Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another shock to my system

December 23rd... A time for merriment, preparing to leave our homes and journey off to destinations near or far to be with our families for the holidays.

Unfortunately its also a time ripe for those who commit crimes (whether because theyre poor or because theyre hateful people). News stories have been rampant this year telling people to beware of criminals staking you out when shopping or leaving your own home for a few days. Its the perfect opportunity for thieves to strike- to grab your packages out of your hands, your vehicle or your home while your back is turned or youre hundreds of miles away.

One of my friends got robbed in DC on the 23rd. He was packing his truck to head down to his mothers. In a good mood thanks to the holiday, but as he checked his house one last time and picked up the last of the things he was planning on taking with him there was a loud crash from outside. He came out the door just in time to see a man running down the street with his backpack, looking back at his truck- the window was smashed... among other things, his brand new laptop with his Masters degree thesis paper was in that backpack.

Even scarier? This isnt the first time its happened to him. Last time, they broke in the back window of his truck- grabbing a few things including a rather costly triathalon bicycle.

It gets worse.... I was supposed to have gone to his house the night before for a Christmas party. (I skipped it because I had been up late the night before, been busy at work, and had to deal with a bit of holiday cheer of my own- Someone pulled a hit and run on my car just a week previous while I was in class). His house is also only 5 or 6 blocks from where I take classes, Ive been there many times because we used to do dinner regularly... I never felt unsafe there before- despite having seen a car with a broken window there on a previous occasion. At this point with my history, Im not sure I can go there again... and im certain to be even more nervous each time I head into the city for class.

Things seem to be getting worse rather than better... and the more people I know who have such events happen to them, the more nervous I get about going anywhere near DC. Im very glad I live in VA again... The problem being I used to love exploring DC... and now even despite the elapsed time (almost 8 months) and because of other isolated incidents, Im no where near getting over my fear of the city.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

JAWS

Just when you think its safe to go back into the water....

December 8th 2011.... April 16th 2007.
Tragedy, heart-breaking, terrifying and a step backwards in my fight against my potential PTSD.

It started as a normal day, got to work late cause ive been sickly did some stuff in the lab, worked on my lab notebook, then decided to goof off for a bit because our holiday party was due to start soon. Had a lovely time chatting and playing with the co-workers children. Really cute kids with really great personalities.

And then I get a text message. "Reports of shots fired at VA Tech"

Start nervous breakdown/hysteria/terrible memories being dragged to the surface.

I left work early cause I just couldnt handle being there. Not that im doing that much better being here at my apartment since im all by myself. Just sitting here, freaking out, wondering when the next blow may strike. Remembering Stack and Mike killed in the 2007 shooting. studying for classes, joking back and forth at circle k or over aim. Thinking of little Dustin (sorry kiddo the nickname has stuck even after all these years since high school) who Im starting to wonder if he will ever graduate. Thinking of Katrina, my college roommate through all four years, a wonderful kind woman with one of the cutest little one year olds youve ever seen. Both of whom may or maynot still be staying secure in place in buildings on campus while the lockdowns continue.

Blacksburg was my home, is still my home in many senses of the word. A place I always felt safe- whether it was walking across campus in the middle of the day, or stumbling back from the bars at 3am. I remember a campus where I used to walk around in the dead of night when I needed to think- without any worries about who might be out there.... I cant even do that in the day time around DC anymore.... it makes me wonder if I could still do it in Blacksburg.
It makes me wonder- with the idea of a shooting happening today, and a police officer being shot (after how secure the police made me feel after my robbery)... am I going to be even more nervous when I have to head to DC this evening for class? Is every little step or feeling or someone behind me going to make me jumpy? and god forbid someone accidently scares me, or touches me without warning- will I have a panic attack? I am even further removed in both distance and time from the shootings today than I was over 4.5 years ago, and this incident (so far) is no where near as heart-breaking... but my psyche wasnt as damaged back then either.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Im Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!

Its been just over 6 months since my life changed and I think the meaning of Thanksgiving is hitting harder this year than ever before. I am enthusiastically looking forward to going home and visiting family. The smell of turkey and stuffing and baked apples. Were continuing our new tradition of a Turkey-day evening movie, and I cant wait to see all the family, to gossip with my cousin about her wedding ideas and to spend a rousing Saturday afternoon watching my Hokies take on the Cavaliers of UVA to win our division of the ACC and head to the conference championship game.
Despite all that I lost back in May, it has made me so much more thankful for what I still have. I have my health, I have a wonderful job that I enjoy, I have school thats going well and keeps my mind stimulated. I have my Roxie, safe and sound after her kidnapping and trip to the DC crime lab. I have the world most wonderful friends, who have been and continue to be so caring and compassionate in my times of greatest need.
I have the best family a girl could ask for. A mother to have long winded conversation, to cook and go shopping with and that I know will always be there and always love me no matter what I do- good or bad. A father who I can have a serious current event chat with, or go crazy have a few drinks and make silly jokes with, the one who taught me to drive and took me out thieving corn on the cob 'for the halibut'. A man who aches everytime he sees his little girl sad, rejoices in her victories (and wishes shed gotten a better look at the attackers so he could lead the posse to hunt them down) and along with my mother, has always sheltered and protected me. A big brother to stick up for me, to fight with occasionally, to laugh and joke and play games with and to confide in when life is going all crazy. Aunts and Uncles and a Grandmother who are always there to share a smile, pile on the compliments and make everything that much sweeter. Lots of cousins to give and receive advice and share our ups and downs with, and one in particular who has always been like a sister to me, who I fought with and played dress up with, sang and danced along to dirty dancing with, and who I am lucky enough to be able to stand beside on the day she gets married.

Thanksgiving is a time to think about what really matters in your life, and at this time my fears and uncertainties are invalid. It is not a time to think about the material things I lost, or the sense of peace I have yet to regain. My family and friends are my strength, they got me through the first few days, with messages, words of encouragement, flowers and hugs, and will continue to get me through the rest- bad times and great times. Those are the things I am most thankful for.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Returning

Petrified...

Thats how I felt on the first trip back to Eastern Market and the house (no longer home to me) where all my things were. A wonderful man, who I was semi dating at the time was letting me stay with him until I found a new place to live, and he accompanied me back to the house to start packing my things.
We had to park a block away because I was too scared to park on the same street where my robbery had occurred. I had to be on the inside, closest to the houses as we walked down the sidewalk, and I clutched desperately to his arm the entire time. My eyes were large, I was trembling and with every little sound I would jerk my head around to find the cause.
I can only imagine what would have happened if any young children had been out playing, running down the street towards me... I probably would have had a full on panic attack.
Its took a couple trips to get some minor stuff before moving, and settle things with the former roommates and landlord. The the day of moving arrived. I was so paranoid that we would be attacked while moving and I would lose everything, and drag the guy I was seeing and both of my parents into my misery as well. I don't think I was of much help that day. I stayed in the house for the most part because I couldn't be outside by myself, the fear was overwhelming.
Unpacking in Arlington was a much smoother event, just being out of the city completely unwound my nerves. I was helpful and we were all in a much better mood.

I got the I told you so from my father... he never wanted me to move into DC, because he was worried something like this would happen. I kept telling him that DC was much safer now and that I would be fine.... here I am now wondering why I must learn things for myself the hard way.
I completely avoided the city for over about a month after that, and sometimes still wish I didn't have to go there. Eventually I did have to face my fears however because my grad school classes are in Dupont. But I still have not managed to make myself go back to any part of Eastern Market by myself since the incident.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guilt?

I feel guilty saying that I think I might have PTSD over this event.

While everyone i've spoken to agrees that it was a horrific experience I must have gone through, and want to offer any reassurance or help they can to help me move on, I myself am scared that i've created this into something bigger than it needs to be.
Last night I went out with some friends from class. At the end of the night one of the guys walked me back to my car, because I was afraid to walk back there by myself (he was already going in the same direction anyway)

We got onto a couple of random conversations and at one point he mentioned that he talks in his sleep because he has PTSD.

Thats when the guilt sets in. Here is a man who is in the military, trained and studied for all kinds of warfare, who has been deployed, had friends killed in our ongoing wars in the Middle East. A man who has looked down the barrel of a gun on multiple occasions (a much more powerful gun than what was pulled on me). Who am I to say that my experience had as significant an effect on my life to yield the same damage as everything he has gone through!?
And what about other survivors, for example- Colin Goddard is a survivor of the shootings at my Alma Mater- Virginia Tech. He not only was shot, but saw his classmates shot, saw people dying around him, saw the fear of his fellow students and the hatred in the shooters eyes and chaos all around him. That sounds like the kind of situation that should give someone PTSD- not a simple robbery.

Is it my past, my ivory tower and my naivete that has caused this to have such a significant effect on me? Am I being childish not getting over it and being able to move on? And most importantly how do I interact with those people around me who have experienced true terrors in their lives? How do I realize my troubles and work to get over them without it seemingly like i'm trivializing a real issue with my being a fragile little girl?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Explaination

So Maybe I should explain why I think of my life before the robbery as an Ivory Tower.

Wikipedia explains an ivory tower as "A world or atmosphere where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life". In modern times however it has come to signify something safe and secure, a life protected from the harsh realities that exist within the world.

I grew up in what is now called a nuclear home. My mother and father are childhood sweethearts, first meeting and starting to date when only in middle school. Apparently many people thought their marriage wouldn't last when they decided to tie the knot at only 19 years old, but here it is over 32 years later and they're still happily married. Despite not having a lot of money growing up, my parents always made sure my brother and I had everything we needed, and more than enough love. My mom was able to stay home with us until we went off to school, and then stayed nearby- volunteering and working in the schools for years. They were there for me when I got in trouble, and there to celebrate my accomplishments.
Ive known very few heartaches over the years, Love lost as all young women experience, the sad ending of some friendships when the time for them was past, and most significantly the loss of my YiaYia who I was dearly close to and the loss of 32 very dear people, two of whom were friends in the shootings that occurred on my beloved Virginia Tech campus in April of 2007. But this tragedy still did not hit me as harshly as some I know. I was removed from it by a 4+ hour drive.
My education has come easily to me, and my job has provided the ability for me to live a comfortable lifestyle, with a little occasional help from my parents. I have never had to live with the uncertainty of not having work, not being able to pay rent or being able to buy groceries.

I guess it just boils down to the fact that I was naive before the robbery, that I had experienced so much positive in my life that being slammed back to reality hit me harder than I ever could have imagined. Before May 10th 2011 I was just another normal girl, who was always smiling and laughing, incredibly optimistic and ready for the next adventure. Id say i've come to realize life in its reality now, as harsh as it is. Im trying to still be the happy, cheerful person i've always been, and most days I succeed, but i'm more pessimistic and definitely less trusting these days. I won't even get out of my car if there is anyone walking past unless theres a crowd of people nearby. Constantly checking over your shoulder is an interesting change in life and routine to get used to.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Ejection From My Ivory Tower (an introduction)

My name is Nina and I think I have PTSD.... and its just now really hitting me.

Almost 6 months ago I was involved in a robbery.
As I was getting out of my car after parking in DC's Eastern Market to go into the house I was renting a room in, I heard footsteps running towards me. I turned around to find a gun pointed directly at my face. It was 3pm in the afternoon
I didn't scream, or even panic as I would assume would be normal in those circumstances, but instead ducked to the ground, trying to make myself as small as possible, even though there were two of them surrounding me. As one man pointed his gun towards my face and told me to hand over my things I could feel the muzzle of the other directly behind my head.
I did exactly what he asked, and in a natural reaction I looked up as I was handing him my beautiful, pink & blue coach bag, and in doing so incurred the wrath of his partner who slammed the butt of his gun into the back of my head. I was dazed sitting there on the ground, until I realized they were making for my car, My beloved Roxie- the first car I ever bought for myself, my beautiful convertible that I had been enjoying on the drive home not 15 minutes prior. Anyone who knows me knows I have an unnatural addiction to my car.
I lost my mind in that moment-- I got to my feet immediately in front of the car, begging these people not to take her, I didn't care about the rest of my stuff, just don't take my car. Of course criminals with guns do not listen to the begging of a tiny little girl, they pointed at me again and told me to get out of the way or they'd shoot. My brain seemed to come back to me in that instant and I full out ran down the street towards my house as they took off in my car.
5 seconds later a car- someones company car by the look of the stickers covering the outside came driving down the street and unworried about myself I ran into the street, banging on the man's window to get him to stop. I was out of breath telling the man over and over that I had just been car jacked and please call 911. Im not sure what his MO was but he told me to get in his car- which I staunchly refused- no way was I getting robbed and kidnapped in the same day. He pulled over and called the police- but immediately left as they were arriving- which makes me think again he was up to something nefarious.
Describing a crime to police has got to be one of the most annoying things EVER.... second only to the stupid questions the EMTs ask to make sure you don't have a concussion. Doesn't help that Im a smart ass and was in no mood to deal with people. At least the cops were nice enough to suggest that I take a couple shots or make myself a drink once we managed to break into my house (I didnt have the key because it was with the stolen car key)- which of course I didnt waste any time before taking their advice.
The rest of the day flew by... more questioning, more reliving the experience, emotional calls to my mother, my former roommate and my boss, Facebook posts and messages, my mom and brother picking me up and taking me home for the rest of the week, and of course lots of crying.

My mind was running a mile a minute the whole time, I was exhausted but afraid to fall asleep- scared of reliving it for real- in my nightmares. I kept wondering if the two men I saw walk by my car as I was parking were the same two who robbed and assaulted me? If I had parked on the street instead of using the parking spot my landlord lent us for the week would it not have happened? Was there anything that I could have done to fight back? and more seriously- wow was I lucky they didnt shoot at me when I got in front of my car or while I was running away.

My car was found the next day, although I was not informed of it until a handful of days (excruciatingly long days of waiting) later after many harassing phone calls to the police department, and more having to relive the experience for the insurance company. When I finally got her back she was unharmed- minus the layer of black finger print dust. After a quick checkup and detailing she was better than new, I felt like it was the first step to healing.

So why now am I starting to feel more afraid when I go out instead of less, why does the event plague my thoughts now 6 months later? Some might call its delayed PTSD- apparently this can and has happened even up to 2 years after an event if theres a trigger (an emotional event). Im not sure thats it, but im considering the possibility. So what would be my trigger? my mothers surgery- it was minor and she's fine, the bad emotions i'm dealing with regarding a silly boy- I don't see how the two would connect, the rash of crimes in DC- maybe but this news hasnt affected me before now.... I don't know but recently I haven't been able to get it out of my head.
Last week leaving my apartment I heard a loud noise and something flew at me, I gasped and ducked back into the doorway- it was only a flyer and the wind. Thursday walking to Starbucks a man (in a business suit) crossed the street and came within half an arms reach from me, I jumped and ran to the edge of the sidewalk away from him until he passed by. Im jumpy for no reason in the parking garage at school, and got freaked out walking across the military base I work on. Something is throwing me off recently, and i've got to figure it out. I can't live in a constant state of panic.