the butterfly effect of waiting a few minutes

We Waited Just 3 Minutes and it Changed Our Whole Day with PTSD

In our house, on a school morning, we get up at precisely 7:03am.

We had previously trialled a more sensibly rounded time of 7:00am for a little while, but after some early problems, I decided to reassess our schedule.

Confused? Let me explain…

PTSD brings with it a myriad of wonderfully crippling symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, insomnia, nightmares, intrusions and flashbacks. But it’s just the intrusions and flashbacks that I’m going to focus on here.

An intrusion is the inability to keep memories of traumatic events from returning. A flashback is very similar, but generally the person experiencing a flashback may feel or act as though a traumatic event is happening again.

Both intrusions and flashbacks can pop up whenever, wherever. And I really mean, whenever and wherever. It could be middle of the night (nightmares, night terrors). It could be over the breakfast table. It could be at work. It could even be mid-conversation. It’s because of this randomness that they will catch our whole family off-guard. However, intrusions and flashbacks are almost inevitable in the event of a trigger.

Triggers are anything sensory that provide a reminder of a traumatic event. They can be a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch. And, as you could appreciate, they can be everywhere.

I know, still no mention of 7:03am yet. Please, bear with me…

Anyone suffering with PTSD will generally be aware of some of their triggers, and they are usually encouraged by therapists to identify as many as possible. Because with knowledge comes power. If you know your triggers, then you can more easily limit your exposure to them, or develop techniques to cope with the reactions brought on by them.

After years of sharing our home with PTSD, I seem to know most of my husband’s triggers, almost as well as he does. And so I’m constantly on alert, ready to swoop in and help him avoid a trigger, or be there to help him manage the aftermath. Because the aftermath of an intrusion or a flashback can be brutal. And lengthy.

I had no idea that our normal morning routine would become a trigger.

My 7-year-old daughter has always been an early riser, and I needed a way to reign her in so the entire house wasn’t woken up before sunrise – the perfect job for a clock radio. And so, as a steadfast rule-stickler, she would dutifully stay quietly in her room until the exact moment the radio alarm roared into action. 7:00am.

“It’s UP time!” was the resounding alarm that I woke up to (…if I’d been lucky enough to sleep until then).

But, unbeknownst to me, triggers were lurking in that clock radio.

Randomly, they would grip my daughter, and she would innocently ferry them to her father. How was it that he was beginning to have regular intrusions and flashbacks in the mornings?

7:00am. On the hour, every hour, the standard radio news broadcast.

“Daddy, the radio is talking about people being in a terrible car crash…”

“Daddy, the radio said people were shooting guns at other people…”

“Daddy, the radio told me that some little children have died…”

Triggers can be anywhere. Triggers can be stories. And children love stories, even tragic ones.

We now get up at 7:03am. And when our daughter bounces cheerily into our room, we now happily listen to her recount the weather report.



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