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Better is Worse: Trauma-less Trauma and the Intrusive Mind

(WARNING: possible stalking/violence/trauma triggers)

Note: This is a follow-up to my post last week. Get caught up here.


(image is a painting by Adam Grieve from adamgrieve.com)

Gun to my head, I would say that the worst symptom of my mental illness is intrusive memory. It goes something like this:

I want you to imagine that there's someone following you constantly. This person is not a stranger, and not even frightening, but someone quite familiar whose name you can't quite place. This person looks over your shoulder while you're working, perches on the armrest of the couch while you watch TV, and silently strolls slightly behind you while you're walking. No one else can see this person, and he or she is so quiet and unassuming that you often forget that this person is there. It's like having a very taciturn imaginary friend. Have you pictured this? Good.

Illustration for article titled Better is Worse: Trauma-less Trauma and the Intrusive Mind

Now I want you to imagine that this person suddenly jumps in front of you and punches you in the throat.


You can't breathe. Your whole face clenches from the pain, breath hissing between ground teeth. Your hands ball into fists, and adrenaline surges into your body. As it flows, your heart races and your legs tense for flight. A brief collection of words and experiences flies across your synapses and

the asphalt driveway crying on her knees arms wrapped begging you

for a moment, your heart stops. You feel tears start to come but

the couch weeping father yelling everyone sees stop crying stop fucking coward

they immediately recede. Another second, and everything is still. Your follower has resumed their accustomed quiescence. It's like it never happened. You sigh, twist your mouth wryly, and go back to doing the dishes. This is the sixth time it's happened today.


Intrusive memories, flashbacks, anxiety attacks, demoniac visions - call them what you will. They all suck. Not only because of the agony they cause, but because I know that they are caused not by others, not by some shadow-follower, but by my own mind. So I am betrayed

maybe it's all true you're not crazy you're not good a broken boy run away run

by the one thing I can't escape: my own head.

What I just described isn't anything special. Intrusive memories resulting from trauma, whether violent, emotional, or grief-induced, have been well-documented since at least the discovery of shell shock in World War I. I'm sure there are plenty of people reading this post who suffer from PTSD, and others who despite a lack of diagnosis have had such experiences.


I've never had trauma. My parents are amazing, wonderful people who love me. I've never been beaten, never been assaulted, and have never been overcome with grief from the loss of a loved one. I've never been to war, never been to jail, never been hospitalized for mental illness, never been in an abusive relationship, and, apart from coming in second-best in a love triangle, never truly experienced the sting of failure. I've loved and been loved back in fair measure. I got good grades, have a good job, and I don't work hard. And yet

see you're not special even in a bad way you're not hurt just weak

I still suffer these attacks every single day of my life. I spent the entirety of 2010 in absolute dread of them. I couldn't be alone in my own head - I had to play podcasts when I showered, I had to play videogames with netflix streaming in another window, I had to watch movies while I was briefing cases and studying for exams. I couldn't even smoke in silence, I had to have music or a book to throw at my ravenous mind lest it turn cannibal.


But I couldn't always distract myself. I had class, I had work, I had dates, I had to brush my teeth. Somehow I managed to struggle through, mostly on the conviction of my own self-hatred. I liked other people. I cared for them and wanted them to be happy. If I dropped off the planet or failed to move forward I would let them down. They would be hurt, leave me, and abandon me to my own despair. My own lack of respect for my feelings and worth was ironically motivating: I wasn't worth anything, so I'd please others as best I could.

your best was obviously not nearly good enough

So I got solid grades. I got a job. I got a girlfriend. I studied for the bar and passed it. I did well at work and got a raise, and then another. I settled a case for $1.5 million. The attacks are less frequent. And now I'm here.


"How are you?"


what a joke stop lying

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