Instinct and hypervigilance

One of the things that becomes increasingly clear after you have experienced a trauma is the change in how you perceive the world around you. Right after the shootings, when I finally came out of the cloud of shock and chaos, I realized that the world was now infinitely more dangerous than I ever imagined it was. I was fairly cynical prior to that day anyway, but there was a part of me that believed that, really, I was going to be OK, that I was safe. After that day, I began to see a threat in every possible situation. I became extremely hypervigilant and paranoid that I and my loved ones were going to die in horrible ways. I began to plan and seek ways out of situations just in case something bad began to happen. When I left for school the following fall I was now taking classes in large rooms with hundreds of students and many possible threatening situations. I would spend most of my classes imagining scenarios where people were coming in shooting and I would plan how I would get myself and others out…every class period. I thought that I was managing my overwhelming fear and anxiety fairly well considering what I had just been through. I was pretty proud of the fact that I was becoming the “expert” on all of the escape routes and possible disaster scenarios that could plague that school. What I didn’t realize was that all this planning and anticipation was really a self-preservation method as I was still in survival mode months later, and that it was fueling the dysfunction I was experiencing. I spent the next 5 years in this state of hypervigilance, fear, and paranoia, which created a memory block for most of those 5 years. Once I began to understand the realities of trauma reactions and how my mind was working to protect me and help me prepare for another unexpected disaster, I was able to begin to control this response. I still suffer with hypervigilance, fear, and some paranoia at times, but what I’ve learned to do is hone it in, to distinguish between legitimate threats to my life or my safety, and ignore erroneous situations that don’t pose a threat. I’ve learned to enhance my instincts with the mechanism of hypervigilance allowing me to have discernment and wisdom into what I’m experiencing. I used to hate being so “aware” of every threat, every person, every situation because it was so constant and in my mind, there was no place where I could be safe. Now, I respect that my brain was able to protect me from completely breaking after the shootings and from traumas that have occurred since then, and have learned that those mechanisms that are in place to keep me safe can be controlled. Learning that you can control your trauma responses, your PTSD symptoms and the fear the grips your existence is very freeing. Hypervigilance may be the catalyst for becoming increasingly¬†aware of my surroundings, but honing that response and training my instincts to add context to what my mind says is a threat, gave me back some of the power that was taken from me that day. Learning to control and hone your trauma responses will help you feel like you are in control of yourself again, it will give you hope that there is a light through the darkness.

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