by Roxanna Bennett
A few years ago I signed up for an Artist-Educator class. I was working at an art gallery teaching kids and wanted to learn to write a more structured curriculum. I was super stoked about taking the class. It was a ten-week night school course, the class size was small, entrance was competitive and tuition was expensive.
The instructors were warm, friendly, and knowledgeable. The other students were creative, interesting, and passionate about the pedagogy of arts in education. The coursework was engaging and intensive. There was nothing not to like about having the privilege of being chosen to be a student in this class.
But five weeks in, I was forced to quit.
I have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,(C-PTSD) which differs from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in that the trauma that caused my condition is not one single event but a lifetime of multiple traumas beginning in early childhood.
C-PTSD is chronic and can mean a lifelong struggle with symptoms like hypervigilance to threat, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty achieving REM sleep, dissociation, depersonalization, depression, and a host of related issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, identity disorders, paranoia, hallucinations, agoraphobia, and selective amnesia.
One of the hallmarks of anxiety and trauma disorder are panic attacks that can be triggered by outside stimuli. Triggers can vary greatly from person to person. While it is simple to assume survivors of, for instance, sexual assault, would be triggered by watching a violent television show or reading about a similar incident in the paper, this would be disingenuous. Triggers are subjective, intensely personal and can appear innocuous.
At the time I signed up for the class I had been in therapy three to four times a week for several years and was transitioning off of Long Term Disability. I had worked very hard to develop a skill set that would get me out the door in the mornings and allow me to manage panic attacks, a medication regimen to regulate my sleep and a lot of support from friends. I felt in control of my life, positive about my future and excited at my prospects.
Imagine my shock when I experienced a sudden, full-blown panic attack during a simple group game during my class. There were eight of us in the room, standing in a circle, tossing a volleyball back and forth in an example of a warm-up exercise that we could use with future students. Read more