Back to the place of my Demons
This week I flew out of and back into Heathrow Terminal 2 for a business trip to Zurich. Nothing unusual there you’d think. But this was my first visit to T2 since 2016, two years ago. That week in the spring of 2016 changed the direction of my life. It was a tough week out in the US anyway, a full on business meeting, several senior leadership meetings and project sessions sitting on top of unstable foundations of terrible jet lag, limited sleep, continual overdoses of caffeine, and a work relationship on the rocks with the colleague I was traveling there with. Tough and surreal in many ways and trying to look back on it now it was a bit of an emotional blur. But what happened on the flight back changed everything.
I still can’t talk or write about the actual trigger, it’s still too painful but something happened on the flight back that put me into a PTSD flashback to childhood events, fears and massive insecurities. Something that had never happened to me before and came out of the blue and with no identifiable warning. It manifested much like a panic attack; the feeling of impending doom we’ll often talk about first when describing panic disorder, pounding and rapid heart beat, shallow breathing, sweating, absolute confusion and disorientation. Painful memories flooded in and were supplanted into the events of the moment. A terrifying few hours on a transatlantic flight in a tiny space being repeatedly triggered with nowhere to escape to.
When I got off the plane I was confused and upset, dissociated and exhausted. My relationship with my friend and colleague rather than being improved by a week away together had deteriorated and what was happening within me at that moment was terrifying and I was only just able to keep it together until I got home. At that point it was too late really. My system was in overwhelm, I’d been hijacked by my amygdala and was in complete system overload; fight, flight, freeze, flop, or befriend. You might not have come across the latter two in this list but flop is a complete giving in and exhaustion to the experience. Befriend I’m told can sometimes be seen in dysfunctional and abusive relationships where in order to no longer be hurt you try so hard to befriend the attacker so they don’t hurt you anymore. In my state I defaulted to this one, to befriend, why, because this had been my default protection since childhood and it did not serve me well as it turned out.
The next few months were a blur of pain and acrimonious events. The outcome however was that two years later I would find myself back in T2 at the exact places where so much pain had swamped my system. I could feel the memories and sense the pain still lingering in those corridors and spaces. I did however come this time with an immense knowledge of why all that happened to me and a massive toolkit of self awareness and trauma therapy tools to help me make sense of it all safely. This time as well I was returning with a trusted friend who could hold the space for me and guide me safely through the experience. Not a completely cathartic experience but it closed a bit more of the circle for me and next time I’m in T2 or on a plane it will be just that little bit easier for me.
I’ve been so lucky to know so many wonderful and skilled people who have helped me make sense of everything the last 40+ years have given me. I’ve since come to learn much more about trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), PTSD, and Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). C-PTSD, itself as a relatively new concept and the behavioural traits that come from it, which it turns out I have in abundance, have actually and unknowingly helped drive me in life to survive, to be successful in my own way, and resilient to events that inevitably knock you out of shape.
It’s been a very good life, I’m blessed and honoured to have had it, and look forward to so much more of it. It’s not a journey, it’s an adventure! (Thanks Em for this truth).