Friday, 9 November 2018

When things explode

Someone asked me recently what living with PTSD is like, and I found it hard to answer. Today there was a car fire/explosion in Melbourne’s CBD. I am fine. It sounds pretty awful for those involved but I am totally fine. Sort of. Suddenly I can answer the question about PTSD, though.


I don’t know many people who know what being in an explosion feels like. I do. And I also know what PTSD after an explosion feels like. I can’t yet say whether or not it ever goes away. It’s been 11 years so  far.

It depends a little on how tired and strung out I already am, but there’s a fairly predictable chain of physical and psychological reactions when I hear about, see, or hear an explosion:

  • Adrenalin courses through my veins. An almost immediate reaction to the sudden high dose of this hormone is nausea, and - somewhat counter-intuitively - fatigue. I want to run from the apparent threat at the same time that I need to urgently lie down and sleep.
  • The backs of my hands feel like they are burning. Sometimes I need to check to make sure they are not.
  • The smell of singed hair tickles my nostrils. Sometimes this is accompanied by the smell of paraffin (which I find interesting, because the paraffin comes later, at the hospital, when you are safe and being treated for the burns).
  • Every sound that could possibly be construed as a building crumbling around me becomes a building crumbling around me.
  • For a while afterwards, every unexpected thing (bus detour, phone call, my thing not where I thought I left it, ants behaving oddly) becomes more evidence something scary is happening, triggering more adrenalin and jumpiness.
  • The logical part of my brain battles with the flight or fight mode. Logic eventually wins (these days) but it can take some time and all of my concentration and attention.
  • Every message along the lines of “There was an explosion … are you ok?” is both a lovely reminder of friendship and solidarity and yet another reason for my brain to focus on Exploding Things, for adrenalin to come, hands to burn...

Eventually, it passes, of course. I will be embarrassed at my erratic behaviour and ridiculous over-vigilance, but I’ll get over it.

There was an explosion in Melbourne today. I was nowhere near it and I’m fine. Whatever the reasons, I’m really sorry for the pain, shock and possible lasting trauma it will cause some people.  

I am weeding my garden, listening to very loud music, trying not to think about exploding things and hoping the pending post-adrenalin come-down means I get an excellent night’s sleep tonight.

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