Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Twinkies and scented candles

Mel Anderson
Staff Writer

My darling, wonderful parents gave me the best gift anyone could ever ask for. Was it a car? A vacation maybe? A college education? Nope.
My parents gave me severe, complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In return for this gift, the state of California gave my parents the gift of prison. It was a very touching gift exchange.
PTSD is like a seizure disorder- you feel the seizure coming on, you know you’re in the danger area, but there’s nothing you can do to stop the onslaught.
I wish we thought of mental health disorders the same way we think of physical health disorders. You can’t think happy thoughts and cure your diabetes or epilepsy or any other chronic health condition. All you can do is learn to manage the symptoms.
When PTSD is triggered it feels like you’re locked in a room in London with an armed Jack the Ripper who is intent on ripping out your intestines with a spork, except you’re really just at Walmart. I suppose that might be what Walmart feels like to everyone, but it’s especially strong with PTSD.
Now imagine you’re walking through Walmart and you walk by the candles and you catch a whiff of French vanilla. A non-PTSD brain might think: “Oh, French vanilla. Nice.” A brain on PTSD says: “Remember that other time you smelled that scent? Remember what was happening? It was really bad. Like, really, really bad. Here, I’ll replay the memory for you, on repeat. See? Wasn’t that terrifying? We need to get out of here fast because that scent means Jack the Ripper is about to rip out our intestines with a spork. Run for your life!” Meanwhile, you just walked past a candle aisle and nothing, nothing at all, is actually happening.
Problem is, your brain doesn’t know that, so it releases chemicals, adrenaline, to aid in your desperate bid to escape from the dark clutches of…the candle. That can’t move. And poses no threat.
So you have to have a little talk with your brain. You have to say: “Brain, I’ve known you for a really long time, and we’re good friends, but you’re kind of freaking out right now and we need to buy Play-Doh. If you keep acting like this in the store, we’ll have to leave and then you won’t get that Twinkie I promised you if you behave yourself.”
And your brain responds, “Excuse me? I’m keeping us safe. Do you want to be eaten alive during the zombie apocalypse of scented candles?”
And you say, “Do you want a Twinkie or not?”
Then the random lady at Walmart says, “Are you okay?”
And you say: “Why, yes, I’m fine, thank you. I’m just having a friendly chat with my brain here over Play-Doh about how the candles won’t attack us.”
Then the random lady at Walmart slowly backs away from the crazed Twinkie-Brain Lady.
Moral of the story is, if you need to go to Walmart, don’t bring your brain with you.