A few days ago at 5 AM a loud explosion awakened me! It sounded as if it was next door. My husband was worried too but we told ourselves that it must have been a big truck backfiring as it went along the well-traveled road behind our house, so we went back to sleep.
Unfortunately there was another identical blast a half hour later and then a third boom. The noises didn't sound like gunshots but more like bombs. My husband looked out our front window and saw a Sheriff's car blocking the street and a Swat team 2 houses away. Soon after we received a phone call from the authorities warning us to stay inside.
We live on a lovely street and have always felt very safe. However, the next few hours were very scary since we didn't know what was happening and kept imagining some pretty dire scenarios. We were afraid to go near windows since if there was shooting a bullet might go astray.
Finally we received another call telling us that the emergency was over. We still didn't know the details about what had occurred until the afternoon. Apparently the authorities had caught up with a wanted felon living only 2 houses away, and yes, they had used smoke bombs during the 2-hour standoff.
When I saw that our street was once again danger free I breathed a sight of relief and went on with my usual routine. However, as the day progressed I noticed that I wasn’t able to concentrate on some of the tasks I had set for myself. I was antsy and anxious but didn't know why until I started to print out some flyers for an upcoming class I going to teach about Post Traumatic Stress.
A light bulb went off in my brain as it dawned on me that I was suffering from just that: Post Traumatic Stress! You don't have to be in a war or be threatened by a criminal pointing a gun at you to be traumatized. Even something minor, like having a Swat team flush out the criminal on your block while you sit in bed and wonder what is going on, can result in PTSD.
What is Trauma? It is any experience the brain thinks is a threat to your life. Hearing bombs go off and seeing people who are armed right outside my window posed enough of a threat to traumatize me since we were forbidden to leave our safe home...or was it safe? I cowered in my bed not knowing if I would hear a gunfight outside or whether a bomb would shatter the windows.
Another important aspect of trauma is the sense of total helplessness about the situation and your ability to deal with it. This state can produce the same kind of changes in your brain as happens in war, rape, abuse or even painful medical procedures or accidents. Waiting for hours and not knowing what was going on just a few yards from my sanctuary increased my feelings of powerlessness.
Common symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress include: reliving the event, having physical sensations when being reminded of the event, having trouble focusing or concentrating, feeling jumpy or feeling very tired, anxious, worried or depressed. That was exactly what I was experiencing.