PTSD is a Mental Illness

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Photo by Riley Briggs. Downtown Des Moines, Iowa

There are some times when it is blatantly clear that I have a mental illness.

I went to the store today to pick up some items: pasta, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and milk in a glass bottle. (The glass bottle is irrelevant to the topic, but I was happy to find it at the store.) Even with so few items, writing them down in a list helps. Well, I didn’t feel like writing it down and decided I would try to shop from memory.

The items appeared before me like magic. Really, the store is small, unlike Whole Foods, and I knew where these items were more or less. After finding the last item, which was exactly what I was looking for, I felt excited that I finished my shopping so quickly. I can’t remember the last time I shopped so efficiently. I have a vague memory of being an efficient shopper a long, long time ago.

These days I go to the store and become paralyzed. The rows and rows of items and different cases of food becomes overwhelming. It’s chaotic to me. I have my dog to go shopping with me. She is trained to push me with her paws when I spend too much time in one place. (Sometimes this goes against what I want when I am intentionally spending extra time in one place.) In spite of the numerous times using emotional regulation to become a “normal” shopper, there is still something that causes my mind to check out from reality. Shopping has since become a mental exercise of focusing on a list. Sometimes I have to repeat my list out loud to get my shopping done. (See why some people with PTSD seem freaky?)

Anyway, today I was so excited about how quickly my shopping was done that I started to get emotional. As I looked for the aisle that led to checkout, I started saying “exit” out loud and getting anxious. I had been trying to train my dog to go toward the exit when I say the word; that was one of the reasons why I said it out loud. Well, a store employee heard me, saw my eyes getting teary and tried to help me get to the cashier. She took the items out of my arms and walked me to the front of the store. And then it all came out. I couldn’t stop crying. I must have looked like a freak show. I said, “I’m embarrassed,” even though I wasn’t. I don’t know why I said that. Maybe to make the people watching feel sympathetic.

Now I’m exhausted, except that I have enough energy to write this all down.

I wonder what a scan of my brain would look like now.

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