Phantom Quakes and PTSD

“While the building was swaying and the ground was shaking, God remained the steady figure I could hold on to.”

It’s been twelve days since the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that shook Central Luzon. I shared the story in my previous post, Shaken. This time, I will be sharing what I have been experiencing the past couple of days.

I have always had a fear of shaky rides and shaky ground. That is why I am not overly fond of theme parks and their rides. During field trips when I was young, I hated it so much when we had to walk on hanging bridges. Turbulent flights scare the hell out of me and the slightest shake of the plane would cause me to hold on to the armrest of my seat while I try to calm myself. From time to time, I would do something unusual like hopping on a zip line or riding the cable cars like I did in Ngong Ping and in Ocean Park. I thought of them as attempts to get rid of my fear of anything unstable. I never realized how bad the phobia actually was until last month’s earthquake happened.

After having gone home the night of the earthquake, I was in my bed and I was watching videos on my phone when I suddenly felt something push my bed. I almost dropped my phone in the process. It turned out that a 4.4 magnitude earthquake happened in Bataan, a place around 50 km to 60km away from Manila. I didn’t sleep well that night.

I came to work the following day, seemingly okay. In my head though, I was already making plans on what our emergency bag should contain and what else will I need to get in case another earthquake happened. I was working just fine, completing tasks one after the other. Deep inside though, I was still scared. The 6.1 magnitude earthquake had its epicenter at around 67km away from Manila. I told myself it was not at all that bad compared to places near the epicenter. I felt guilty for being too scared and judged myself as overreacting. I could not understand why I was feeling that way.

Was it because for around five years now, we have been warned about the possibility of a major earthquake from the West Valley Fault that can damage the whole capital region and the recent earthquake gave us a tiny taste of a strong earthquake? We’ve felt earthquakes in the past here in Manila, but I don’t think there was anything as bad as the recent one.

In the past few days, it would take six to seven hours for me to finally fall asleep. I had migraine-like headaches and would feel as if the room is shaking every now and then. When I felt any sort of shaking, I would immediately check my phone for alerts sent by Phivolcs, trying to confirm if there was indeed an earthquake that just happened. I would suddenly feel dizzy and a little disoriented for a couple of minutes.

Phantom quake. I was experiencing a feeling like there was an earthquake even if there was not any. From what I have read on the internet, I am not the only one experiencing it. It would come when I am at work, it would come at night when I am in bed. I would feel as if the world was shaking, but it was only me. My mind was playing tricks on me.

I don’t think my productivity at work has been greatly affected, but I haven’t been able to go to my yoga classes anymore. My blood pressure is a little bit elevated, which probably explains the dizzy spells. Thankfully, except for the intermittent feeling of the room shaking, I can say I am fine.

Gradually, my sleep pattern is returning to normal. I still have difficulty falling asleep, but at least when I manage to, I don’t feel half-awake anymore. I still feel tremors from time to time, but knowing that it’s all in my head, I do not reach out anymore for my phone to check for earthquake alerts and posts over Twitter. I manage to calm myself more quickly now. Unless another earthquake happens so soon, I am pretty sure I’m on my way to getting over the whole thing already.

I also just want to say to those experiencing phantom quakes or PTSD that it’s okay to feel that way. We react to situations differently and even if the people around you do not appear as scared or shaken as you, it’s okay to feel that way. What is important is we acknowledge our feelings and we try to go back to feeling normal again at the phase we’re comfortable with. It’s okay to express our fear to our friends and family so they can help us feel that we’re in a safe environment.

Most importantly, pray. While the building was swaying to the shake of the ground, God remained the steady figure that I could hold on to. At the time of the earthquake, I managed to send Mom a message, asking her to pray for us (by that I meant everyone affected by the earthquake, including her). I told my sister the same thing, but she was unfortunately on a plane to Hong Kong from Korea at that time. It’s true that when all else fails, it’s only God that remains. That’s how powerful the Lord is.

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It’s Not a Joke

“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’ Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.” – Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

June 2018 was a month of triumph in the Philippines for mental health awareness. The president signed the Philippine Mental Health Law, or Republic Act 11036. This law aims to make it easier to access mental health care in ways like raising mental health awareness through education and providing mental health services to the society, starting from the barangay level. The barangay is the smallest administrative division in my country.

Despite my opinion of our president, I do know when to acknowledge that he has done a good job. This law is one of them. I also commend the authors of the law for the hard work that they have put into it. It’s time we acknowledged that mental health is important in our overall well-being.

Where I work, they are also pushing to raise awareness on the company’s efforts to help employees dealing with mental health concerns. We had a representative from the healthcare department discuss the services available in our clinic to help us cope or deal. They showed a video presentation on how managers can detect and help employees who might be undergoing mental health concerns.

In the said video, the female employee was not her usual self. Her manager got her to open up even just a little and she did reveal that she was having problems with her boyfriend. To this statement, a colleague made a remark  that went along the lines of “boyfriend lang pala, mental health issue na (just a boyfriend issue and it’s a mental health issue already).” I don’t know from whom it came because I think the person was not from the same aisle I was seated. All I know is that some people laughed at that remark.

Just one statement. They already judged the issue as petty and not worthy of being categorized as a mental health issue. This is exactly why people undergoing depression and anxiety find it difficult to open up about their condition. People judge without listening to the whole story.

What if the boyfriend was being too possessive and controlling to the point that she is treated like property? What if the boyfriend was insecure of her success and so, he makes her feel like she’s not worth anything? What if he was pushing her to do things she is unwilling to do? What if he beats her and hurts her in places where bruises won’t be visible to others? The possibilities are endless! The lady was only starting to open up. Of course she would start in the shortest way possible to explain what she’s going through. Details will come later.

Okay, benefit of the doubt. Maybe the person is someone who thinks out loud and that was just an initial thought that was leaning more towards wondering than judging. After all, we all have our own tones and manner of saying things. Still, it is important that when we deal with mental health issues of family, friends, colleagues or just about anyone who happened to be opening up to us, we put focus on listening rather than anticipating what will be said next or judging every word/sentence that will be uttered. We need to have a view of the bigger picture first before we say anything because people who are undergoing depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions may be pushed down further into their condition when we behave so carelessly and dismissive of their feelings.

Stop hiding behind #JustSaying or #RealityTalk or #JustBeingHonest to excuse lack of tact. Lady Gaga says in her song, “‘Til it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel.” But even then, there’s a huge chance that we’ll react differently.

We must not judge the gravity of the problems of other people based on our own metrics and standards. What is petty to you may be tremendously big of a deal to others. Similarly, what may be petty to others may mean the world to you. We all come from different backgrounds, different upbringing, and different experiences. We cannot judge a problem to be petty until we have been in their shoes. Let us be empathic and listen to understand and feel where they are coming from.

We still have a long way to go for people to be more open-minded about mental health. In the meantime, let us be careful when throwing around the words depressed, anxious, bi-polar, schizo and other mental health conditions. In this age of social media, these are sometimes used to describe situations that are actually very far from their real context. So, people start thinking that these are minor issues only and just part of acting up, seeking attention or being melodramatic. Let these words be used for what they should be used for.