The other day I was trying to work on a couple projects I really like, and I just couldn’t focus. I just felt uncontrollably twitchy and weird. I also couldn’t edit documents, reformat resumes or enjoy browsing the archives of xkcd. Not being able to read web comics is a red flag, and at that point I realized my heart rate was up, and every muscle in my body was tense, including my face and my toes.
After I started paying attention, I also realized there was a lot of traffic on the road outside. I was once again experiencing the world’s mildest case of PTSD.
See, when I was in Baghdad, I noticed that the sound of distant explosions sounds just like a truck driving over a metal plate in the ground. (Well, it does if you are me.) So since then, every time I hear a truck driving over such a plate, it scares me to a really disproportionate degree.
Especially here in Tajikistan, it doesn’t happen a whole lot. Not a lot of plates or truck traffic. But that other day, for some reason, bang bang bang on the road by my office. Not exactly life-destroying, but upsetting.
Yesterday, at lunch with some embassy people, I found myself sitting next to a woman getting her PhD in psychology. And naturally I asked for free medical advice.
Here’s what she told me: what I have is basically a strong bad association. What I need to do, is find a way to experience the same frightening sound in a situation where I feel safe and happy. I could record the sound and play it at home, for example.
I plan to take my son, who makes me happy all the time, to watch the construction site near my house. Trucks and banging galore, paired with happy, happy baby who loves trucks and construction. I’ll let you know how it goes, but I really think it will work.
Normally, I try not to make this blog all personal, but I thought this might be a useful cognitive technique for other people.
Chosen because it’s an appropriately discomfiting and scary truck.