Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Day That Caused My PTSD

On October 1, 1987 a 5.9 earthquake struck my hometown of Whittier, CA. Prior to that I had only experienced 2 earthquakes, both in the middle of the night, and I was fine the next day. This one changed all that.

I didn't so much feel the earthquake at first as hear it. I heard the roof shaking and thought cats were running circles above my room, which freaked me out. It was only when my dad pushed me into a doorway that I realized what was happening (earthquake preparedness had taught me that you go under a table or in a doorway during one). Then I felt it. And the huge aftershock afterwards.

For the next 15 years I would battle extreme anxiety and sheer terror in response to earthquakes. As soon as I was aware a significant size one was happening the first thing I would do would cover my ears (because in my mind I felt that if I couldn't hear it it would not be so bad. Obviously that stemmed from hearing that one on Oct 1st so acutely). Second I would yell (because covering my ears what not enough alone to block the noise).

You would think that living in California and continually experiencing them I would get used to them. I myself could not understand why this wasn't the case.

One of the big reasons I left California was the earthquakes. People could not understand this. They wondered why I wasn't just as afraid of hurricanes and tornadoes. It was because you have warning for those. Part of the problem with the earthquakes is they just happened. For a person with anxiety (and yes, I have battled anxiety all my life, not just in relation to earthquakes) this is the worst -- the not knowing when to expect them and how major or minor they will be.

It took me 28 years to realize just why I respond to earthquakes as I do. It is PTSD. I was reading or watching something that explained the symptoms of PTSD and it just clicked. I think that each time I experience one it takes me back to the terror of that one 28 years ago. And I am not talking the little ones that you can hardly feel, I am talking about jolts and long periods of shaking. This is not something I am ever going to overcome. It is a part of me. And that is okay.

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