Booth Bunnies Make Me Nervous: Revisiting Crowds and #PTSD

If you have ever been to a trade show, the vendors always hire beautiful people to stand in the aisles and shuttle in business.  Fit, glowing and most importantly, persistent, the “Booth Bunnies” are the equivalent of the opposing forces setting up an ambush, and at times that involves breaking into your personal space.  I understand it is their job, but getting to the level of understanding has made me pause more than a few times.

Hi Ho

I have not blogged much about work and PTSD.  Truth be told, I can work from anywhere I can get internet access.  My house has internet access.  You do the math.

For my PTSD treatment it has been an invaluable asset to be able to work from home most days.  I can clip along getting work done from my computer, meet with my team through web conferences or video chat, and feel safe and secure all day long.  I have my routine down for being productive.  (A similar routine, when I started therapy and took my first shot at going back to work, kept me going… but I digress)

The past two days I have been trekking into Manhattan to meet with industry folks face to face.  I used to dread leaving my house and driving.  Now, while I don’t like it, I can manage it.

Prolonged Exposure Tool Kit

Since completing Prolonged Exposure, I have been able to ride the subway, drive around in rush hour traffic, and manage being in crowds.  I have been able to do all of this with lower levels of anxiety and less emotional swing than before I started the therapy.

A key to achieving the lower SUDs (Subjective Unit of Distress) levels is to ride out the uncomfortable peak while taking copious mental notes.  The more you do it, the better you get at riding the wave.   When I started PE and listed out my SUDs for different activities, I was a cranky (an understatement) homebody who avoided any place that exposed me to uncomfortable situations.  Now, I am still cranky, but I get out more.  At the completion of my PE training, I confidently relisted my SUDs at less than half the previous level.  Prolonged Exposure worked for me.

Back to the Convention Floor…

I am a fast walker, or at least, I walk with purpose.  Even when I wander it is usually from point to point.  If I stop, I try and get close to a wall that can stop a bullet with nobody behind me.  Habit?  Ummm… yeah.

Approaching the convention center I began to feel uneasy.  There were a lot of people outside and it was raining, so I surmised that inside was going to be a mad house.

It was.

Car Bombs in the Square

Thinking like a terrorist is unfortunately part of the training.  I look at a group of people and I think about the bomber wearing a vest of C4 and ball bearings.  I look at most things as targets.  Unfortunately from experience, large groups of people equal easy soft targets.

I have mentioned in the past (the Aftermath) that one particularly grueling event was a suicide carb bomb that detonated in a market square.  We opened our gates and a flood of wounded Iraqis swamped our camp.  I have experienced first hand the effects of a suicide bomber.  I don’t want to a repeat encounter.

In Iraq, we also had a main gate where we hired locals to work on our camp.  Each morning they would crowd and we were constantly shifting and spacing to minimize the effectiveness of an attack on a soft target.

For more reasons that this, I still look at groups of people as dangerous.  I look at the subway the same way.  When I first got back I did not want to go near crowds because it seemed probable that the only thing that would result from them was bad and I had no way to control it.  As my exposure and treatment has progressed, I have been able to assimilate back into accepting crowds.

But, I still go through my mental checks of exits, preparedness of an emergency and with the conclusion of Prolonged Exposure, riding that initial wave of uneasiness and getting back to business.

Booth Bunny Bombardment

As I traversed the main floor of the convention center I moved from place to place dodging the distracted cell phone walkers and avoiding the booth bunnies.   The uneasy feeling came and I embraced and explored it.  Since this was a work call, I had to take the time to get right and get focused.

I am proud to say that I leaned heavy on my therapy and made it through.  I was able to be productive, meet with the important clients and vendors, and had a successful convention.  But those booth bunnies, with their hand barcode scanners like phasers from Star Trek, still caught me once or twice.



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