If you haven't read Gerald's Game by Stephen King, I highly recommend it, but I'll try to connect the dots for those that haven't. However, if you do choose to read it, don't go expecting his usual supernatural thriller. Nothing supernatural about this one. Purely psychological. And terrifying.
Hypervigilant isn't a term I use lightly. It's not a term I'm allowed to use at all according to my spell-checker, it says it's two words. The DSM says it's not.
It's somewhat self-explanatory, but here is some insight just in case: http://www.help4trauma.org/hypervigilance.html
But the implications are that most people who display the symptom do what I do in the milieu. They watch the fuck out of anyone who seems suspicious (and your definition of suspicious is not ours), they're hyper aware of anything that reminds them of the trauma, and they often jump when others would not.
It also has more internal implications that keep you on your toes. But before we go any further, let me define something for the laypeople. Psychosis = voices in your ears that you think are real people. Voices in your head = thoughts. Everyone has them. The voices to which I am referring are the latter, as my current diagnosis does not include any psychotic disorders. Moving right along.
I usually try to be general in my blogs so that my story can apply to as many people as possible, but let's don't do that for this one. Let's get really personal.
I saw a guy last night (Friday) at a bar that reminded me so much of my brother it was eerie. My friends noticed him too, although not for the same reason. Most of my friends now have never seen my brother. I believe only one has, and that would be the one I grew up with. She was not at said bar. Again, moving right along.
I thought about saying something, mentioning it, just because of the sheer uncanny resemblance, and then thought better of it. It wasn't triggering me, it wasn't my brother. I knew that. But I did slyly watch the fuck out of him for a minute before I decided that.
My hypervigilance has settled. It manifests now only in times of extreme stress, or when it's necessary (e.g., when I'm walking late at night/out with my clients and need to look out for them/the general public). I still have a heightened startle response, but that's probably always going to be there.
It's settled now into thoughts, less than actions. Conflicting thoughts often. Sometimes the hypervigilant thoughts are right, sometimes the others are. This makes for quite a cacophony in my head sometimes.
I spent a great part of my childhood and formative years fending off/succumbing to tyrannical men. My brother in his outright abusive horror, my father in his cold distant judgment. I am now on the look out for all, but especially this type of dysfunctional behavior. If I feel (and I stress "feel," as I do not make assertions that these feelings are reality, just that they are present) that I, or others, are being shut down, ignored, attacked, or judged, cue the internal hypervigilance, and here we go:
So, Gerald's Game. And the "voices."
The protagonist in the story, Jessie Burlingame, is an unhappy housewife who ends up alone and handcuffed to a bed in a cabin in the woods. She then has to either die of starvation or get out somehow. But during her ordeal, she starts to work some serious shit out in her head. Jessie and I have similar (not the same) histories. She's also got several "voices" (memories/thoughts) in her head that are connected to friends in her past. Goody (Goodwife Burlingame, the good housewife Jessie feels she should be), Ruth (a college friend), her mother, and Nora (a therapist) to name a few.
Goody is anxious and polite, Ruth, abrasive and honest, Jessie's mother errs on the side of distant, and Nora is analytical, but pushes Jessie to make the right decisions. The right decision in Jessie's current sitch would be to get the hell out of the handcuffs and get help. Her circumstances for being handcuffed to the bed, I won't reveal. It's not pertinent to the blog, and if you choose to read the book I don't want to ruin it any more than I have to.
My "voices" all sound like me. Different emotional versions of me, but me nonetheless. I have, as I think most people do, a need to be understood that is impossible to ignore. However, in that same vein, I've been through some crap that it's difficult for a lot of people to understand. The majority of the world that has not been physically and sexually abused doesn't understand what it does to your thought processes.
I think over the years I've divided my "voices" into several categories. Paranoid, protective, angry, dysfunctional, anxious, intuitive, and loving. Imagine trying to let people in with all that nonsense happening at once. It didn't happen for a while, but I did try.
The angry voice really only has a few words to it's lexicon, and they're mostly expletives, directed at whomever the paranoid voice has told me is out to get me, or doesn't like me, or thinks I am stupid/annoying/crazy, etc and insert negative adjective here. Keep in mind these are all in my head, those of you that know me can attest to the fact that I don't rail at people irrationally, as a general rule.
But ah, that paranoid voice. I have a very insistent paranoid voice. Impossible to ignore, I've realized over the years. It refuses to be ignored. It sounds ominous in its tonality. It sounds like a voice I should heed. It's a voice based on direct and indirect past events. I have over the years, had to analyze and converse with the paranoid voice, to discover if it's truly paranoia, or if it's the protective voice, which is far more rational. The conversations with the paranoid voice are normally fact based on my end, and empirically based on the voice's end. "Remember that time..." the voice says. "This could be that again, watch out."
The protective voice comes from knowledge of myself, for instance, I give. A LOT. More than I should at times, but if something must be done in my personal life, I do it. Even if someone else could conceivably do it and not require me to expend the energy. The protective voice says things like "Wait," and "Let it go." My anxious voice REALLY hates the protective voice. My anxious voice is an animal, it's like a feral child. It doesn't listen, and it will do what it needs to be satisfied. I imagine the anxious voice as belonging to my childhood me who imagines that there is someway to satisfy the anxiety so it will truly go away. What I have determined, however, is that acting on the anxiety causes more anxiety.
The anxious voice can also give way to the dysfunctional voice. Less and less these days to I have the patience for the dysfunctional voice. This is the voice that said "Destroy" in my younger years, "hurt, because they will hurt you first." This is the voice that said "Drink, cut, starve, binge, purge, take that guy home, it doesn't matter what happens to you. You don't matter.You are meant for the darkness." This voice, I hear less and less. Well, I hear it. But the action that used to follow doesn't interest me anymore. Those actions don't make me feel the way they used to. They used to make me feel in control, powerful. Now, reflecting on the last time I did any of them, they make me feel, respectively, sick, profoundly disturbed, weak, gross, even more gross, and numb. Knowing that, the pull just isn't there to act out anymore. I'd rather call a friend and cry. Which is something I still have trouble doing, but I'm working on it.
I couldn't really hear the internal loving voice until a few years ago, but it's gotten progressively louder, and more insistent of late. The loving voice gives out tough and soft love depending on when it's needed. "You can handle this," is a common phrase. Today, I had a massive panic attack on the freeway in gridlocked, unmoving traffic. Best place to have one of those. Completely trapped, and my attacks go like this: weakness, increased heart rate, sweating, nausea, choking sensations, and then, intermittent sobbing. So like, the freeway guys. Yeah.
I started to call a friend. Then I hung up after one or two rings. Because the loving voice said "They're busy, and you can do this by yourself. Breathe." It also says things like, "It's okay to reach out here," or when necessary, "Suck it up mama, this isn't the hardest thing you've ever done." It says the things I need to hear that my friends won't say. Because they don't know to.
The intuitive voice is what happens when protective and loving mix together. It says things like "This is exactly what is happening here. Pay attention."
My good thoughts (voices) usually keep me in check, and safe now, but they do still have to fight with those that grew from the destruction of my safety. The good one's are helping me rebuild it, even as the others stare in wonder that it can be done. It can.
I require a lot of patience with myself, so I imagine those I am close to often require a bit of patience with me also. I've accepted that bafflement comes with the territory at times. It is what it is. It'll get better as I get more and more comfortable in my skin.
I wonder if the people with similar histories to my own, as well as those unscathed by abuse, have similar voices, and if so, what they say? I am genuinely curious about this. What do they say for you?