Self-isolation is a fun way to realise I have PTSD about isolation

I came into this isolation idea feeling quite comfortable with the whole idea of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew it’d suck in the way that this stuff always does – with all that grief and annoying emotions. But I’ve done it before in much worse situations, so this would be child’s play.

Or so I thought.

I’m a historically “high functioning” sick person.

This is another way of saying, “I can repress my feelings so well that I can exist in the world as if nothing is wrong and everything is fine, when everything is actually terrible and painful and I’m not ok”.

I say historically because, well, that just isn’t me anymore after my nervous breakdown due to the aforementioned high functioning in a situation that that was impossible in 👍

I also didn’t realise that my repression abilities have really decreased quite a lot since I recovered from my gut issues.

Maybe because my body now knows what happens when I pretend everything is ok when it isn’t, so now I just cry instead. Or lay in. Or dissociate. Honestly nothing that any longer resembles high functioning.

This isolation, I’ve been through the most ridiculous series of emotions that I think I’ve ever had

From absolute denial and thinking people who were panicking in the very early days of coronavirus were actually laughable, to feeling somehow offended that people were panicking.

Anxiety attacks at supermarkets with no hand soap, and just from reading the news. Panic attacks for entirely unrelated reasons, but clearly related to having lower emotional walls right now.

And just losing my composure every now and then cos hey, I’m having a really hard time (aren’t we all?). Also I cry every 2 or 3 days, quite a lot and some days can’t even pretend to be happy or care about life.

I’m on this aggressive emotional rollercoaster and it’s really not fun.

Imagine feeling personally attacked by people who are being super, intensely overly cautious of this virus… For me, I read it as if this is how scared I should be 100% of the time as an immunocompromised person, and since I’m not, it felt like an attack on my way of life.

No one’s saying that trauma is rational at all 😅

Then one day someone mentioned gut issues

And I admitted having minor problems for the last few months in that area. Completely manageable without medical intervention at this point. Just is.

They were surprised I hadn’t told them. I said I hadn’t because I didn’t want to be told to go to a doctor, and then a doctor will say, there’s nothing I can do, maybe you should go on an elimination diet, and then I’d have to cut out onion and garlic… and then I had a panic attack.

Who knew?

I am FUCKING TERRIFIED of being told to not eat certain foods, even temporarily. People on diets that cuts out certain foods gives me full on fight or flight reactions. And the thought of losing weight makes me feel ill.

My living nightmare only ended just over a year ago.

JUST OVER A YEAR AGO.

For those not up-to-date with my life or my blog, this was 8 months of an undiagnosed inflammatory bowel disease and a rare parasite (both due to my immune deficiency) that had me lose 20% of my body weight in a very painful way, only to be diagnosed and cured with medication in the space of a week.

I can’t believe I’m not a full on psychopath at this point – the fact that I was in the most intense physical and mental pain that made me have something that resembles a near-death experience is probably the only reason I’m not a psychopath.

But the pain does haunt me somewhere in my psyche. You can’t live through that and be ok this soon, even when you regain the weight and are “back to normal”.

This made me realise my medical PTSD

I’m kinda riddled babes.

Back in 2015, I had months (years?) of bronchitis and then got pneumonia which took a long time to kick. Then in summer, when I was better, I was too scared to go swimming in water over my head (at Herne Bay in Auckland – the calmest, safest water ever).

Why, you may ask, since I’ve always been a bit of a water baby.

I was afraid of the feeling of not being able to breath. I didn’t feel like I could trust my lungs after the pain of pneumonia.

They didn’t feel strong enough yet for me to consider swimming. And the thought of reliving the pain of not being able to breath properly was straight up terrifying.

And if you know me, you’ll also know you almost never see me without a bottle of water. If you’ve ever noticed that is. I assume you have because I imagine I’m super memorable like that 😉

But that’s because if I get dehydrated, I get a UTI. Like, it’s pretty much that simple. No water = piss blades. Sooo… anyone would carry water with them if that was the payoff.

But sometimes I think I’m going somewhere for a short amount of time, so I don’t take my bottle, but then it takes longer than I expect, and there’s no water, and I start to (internally) freak out.

I start thinking about where the nearest water is, where the nearest doctors is, it’s probably the weekend cos luck works that way, so wondering what the wait time is at the hospital to get some antibiotics, wondering how comfortable the bed is, and do I have a private toilet or will I have to be publicly in pain going to the loo every 2 minutes? Do I have Ural at home or where I’m staying? Ha, psych! I always do.

The thing is the panic. I don’t even have a UTI at this point, just don’t have water nearby.

It’s a lot of work to be subconsciously this hypervigilant.

This isolation is no different

Annoyingly, I’ve never been more prepared to be isolated. I have all the tips and knowledge about grief to help deal with it from my 2018/2019 experience, but still it’s a damn struggle.

I remember this feeling. The feeling of having no future.

With my gut issues and no diagnosis, at the worst of it, I thought I was on a trajectory to my death. I was graphing my weight loss to understand how serious it was.

I was watching new bones I’ve never seen emerge from where there was once a nice fat cover. I was watching my body deteriorate from lack of nutrients. Sores not healing and mouth ulcers (you know, just some casual scurvy).

I was too weak to do a lot of things (I did a lot of things anyway haha). I was starving and my animal instincts were kicking in, making me extreeemely obsessed with food.

And nothing mattered.

The future didn’t matter. I was going to die slowly over the next year or 2 as far as the trajectory was going, so all I could do was try to stop the dying.

Then here we are now.

I’m not dying. Thank fuck.

But now I’m in this group of people who *could* die from Covid-19 due to lung disease and being immunocompromised. Which is very scary tbh.

I don’t want the virus ANYWAY, because the shortness of breath sounds awfully similar to pneumonia, but worse, so I don’t need that again

Also don’t want to die, cos that would suck.

And it’s not super cool to be in the group of people who are “most likely to die”… Especially when I also hear people complaining about the effect on the economy when it’s “only a small percentage of people who might die”.

Fucking cheers to those people.

I left my digital job a month before lockdown because I wasn’t feeling it was my passion. I want to work with people and help people. Like, directly, face-to-face.

I took a 3 week break then was about to apply for socially in-yo-face jobs when this all took off.

I was so close to potentially starting a casual job at a bar that I loved, to bide my time as I chased the dream.

Then government recommended I go into isolation at NZ alert level 2 due to the high-risk status. That week I was sending my CV into that bar so I had to email in and say it was best for me to be safe and not work there until this was over.

Also had to pull out of my volunteering at the Auckland City Mission and a local hospice because I didn’t feel that having a vulnerable person in a place full of vulnerable people was good for any of us.

So I have no future again.

All the work that I want to do is specifically face-to-face and is likely to involve the most high-risk people in our community.

Working in a bar is not the same, but strangers don’t see me as a vulnerable person so are likely to unintentionally put my life in danger by being blasé about hygiene practices (maybe not anymore?).

I also don’t know when I can work again – I’m guessing level 1, based on my job preferences.

I could probably try to work online but it’d require going back to the types of jobs I specifically left and the thought is literally depressing.

I’m putting it off because I can’t face the reality that I took the huge leap to leave a workplace I lived for and loved, to follow a dream, to only go back to that industry out of necessity because I’m sick and I don’t deserve nice things.

I hate having my health status affect my whole life in a way that healthy people just don’t have.

Tbh, this whole scenario feels like a big ole “fuck you” from the universe, cos it’s wildly unlucky haha.

So yea it’s not the isolation that’s the PTSD, it’s the lack of future

I barely exist right now.

I get happiness from working out, baking, cooking, listening to podcasts, walks with my boyfriend, talking to friends online, and rating craft beer. Which is all well and good, but it’s all external.

Nothing inside me is feeling happy because I’m back in this space of survival, not living. I’m afraid of dying and my purpose has disappeared into my immune deficiency and waiting till the world is safe again for me to exist.

I’m lucky to be physically well enough to do all of these things that bring me external joy – I’ll never take my physicality for granted ever again.

But I’m actually terrified of this isolated, futureless feeling. Because that’s what PTSD is. Fear for your life.

It takes a recognisable feeling from a time that you were experiencing trauma, and when you feel that feeling now, you re-experience the trauma.

PTSD is the reason I struggle to listen to The OC opening credits song for an entirely non-medical reason. Fun fact.

So if you thought this was going to be uplifting, ha! I got you.

No, this is just a public journal entry to say, check in on your vulnerable friends and family. They might be fine, but they really might not be.

Medical trauma is a real thing and this pandemic can cause serious fear in the people who are high risk. The fear of hospitalisation, shortness of breath, dying, or just the general feeling of helplessness is very much a real thing.

We don’t all have PTSD, but that doesn’t necessarily stop the feelings.

I’m sure we’ll all be fine. The sickos out there always find a way to get through, cos we are pretty tough.

But it could be months after the healthies are back to “normal” life for us vulnerables to get there too, and we’re probably all quite aware of the fact our isolation will be longer than others.

So give us a break if our depression is palpable. It’s a tough time for everyone, not only the high-risk folks.

Sending love to my fellow PTSD friends, scared friends, compromised friends, unemployed friends, depressed friends, anxious friends, struggling friends, and all of the friends who are there for the people who need it.

Charlie xxx


📷 Featured photo by Tonik on Unsplash

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