The Other Side of Reason – I am here, I wait

Involved in a bus accident that took the lives of six people, David Gibson has been battling through PTSD for over three years. In an effort to better understand himself and to communicate with others, he turned to writing. His first book was The Other Side of Reason: A Journal on PTSD, available now via This column continues that text.

[I am here. I wait.]
I think of the lake.
I imagine something mysterious rising to the surface on a bright autumn morning.
For an instant it shows itself and is gone before I can comprehend it.
I do not point, nor shout, I would not dare. After all, I could be wrong.
By the end of the afternoon, the shape – whatever it was, I can barely remember.
I cannot be made to state it was absolutely thus or so. Nothing can be conjured of its size.
In the end, my sighting is rejected, becoming something only dimly thought of; dreadful but unreal.
Thus, whatever rose toward the light is left to sink un-named; a shape that passes slowly through a dream.
Waking, all I remember is this awesome presence, while a shadow, lying dormant in the twilight, whispers from the other side of reason:
I am here. I wait

Question: What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Answer: Normal people experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal situation

A facilitator walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 50 ml to 200 ml.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

It’s almost impossible to ‘put the glass down’ if you have PTSD, in fact, you may as well be holding a bucket of water at times, but reducing your symptoms of hyper-arousal requires a lot of self-control and a conscious effort to identify things or incidences that provoke anxiety, and shift your focus away from such anxiety cues.

One of the many hyper-arousal symptoms of PTSD is hyper-vigilance and this refers to the experience of being constantly tense and ‘on guard’- your brain is on high alert in order to be certain danger is not near.

This state of increased awareness, anxiety, and sensitivity to the environmental around you often manifests as a need to always scan your surroundings for potential threats. With the brain resources on constant alert, the results can be inappropriate or even aggressive reactions in everyday situations.

People displaying hyper-vigilance can be so involved in their scrutiny of what’s around them, that they tend to ignore their family and friends. Often, they will overreact to loud sounds and bangs, unexpected noises, smells, etc. They can get really agitated and irritated, when they move into a crowded or noisy area as there is too much to scrutinize.

Even familiar surroundings and people can be an issue as hyper-vigilance can make people acutely aware of subtle details normally ignored – body language, a person’s voice and tone, their mood, their expressions – all things which are continually assessed.

The brain is still very much a mystery to scientists, and while we’ve made huge strides in understanding mental health issues, the only thing we can do right now is educate ourselves and our peers. We can be curious about the complexities of these uniquely special brains. We can understand that creative genius and mental health issues are intrinsically linked, and remember that gifts often come in deceiving packages. We move mountains in one person’s life through acceptance and love. We can do so much by checking judgement at the door.

Some days, everything is wonderful. Some days, everything is terrible. It’s par for the course, even for those free of mental health issues. Being human means riding these waves. If you have one or two bad days a week, you’re doing great. If you have one melt-down every few years, you’re doing spectacular. If you are having the worst year of your life, hold on to hope, because it does get better.

I believe that living with PTSD is something that requires self-awareness, patience, and a willingness to work on unresolved trauma. However, what it requires most is a compassionate support system that is available when you need it. I have gotten that in part from sharing my thoughts and experiences here @ottawalifers. And I hope that I have provided it for others as well.

Until next time.