PTSD and Me: Four Times In The Float Tank

Tyler HurstBlog6 Comments

In summer 2014, before I moved into or wrote about Burnside26 and prior to my cyclist tweet and subsequent public shaming, I was offered four floats at Float On in exchange for pieces of writing. The team at Float On had started a few artist programs, and were looking for creatives to create whatever they wanted after their floats.

I’m pretty sure Float On never published mine, and I’m not surprised.  These were written in August 2014, while I was still on psych meds but prior to having an OMMP card, immediately after leaving the float tank and have been edited slightly by me.

Here’s what it’s like to be alone with your thoughts when you have PTSD, don’t know you have it, and haven’t done anything deliberately to “fix” yourself.

I’ve felt like this, to varying degrees, almost every day for 17 years. I honestly thought it was normal, until cannabis showed me it wasn’t.

Week One

Even the sidewalks in Portland are weird. Just yesterday, I saw a man walking against rush hour traffic, on one of the busiest one-way streets on Portland’s southeast side, in a car lane.
Not next to the car lane, as the sidewalk on that side was closed and fenced off for construction with clearly marked CLOSED and DETOUR signs, but in the car lane, forcing bicyclists and vehicles to swerve around him. As I watched him walk from one street to another, he never flinched. Head down, he slowly shuffled on, seemingly oblivious to the traffic driving fast enough to at least seriously injure him.

Not two lanes away, and right across the street, there was another sidewalk. Completely clear, without major obstructions, and shaded, this sidewalk sat empty. But the man either didn’t see it, didn’t know it existed, or simply didn’t care. He was going to do his thing, his way…consequences be damned.
Deep in his mind, where no one else can see, I bet he was scared. I bet he was confused and freaked out and annoyed, but looking at him, you wouldn’t know it. Had I been that guy, every inch of my being would have prodded me to run, to plaster myself against the chain link fence, to cross the street; anything to get out of the road. But this guy kept walking.

After I drove past to my destination, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell this guy was thinking. Had he not crossed the street because the traffic was too fast? Possibly. Why had he decided on this route? I assume he usually walks this way. Why didn’t he seemingly care that he was feet away from serious injury every time a car passed? Maybe he was already in so much pain he didn’t care.

Not that I think the guy is suicidal, mind you. He didn’t step into traffic and seemed to at least be aware of where he was, but man…it freaks me out to ride my bicycle that close to cars.

Maybe that was his point. By NOT hiding, by NOT running, by NOT plastering himself against the fence, he forced every motorist to account for him, to be aware that he was walking here and people would have to hit him to make him move.

Maybe he was protesting how people drive their cars, as we’re too often infatuated only with what’s inside our mobile castles, not who and what we’re sharing the streets with.

Maybe he’s sick and had no idea where he was.

Maybe he walked that way on purpose because it’s the shortest route and he doesn’t walk well.

Maybe he walked in the street to piss me off. Maybe he did it so people could see him. Maybe he doesn’t know why in the hell he did it.
The next time I see him, I’ll ask. Or maybe I’ll walk with him. Maybe I’ll include his daring rush-hour street walk on my next running route.
Or maybe I’ll pay him as much attention as he did to the vehicles driving by, mere feet away: none. Keep Portland weird, everyone.

Week Two
Deep in the recesses of my mind, where no one else can see, hear, or ever know about, I’ve contemplated the worst things imaginable. Assaults, kidnappings, extortions, and death — to name a few — run in and out of there, disappearing almost as quickly as they show up. While thinking this way isn’t what I would call a common occurrence, it’s certainly not rare.

Most people would be scared by this. They’d be afraid as to what their mind can imagine, they’d freak out because knowing what they might be capable of, they’d cower at the thought they could commit such horrible acts.

But I do not. Not because I can’t see myself committing such atrocities, but rather because most of my secret thoughts have me as the victim, not the perpetrator. In my mind, I’m always the victim or affected nearly as much — I get beat up, my parents die unexpectedly, a sibling is kidnapped, my wife poisons me — and it makes me wonder what in the hell is wrong with me.

Sure, I physically torture myself on a regular basis, but I don’t really see it as torture, I see it as suffering toward improvement. You could also call it long-distance running, which is the closest thing to proper meditation I may be ever able to achieve.

It’s then when these thoughts flow, when I’m too tired to fight them, when I’m outside, alone, and facing down my own limitations. I’ve long tried to understand what in the hell is wrong with me thinking this way, as surely such deep, dark things should be somewhat more productive to me, right? Why am I not the perpetrator?

Eckhart Tolle once said “you are not your mind.” At first, I didn’t believe this. My mind, just like my arms, my eyes, my heart, and my bones, are all me. We’re connected, right? Sure we are, but not in a way that I thought. Turns out that my mind, the part I don’t consciously control, is far more stupid than I give it credit for.

And I swear to god all of this is lead by my amygdala, or lizard brain, which is the part of us that provokes fight or flight, the evolutionary necessity that’s no longer needed now that we live in a society where being killed isn’t a daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly worry for most of what we do. But try as I might, that lizard brain won’t calm down.

It’s testing me. Right now, the man operating the leaf blower just came into my house, shoved his leaf blower into the back of my head, and revved it up past the point of me being able to hear anything. And then, just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone. My conscious brain knows that he never came in to my house and likely never word, but my amygdala keeps telling me that he’s going to break in every single time I hear that high-pitched motor whine.
It’s infuriating not being able to control what our bodies think and react to, you’d hope that we’d have evolved beyond this, but we cannot. We are meat sacks with developed nervous systems, not ephemeral beings with control over stuff we can’t touch.

Going outside seems so scary now, but it’s time to run. Time to out run my fears and worries, time to tire my body out to the point it can do the only thing I ever really need it to: listen to me for a change.

Week Three
It feels like days since Robin Williams killed himself and I can’t stop thinking about him. And by thinking of about him, I mean exactly that: I haven’t watched a single movie he’s been in, didn’t download Mork & Mindy, and didn’t stream his stand-up performances. I thought of him, the whirlwind funnyman who never really seemed to find his true niche.

Williams’ battles with depression, anxiety, and drugs is well known. He’s spent a lifetime making people laugh, when all I bet he really wanted was to be able to heal himself, to somehow fill that hole only the clinically depressed understand and the hole that so few people are willing to talk about.
I know this because I feel this. I know what it’s like to stand out and fit in, I know what it’s like to burn bright but feel cold and dark inside. I know what it’s like to want to take your own life.

Williams’ death scared me. As someone who’s been diagnosed bi-polar, depressed, ADHD, and with anxiety, the continual need for approval from anything, from anyone, is real. I’ve been on more prescription drugs than I can recall. I’m on some right now and I hate them, but the withdrawal symptoms are so terrible (wild mood swings, dizziness, nausea) I have no choice but to stay on them right now. Even prescription drugs don’t always help, as the best they do is soften the lows and temper the highs. Life is lived within a sort of emotional bubble, with immense joy and terrible pain just out of reach, but visible through the distorted light.

Now, I’m not asking for your sympathy or empathy. I’m seeking help and have plenty of resources available to help me deal with what I have, but I know it’s not enough. It’s never enough, just like there was never enough alcohol, that I could never get too high, and that I knew if I ever had one snort of coke I’d be dead in days.

It’s tough to talk about this in public. People like me are our own harshest critics, and often blame ourselves for thinking this way. “Chin up,” my dad might say. “What can I do to help?” my wife asks. “Feel better tomorrow,” I say, to myself, every night. But none of that cures anything. The first makes me want to be a MAN about it, to pretend I’m not hurting and that everything is okay. The second makes me sad — sad that the people I love are powerless to make me better and I feel the sadness they have about that. The last…well, the last is what makes me keep going.

You become more sensitive to life when you’re depressed. Everyone’s pain becomes your own, all the world’s suffering is sought out for purely selfish reasons: first, I want my suffering to matter and to do so requires I be a martyr; second, the search for someone worse off brings me an evil joy when I understand, just for a second, that I don’t hurt that bad. Yet.

Good Will Hunting “taught” me that “it’s not my fault.” Williams’ suicide has taught me that it might not matter.

Feel better tomorrow.

Week Four
Once you consider suicide, the thought never goes away. Like a toenail that cuts into the soft flesh of your big toe and hurts no matter how little you try to use it, it’s always there and you’re always aware.

And the thought just sits there, festering and rotting, ready to spring up reborn whenever I’m at my weakest.

On a long run and not physically exhausted yet? It pops up then.

Home alone while the wife is off with friends? You bet.

While I’m sitting at a stoplight on the way to hang with friends? Then too, which makes just as much sense as the first three.
I wish I could say I was just sad. I wish I could say that my ADHD/depression/anxiety diagnoses were all doctor’s attempts to convince me to give them more money. I wish and I hope that I could wish and hope this away, but it’s not working.
Some people see this as an athlete sees their training: focus on the good, work hard through the bad, and be ready to do it again and again until it’s perfect.
But, at least for me, it doesn’t work like that. My mind isn’t under my control, nor does it have limits in the way my body does. Try as I might, I cannot exhaust my mind by overloading it (and boy, have I tried with every non-lethal method I can think of — therapy, drinking, weed, prescription drugs, reading, writing, speaking, challenging myself, moving away from home). It’s not something I can control, but I can control if I live or die.
Today, like yesterday, I choose to live.
I know I can’t go on like this. The idea that, each day, I must choose to continue is exhausting. With willpower a resource in need of constant replenishing, the focus on not doing a thing the voice in my head keeps prompting me is akin to fighting the urge to eat delicious red meat after a heart attack, continue drinking despite massive hangovers because partying is super fun, or giving up your car for good because cycling and running are better for you.
We look for the easy ways out, always. But when we’re broken, what’s easy becomes hard, what was hard becomes implausible, what was implausible becomes only a dream.
The worst part is the shame. Can people see through me? Do they know? Are they judging me? Am I judging me? Who am I to judge myself?
While Eckhart Tolle says “we are not our mind”, it’s hard to imagine our very own consciousness wouldn’t be in line with what’s good and/or fun for us. Sure, it’s a chemical deficiency or electrical malfunction, but thinking about how to fix it seems to only stress those areas more.
The solution to all of this seems to be doing something — anything — else, no matter what. Want NOT to run? Go do it. Want to eat that entire pizza? Don’t. While choosing the opposite may not work forever, it seems to be the best choice right now.

 

Tyler HurstPTSD and Me: Four Times In The Float Tank

6 Comments on “PTSD and Me: Four Times In The Float Tank”

  1. Jennifer

    Have you considered writing a book? I would read it. It’s nice to read things like this where the author isn’t trying to “fix you” but instead makes you feel like someone else knows you, the real you. Thank you for being real.

    1. Tyler Hurst

      Yes. I wrote 55k words in November 2011 that (unknown to me at the time) described my PTSD-related flashbacks from 1999 until 2007-ish.

      It’s time for me to finish it.

      Thank you for sharing all of that, it helps a ton to know that my story would be able to help people.

      1. Jennifer

        I think it would definitely help more people than you know. We don’t always need someone to fix us, sometimes just knowing there is someone else with the same demons fighting alongside us is enough to help us feel a little more whole.
        I hope you finish that book. Good luck.

  2. Giulia

    Haven’t yet read this blog (It’s LONG! lol). Just was attracted to it because of the “float tank” title- having jumped here from your toenail blog. And wanted to speak.

    I’m 67. You look a WHOLE LOT YOUNGER than I now that I see your picture! Back when – I went to my first “sensory deprivation tank” (aka ‘float tank’), that was wow…when…uh… let’s guess late 80s. The only time in my life that I got my mind to shut off. Wish I had one in my own home. Not good if you’re at all claustrophobic, rather like being in a coffin in that case. But for us “others”, it’s a silent going-back-to-the-womb, safe place to shut off. I’m coming back to read this, but just had to jump in and share a bit of me because I like the bit of you.

  3. giulia

    Wow. Just read it all. Interesting. The most brilliant, creative, passionate people I know are the most e’ffed up. Perhaps it goes with the territory of extraordinary feeling. You write beautifully and have a spectacular mind. Stick around. The world needs you.

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