was part of the deal. If she went, he had threatened to leave. They believed it was an affair, but they were powerless to do anything about it.

I did finally leave and was there only a year. I stepped out into only a part time job, confident that the world had better for me. But the point of the story is this – during that entire time my security was threatened and I was at hyper alert. I was paranoid about absolutely everything. I couldn’t sleep and was having nightmares about my mother moving in with me and taking over my life. Some times in these dreams I was physically handcuffed to the bed by her, or tied down. I was her slave. One was so bad that I was thrashing around and flew out of the bed, landing on my face. My nose was bruised, but not broken. After months of no sleep whenever I heard noises and thought someone was in the house. I started sleeping with a flashlight under my pillow and my portable phone in my hand. One night after being woken at 3am by a particularly bad dream I took the flashlight and shined it around the ceiling. There is a slight decorative ledge, and a small space between that edge and the ceiling. I was looking for a glare and had it in my head that somehow someone had gotten a video camera in there and was taping me, waiting for me to do something.

Paranoia is a horrible thing when it becomes that consuming, but there are times when it is necessary. I had to watch every step for such a long time and deal with the fact that yes, people are out to get you, that it’s hard to let go. Though, for the most part I have. I don’t think anyone at work is out to sabotage me, we each have our own job to do. I have been told by more than one person that the person who’s supposed to train me doesn’t want to because he is set to retire (by age) in a few years and he doesn’t want to, he’s scared I’m there to replace him. There is a lot of resistance there that annoys me.

But for now I’m safe. And when I’m safe I’m healthy. But when the triggers start one of the symptoms is paranoia. “They can still find you, they’re watching” is the main one. And while, in hindsight it feels like schizophrenia all it is is my mind, upon recognizing a threat, retreating to the situations it knows and back into the thoughts that kept me alive in that time period. It’s a frightening thing when it happens, and something I’m working against. Luckily, I haven’t gotten that bad in a while. At least, not to the 3 am going around my apartment with a flashlight searching for bugs paranoia. But it’s just dormant, waiting for a chance to shoot out into ‘survival’ mode again. Or, more positively, maybe I am gaining more control as each new day is better and safer than the last.

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Amel's Realm said...

The story about the inmate thing is SCARY. I'd have freaked out as well had I been in your position.

Yes, I believe you're gaining more control, Vic. I have some dormant sides as well, but it gets easier to conquer them as time goes by, as you sharpen your tools to fight them.


Michelle said...

I have a mentally unstable family member that has done things like the woman you describe to several other family and friends, but she especially targets me.

I still get "edgy" about making myself too visible. It always used to trigger her. For example - I'll write this here, but I'd never write about her on my blog.. just in case it got back to her somehow. Kinda paranoid? yes, but it's hard not to be :-\

You're doing brilliant, IMO.

Victorya said...

Amel - it had me freaked out for a while, especially as it came at a time when I finally felt like I was taking control, it just spiraled me back. I don't know if I mentioned it, but he also said he was being released soon *shudder*

Michelle - it is very hard to not be paranoid. In fact, after I posted this I checked my map of where people come from, and my mother's last known city was on there. My breathing quickened for a bit.

Amel's Realm said...

Hei, Vic!!!

He said he was being released soon? No wonder you shuddered. I would shudder, too!!!

Yeah, I know what you mean about when you think you're doing fine but then "shit" happens again. But I still think you get stronger every time you win each battle.

Michelle said...

One thing I have learnt - people who threaten mostly get their "kicks" from the threat. They know they're messing with your brain and that's the harm they do.. and enjoy. I've never had a "threatener" actually follow through. It's an intimidation thing. My family member doesn't threaten - she just reacts and acts.

I've meant to say about PTSD. An online friend once pointed out I show signs like PTSD due to past stuff (lived in one country with war and one with terrorism - it gets to you after a while, even if you're not directly touched by it)

I'm still not sure I'd call myself a PTSD person. I used to get panic attacks and I was very paranoid about safety. I'm better than I was, but it's like "one step at a time".

So, when I read someone like you who has had serious direct personal trauma - I'm just awed at how well you cope and are constantly growing and "stepping forward".