post-trau·mat·ic stress dis·or·de
noun: post-traumatic stress disorder;
noun: post-traumatic stress syndrome
a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.
And for inquiring minds, Agoraphobia is defined as:
extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.
My diagnosis came after several events that occurred in my life, some mental and some physical, that left lasting impressions on me such as physical and mental abuse. While the event that I will be discussing is not the initial reason that I was diagnosed with PTSD, after going through counseling and researching my condition thoroughly, I have learned how to spot some of my triggers when other traumatic events have occurred.
One event in particular stands out because every single time I smell oranges, my mind is brought right back to the events that occurred. Let me take you on a journey through one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. I worked as a temporary para pro in a disability classroom, working one on one with a Deaf and autistic student. This student was nonverbal, had very low communication abilities with sign language, and was prone to outbursts of rage where they would tear apart books, rip back packs in half, rip bookshelves down, and if allowed to become frustrated enough would self harm by punching their head and face. I was well aware of the risks involved when working with this type of student and felt equipped to handle the task.
However, I did not realize that constantly being on edge and wondering if/when the student would lash out had put me in a constant state of fight or flight. At least once a day help was needed to be called because the student was a threat to themselves and/or others. The one thing that seemed to calm them down almost instantly though was oranges. They loved to sit and smell the orange peels, pick and stab their thumb nails into the peel, and eat the fruit. The mix of the citrus smell and the texture of the peel was calming to the student. So in the midst of trying to calm this student down, dealing with the screaming/hitting/biting/object throwing, etc. I also found myself peeling open oranges, getting the citrus peel under my nails, and squirting my shirt with droplets of juice.
One day, however, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and no amount of coaxing or soothing I did would settle the student. They became so enraged that when I went to hand them orange slices, they grabbed me by my arm and ripped me across their desk, spraining my shoulder. I was so shocked and so desperate to get out of harms way that I did not even notice I had damaged my shoulder until the adrenaline rush wore off. I ended up in a sling and had to go to physical therapy for a few weeks.
I do not blame the student. That was a risk that is always present when working in that sort of environment. However, no matter how much rationalizing I use, when I smell or taste oranges, my mind goes right back to that classroom. I can still see the students wild eyes as I stood across the table from them. I can still feel their hands on my arm as they dragged me across that table. I can be sitting on my couch at home, peeling an orange for breakfast, completely safe and sound. But my mind will still be flashing back to a time when I felt absolutely terrified. That is PTSD.