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Hypervigilance: It's Not You, It's Me

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Over the years, I have grown to accept that PTSD is part of my daily life. The one symptom I find to be the most frustrating and somewhat irritating is a constant state of hypervigilance and being startled by any sudden noise or when a person comes up to talk to me. It can get pretty awkward because it causes me to jump and sometimes scream when I am approached or hear a sudden noise. I have struggled with this for as long as I can remember and find it to be extremely frustrating because I have no idea who or what is going to startle me.

• What is PTSD?

When it’s a person who startles me — particularly a stranger — they always become very apologetic because they assume the way they approached was what caused me to startle. When in reality, it was my extreme hypervigilance that caused me to scream and or jump. When this happens, I try to politely reassure them with the phrase, “it’s not you, it’s me. I’m naturally jumpy.” Once I say this, the person generally is more at ease with the encounter while I almost always feel embarrassed because I can’t control it and have no idea when and if I am going to be startled by something or someone.

Since I never know when I will be startled by something, I have a lot of anxiety particularly in public places, and am always on “high alert” in the hopes that I won’t be startled by a sudden noise. I know this is just an aspect of having PTSD and there are lots of people who struggle with this symptom, but it doesn’t make me any less embarrassed when it happens. There have been times when I have been made fun of for being this way and people have deliberately gone out of their way to startle me because they find it to be funny. People who know me know that I generally have a good sense of humor about it because it makes it easier to deal with. There have been instances when people just keep doing for their own amusement even if I tell them it’s no longer that funny. Sort of like someone repeating the same joke over and over again even though the people around them no longer find it funny.

Originally published: March 26, 2018
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