The Mighty Logo

When PTSD Means You Are in Constant Fight-or-Flight Mode

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

As I’m sitting here writing this, my hands are shaking. I am on hyper-alert for whatever dreadful thing might happen next. I can feel my heart speeding up as my thoughts drift into “worst case scenario” thinking. The beats are fluttering like a butterfly, trying not to get consumed into the current, fast and furious.

• What is PTSD?

I feel the adrenaline flowing through my body, starting at my chest and radiating outward into my arms and my lower limbs. I can hear every sound. The air conditioner blowing cool air across the room. My pet gnawing on his treat stick. The sounds of loud car engines a few streets away. My own shallow breath. I can hear everything.

I have C-PTSD or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I have been through multiple prolonged, repeated traumas throughout my life. This is a normal day for me. Sometimes, it doesn’t affect me as much, but other times it makes me terrified for my own life, even in the comfort of my bedroom. As I am writing this, it feels like I am being over dramatic, silly even, but it doesn’t matter how much I tell myself that. This is very real to me.

Right now, I am scared. My body is in fight-or-flight mode, just as it would be if I were running from a bear chasing after me, but there is no real danger. I am terrified of leaving my room. If I do, someone might yell at me, scream at me, blame me for things and ultimately, threaten to kick me out of the house. All of this seems incredibly likely to me even though my only crime is not doing as much chore work as I should. Why is this a fear for me then, you ask? It will never happen of course. I must just be paranoid, right? Wrong, it did happen, several times in my childhood and teenage years.

Even if someone did get angry with me, so what? It’s not going to kill me. I can just walk away. Things will blow over. I hear footsteps. Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp. Is someone coming to yell at me? What have I done wrong in the past few days. I didn’t wash all of my dishes yesterday.

Oh my gosh! I’m going to get yelled at. They will never forgive me. I’m going to have no place to live. My body feels like I’m going to explode into a full-blown panic attack right now! Oh, the footsteps stopped. Someone was just walking into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Phew, I can take a breath now.

This is exactly what it feels like to be in constant fight-or-flight mode. Due to my past traumatic experiences, I fear they will happen again. I am even anticipating them. To others, I can seem attention-seeking, melodramatic and even “crazy” at times. All I can say to that is, I can assure you this is as real to me as is the air you breathe. If I had control over it, then I would not be experiencing it.

Originally published: August 12, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home