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When My Nightmares Come True on Halloween

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I’ve always loved the fall season — the crisp fresh air, gorgeous colors of changing leaves, pumpkin patches, apple cider, decorating for Halloween, scary movies, celebrating Wicked Day (“Wicked” the musical celebrates “Wicked Day” on October 30 because that’s its anniversary) and my ultimate favorite part is that it’s sweatshirt weather again! In fact, I love fall so much that my first cat’s name is Autumn Leaves.

• What is PTSD?

It is also the scariest and most challenging time of year for me because of Halloween. Throughout October, I enjoy exploring the festivities in my area but am careful where I choose to go because of people in costumes or haunted activities where I may be unexpectedly touched. I have severe PTSD and dissociative disorder-not otherwise specified. While I like seeing the creativeness or cuteness of costumes, I am not OK when people are wearing masks, decorated (scary-Halloween-like) eye contacts, or face makeup that greatly alters their appearances.

For me, it terrifies me that I cannot see the person’s face, who may be approaching me, talking to me or even someone else who might not have safe intentions. I don’t know if it’s a friend, someone who is being friendly, a classmate, an acquaintance or what truly scares me: Is it my abusive father? Is it my rapist? Are both here? Do they know where I am now?

Since I am always on guard and hypervigilant, all those unknowns exacerbate my symptoms. It has and can send me into a series of flashbacks, hyperventilation, crying, shaking, disorientation and/or full blown dissociative episode where I’m sitting in a corner, staring at the ground, completely unresponsive.

Being out-of-state for college and not visiting home this month, most are surprised to know I miss going to events like “Fright Fest,” haunted hayrides and houses. Many in my circle know what affects me because of my PTSD. There is even a staircase on campus that I specifically avoid and take the elevator because there is too great of a chance someone will randomly brush up against me, since it is small and winds around and therefore I can’t see if anyone is coming up or down before I do so. So some were surprised that I wanted to attend haunted events and enjoy scary movies.

I tell them, “I enjoy fun things, too! Watching scary movies are fun, although I think the last one that really scared me was “The Ring” and now, they’re just funny… I’ve survived so much that a scary movie or haunted house is really nothing major anymore. They can’t get to me, they can’t touch me.” Then I learned that in haunted houses and hayrides here, staff is allowed to touch you as they scare you whereas back home, they are not allowed.

Fortunately, my friends and both of my therapists are fully aware of my fears surrounding this time of year and they all help me make plans and alternatives to various situations. My Halloween-and-fall-themed fun tends to happen during the day where, if at all, children are most likely to be dressed in full costumes and adults typically aren’t and during the week when most are working. And at the events at night, I am always with a group of friends and have a plan or a few in place. Sometimes, a friend and I drive separately in case I have to leave or if they are my close friends, I can let them know if I’m having a hard time and if needed, leave early.

On Halloween, I normally get some take-out, watch what videos I can online of “Wicked,” pop in “Hocus Pocus” with some candy by my side, either curled up or playing with my emotional support cat, Lorelai, and be relieved that I live on campus and don’t have to hear the constant ringing of doorbells and see a bunch of people in costumes outside my windows. Sometimes, it’s just me and Lorelai. Other times, I’m with friends who decide to spend it with me.

I am grateful for when my friends do not change their plans and go out like they want to. I am grateful for when my friends’ plans are to spend Halloween with me like they want to. And I am especially grateful for friends and family, no matter where in the country they are, who check in with me several times on the days leading up to and on Halloween.

Living with PTSD and dissociation often times makes me feel so separate and abnormal from everyone else because they don’t have the same intense reactions, thoughts and feelings that I do. My diagnoses want to keep me isolated and tell me that there is no safe place in this world. Thanks to the two therapists I work with who specialize in trauma, a campus who accommodates me, having Lorelai and those who check in with me, even randomly, I feel a part of this world. And because of that, I want to stay in it… but could do without the masks.

Originally published: October 29, 2016
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