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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Perfect Timing

Life operates not on our timing. It operates on God’s. What may seem like a denial might actually just be a delay. So, be patient and keep the faith.

August 7th, Tuesday. I had a 12 PM yoga class to attend and by 11:25 AM, I was still far from the studio, there being heavy traffic. It wasn’t raining when I left my house but midway through my trip, the sky started being covered with heavy, gray clouds. I started worrying then that I was not going to get to class on time.

A few minutes more, heavy rain started pouring. I was already thinking where to be dropped off so I won’t be soaking wet and damage my new yoga mat in the process. You see, to get to my drop-off point, the driver will have to take a long road and find a U-turn slot. If it weren’t raining, I could have just gotten down at the bank across the yoga studio and cross the street.

I started praying so hard for the rain to stop to allow me to get inside the studio without much fuss. The driver gladly offered to take another route so he can drop me at the entrance. As we neared the usual route to the studio, the rain poured even more heavily. I started feeling annoyed and was already thinking of how not to get my gym bag and yoga mat soaked because I only had a small foldable umbrella with me.

After the traffic light turned green, the driver drove past the street he was supposed to turn left to in order to find a way to not have to take the very long U-turn I was talking about. I had my umbrella out already. But, in a matter one minute, just in time for me to get out of the car, the rain stopped. From heavy downpour to nothing in an instant. Not even a drizzle!

I felt so ashamed that I got pissed off thinking my prayer wasn’t answered just because the rain did not stop at the exact moment I wanted it to. I did not realize that there was still time to allow the rain to pour before I had to go down the car. I felt like a brat who threw a tantrum for nothing because I really was pissed!

I was also humbled by that experience. From time to time I still insist on what timing I want, forgetting all the other times God amazed me with how perfect His timing was. He knows when to give what we want or when not to give it at all because it isn’t what we need.

Acts 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Needs and Wants

If one prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous? If one prayed for their family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”- Evan Almighty (2007)

Last June 24, it was my second time to go to the church service at Victory Fort Bonifacio. I was hoping to hear my cousin deliver the sermon again but God had other plans. In his place was Pastor Steve.

Pastor Steve’s sermon mainly revolved around how we usually ask the wrong question to God. And when He does answer, it’s not the answer we were expecting because we asked differently. However, His answers are always the answers we truly needed; the answers to the questions we should have asked instead.

I realized that this also applies to our wishes, hopes and dreams. Sometimes, we wish for one thing, only to be given another. Most of the time, we do not realize right away why we were not given what we wanted.

I was deathly afraid of not being able to walk after my mysterious illness as a kid. I talked about it in a previous post. Two months later, I badly sprained my right ankle, causing me to face my fear of the wheelchair and confinement to my bed. I had to learn to swallow my pride and ask for help, learning that there are people who are genuinely willing to help and not see me as an inconvenience.

I wanted to be a doctor. But, circumstances would not allow it. Five years later, we had to make a decision that involved responsibilities that I could not have fulfilled had I still been in medical school. I also got into a job that allowed me to travel to so many places in my country, which could not have been possible had I still been studying.

Normally, in a fight or flight situation, I would choose the second option. I have always disliked heated conversations when people’s tempers are at their peak. Just a few weeks ago, I found myself assisting a colleague in a call with a difficult stakeholder and managing to cut it when the discussion was leading nowhere anymore. I had to confront my fear of heated arguments, raised and angry voices, and display of dominance.

Also, I realized how I was limiting myself to just wanting to hear my cousin deliver the sermons during the weekends. I wanted someone familiar; someone I felt comfortable with. I was afraid of exploring this new path I was taking towards deepening my faith with a complete stranger delivering the lectures. Just when I thought I had it all figured out (which date and time of service to attend), I found someone else capturing my attention completely. I had to open myself up to learning from a lot of persons rather than from a select few.

It’s normal to want to shy away from things that we are not comfortable with. Sometimes though, we are made to face them when we do not want to because it’s what we need.

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