One of the symptoms of PTSD is an exaggerated startle response. I will now share some of my experience with this particular symptom.
One day while relaxing in the hall at school during a break one of my friends popped a balloon. We were all aware that the balloon was there but weren’t aware that it would be popped. Now it would be expected for some of us to startle a little, jump a bit and then maybe laugh it off, but normal wasn’t really my thing at the time. All I remember of the incident was hearing a loud bang and then immediately running for the nearest exit. I didn’t look around, I didn’t ask any questions, I just darted out of the hall towards the stairwell as quickly as I could. At some point in the stairwell my brain caught up to my feet and I realized that it had just been the sound of a balloon popping and not a gun shot. I felt slightly ridiculous and the poor boy who had popped the balloon was apologizing profusely. These exaggerated startle responses have continued to occur in many different situations in my life. My dad learned the hard way that the game of hiding around a corner and then jumping out and shouting “Boo”! at me, though a somewhat amusing game to play before the shooting had taken place, was no longer amusing at all. Unless you think your teenage daughter calling you an unkind name and then seeing her cry is amusing. OK, it is a little amusing to think of now, but it wasn’t at the time.
Just this year I was out for a jog when I heard a string of loud popping sounds nearby. My jog quickly took on an erratic serpentine pattern. As I came to the realization that all was well, and that the sounds I had heard were just some firecrackers, I went back into a straight jog. I was a little upset so I decided to stop for a minute to regroup, Bad idea! I started to hyperventilate, not wanting to stand on the side of the street and make a spectacle of myself I started back into my jog. I pushed my way through until I was running by my parents house. My mom was in her front yard so I stopped and had a little hyperventilate cry-laugh party with her, and then continued home. Although I have the ability to look at these experiences in a humorous way, after they occur, they really are not enjoyable in anyway at the time they occur. All the fear and adrenalin kicks in and takes over my body and then once I come to the realization that everything is Okay I have to recover from the shock.
All these incidents are slightly terrifying for me when they occur but I can laugh about them after as I imagine watching myself startle into these somewhat over the top responses. Having a good sense of humor has helped me work through some of the tough things. There are things that I think are never okay to laugh or joke about but being able to laugh at myself and certain situations has been a gift. There is a little quote I love, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.” ―Marjorie Pay Hinckley Wherever I can, and wherever it’s appropriate, I try to apply this “laughing through life” where I can, because there are plenty of thing to cry about and crying does indeed give me a headache.