I say “Fear, No” because I am not a fearful person. To me, fear has little use except to cripple and stop you in your tracks. When I saw the assignment “Facing Your Fears” then asking me to describe my biggest fear and what it might think of me, then write a terrifying story of what my fear might think of me, well, I have no fear! So nothing would think nothing of me! Except there IS one BIG thing but it is not Fear. It is Post Traumatic Stress. Some throw the qualifier “Disorder” at the end of PTS, but seven years ago the shrink said I was fine, and besides, I’m not sure there’s any disorder going on in my head. Following the guidelines of the assignment, here’s what my PTS thinks about a particular event.
“She had not planned to face that sense of complete loss of control on Monday, January 3rd, in sunny Los Angeles, and after it was over, I was impressed that she beat me at my game. Her friend, Tara, told her not to take that route from Rancho Palos Verdes to the train station in Santa Ana, but she did anyway because she knows she can navigate anywhere in the world–she’s been in many countries like Iceland where she can’t read a word on the signs but she is great at figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B. Tara told Jenny that this particular route confused everyone, so just take the 110 to the 405 instead of Highway 47 to the 710. Just ignore Google Maps till you get on the 405 when and her navigation system will pick up the correct route. What Jenny didn’t know was that navigating was not the real problem. The real story was that by going on Highway 47 to the 710, she would be going over, not only the Vincent Thomas Bridge but also the Gerald Desmond Bridge. (If you want, check out the drive in that hypertext link. Maybe I’ll have fun with you, too!) So now I had her, Jenny was just tooling along the road and the first bridge popped up.
“I’m in in her head now, and I hear the alarm bells going off just like before. This is not the first time since coming back from Fallujah in 2005. I came into her head over there in 2004 when rockets and mortars were hitting Camp Fallujah, and no one could control whether they lived or died in the moment, over and over, day after day, for seven months. She thought I’d go away when she came back to the world but that’s when I really pushed it. Now that things are safe, her brain is trying to resolve all the bad stuff she saw and experienced and then crap like this bridge, where she can’t control the space, pops up, and I get to take over.
“So she approaches the first bridge, The Vincent Thomas Bridge, and it’s uncomfortable but doable and she sees the ground pretty quickly down below with a lot of shipping containers. So there are distractions. I’m not getting to her. Then she rounds a corner and I hear her: Holy Mother of Jesus! You have to be F…ing Kidding Me!! and every other expletive a Marine knows that can’t be repeated.
I got her good. This bridge in front of her was high, unknown and there were no exits and she had to go over it and I’m in MY GLORY!!!! This is my Finest Hour of PTS!! So I hear her inside her head, a constant conversation with herself, “Breathe. Loose grip on the steering wheel. Make your mouth smile. Keep breathing. Pull beside the truck that’s to your right to create one wall. Press your foot on the gas pedal. Stay in the left lane so you’re on the inside with a barrier wall on the left. You are fine. Stay between the lane markers. Good, the lane markers are solid, stay inside the lane markers. All positive. Breeeeaaattth. Keep your foot on the gas. Stay with the truck. Breath. Keep the mouth smiling. Eyes open. Loose grip. Now you’re going downhill and keep your foot on the gas pedal. There is no one behind your, even if there is. This is your journey. Breathe. Smile some more. You are fine.”
“She kept this up for God knows how long but I knew I was losing the battle. Her heart rate never went through the roof and she made it up and over the bridge. She always kept it positive and that smile on her face really helped to change what was going on in her brain. I guess all the meditation and yoga classes over the years have a purpose in her life now. So now, she’s back down on the ground and she sees trees and that means solid ground, and she still has over 30 miles to go to get to the train station. I give up. She did it. She’s drinking water and driving on. She didn’t stop to throw up or cry or anything. She drove on. She breathed and smiled through it and cursed me all the way.
PTS didn’t win that day, and now, allow me to explain why I believe this is not a fear. By definition, fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. I knew the bridge was safe, not dangerous and would not cause pain, nor threaten me. The problem was control, and that the problem was essentially my recovering and reaction to Post Traumatic Stress from Iraq. One way I found to help explain this loss of control was through art. Here is a book sculpture representing loss of control:
Now, I still need to continue to recover from this PTS and I want the triggers to stop creating a reaction like this. So I’m working on it, and getting help.
To help the reader understand better about this driving experience, I found a video of this particular drive and inserted it as a hypertext link when I named the two bridges in the second paragraph, then I challenged the reader to watch the video to see if they have any sort of reaction like I had. Frankly, when I watched the video it wasn’t nearly as awful as the real thing. My point also was to try to make a distinction between fear and PTS–I hope I have accomplished that. Some people are deathly afraid of heights but this is not that. Before going into combat, I found tall bridges or long causeways over water to be uncomfortable at most, but never fearful. But when I came back from Iraq, there have been many behaviors that I’ve changed, not out of fear but out of loss of control or perceived loss of control. I chose to add the book sculpture that I created in art class last semester to also explain the sensation of loss of control in wide, open spaces. Again, it’s not about fear, yet perhaps it is anxiety that can be very difficult.