How do you deal with fear?
July 27, 2005 8:35 PM   Subscribe

I got held up a gun-point about a week and a half ago.

They caught the guy and even though I've had the chance to bring some sort of closure to the event, having testified at the court hearing, I still can't stop thinking about it. I've been having sporatic anxiety. Has anybody had any experience with effectivly coming to terms with fear or post traumatic stress?

My girlfriend and I were together at the time and since the robbery took place essentially on our doorstep, we've both been having trouble just walking around our neighborhood after dark, trouble sleeping, and just generally feeling unsafe. We bought some mace but it remains a small comfort. Everyone I know had to talk me out of buying a gun, another small comfort, really.

I have a general feeling of helplesness, restlessness, and frustration. I'm still constantly looking over my shoulder and eyeballing everyone who walks past me. I keep thinking about the robbery and all of the "what ifs" (for better or worse).
I've looked it up and this all seems to be typical of PTSD but do I need treatment? Will it go away with time?
What's worked for all of you folks?
posted by Jon-o to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can only answer of your questions: Yes, you should get treatment.

This happened to my brother about 10 years ago. He did not seek treatment, and should have. He doesn't see it, but he suffers repercussions every single day of his life.

Get help, even if you only go twice or three times. At least a professional can help you figure out how to deal with it.

Having tried to help someone who refused to seek treatment, I can heartily recommend the therapy route.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:38 PM on July 27, 2005

What kind of repercussions?
posted by Jon-o at 8:42 PM on July 27, 2005

I haven't dealt with anything quite that traumatic, but I have reasonable success dealing with nagging anxiety through mental gymnastics. I sort of imagine an event I don't want to bother me, mentally "pick it up" and place it in the past, and get an immediate sense of relief. The anxiety will typically return later, but repeating the process a few times usually banishes it pretty well. I've also imagined constructing a mental shield around myself to protect from external influences. And in the realm of the truly bizarre, I can wake myself from nightmares by mentally hitting Control-Open Apple-Reset. (you know, to reboot that old Apple II.)

That's just what works for me, I hope you can find something that does for you.
posted by trevyn at 8:59 PM on July 27, 2005

I was held up over the winter at an Indian place nearby where I live. I handed over my wallet, my friend didn't. He had a revolver pushed against his chest and cocked. I was sure he was dead, but no shots were fired.

I would suggest not buying a gun as well, because it would be easy to get cocky, do something stupid and end up dead.

The only advice I can give is to not care. Everyone dies at some point, all you can do is be careful and try to enjoy your life. Use this as an opportunity to ask yourself if you would be satisfied if your life ended right now. Are there things you'd like to tell those close to you? Do you have loose ends you need to tie up? Do you have a will?

Sorry to be morbid, but things happen. Be prepared and try not to worry.
posted by null terminated at 9:04 PM on July 27, 2005

It happened to me too, but with little of the after-effects you describe. I just stopped going to the particular sandwich shop where the incident took place. I guess I'm with Null T on this one. Carry mace if you want, but don't get a gun.
posted by spilon at 9:09 PM on July 27, 2005

Also, it might be a good idea to carry a spare wallet with some unactivated credit cards and $10-15 in cash. It'll save you a huge deal of trouble if you get mugged again.

Also, always always always have some cash on you.
posted by null terminated at 9:11 PM on July 27, 2005

I was mugged on campus in 1995 with my best friend, and ended up going a few times to the university counseling services. It was extremely helpful in that I was feeling the same sorts of things you are (the sleeplessness, the fear of walking in the area where it happened), and the therapy certainly assisted me in strategizing ways to not let my fear and anxiety overcome me.
I can tell you that it was a really good idea in the short term, but also in the long term. Should you have anything else traumatic happen to you later in life, the unaddressed issues you are dealing with now may resurface and compound stress down the road. I can tell you that I was having recurring nightmares after I was mugged (where my best friend was actually shot and killed), and nearly a year to the day later, he actually was mugged again and shot. It was an incredibly trying time, and would have been that more so had I never addressed the first attack.
posted by oflinkey at 9:16 PM on July 27, 2005


My brother was held up by an african-american guy.

He now thinks all black guys are bad guys, and is afraid of them all. He doesn't understand that being held up was the beginning -- he lives in a place where racism is acceptable.

I guess I'm just saying that it could affect you in ways you may not currently grasp, and heading those "repercussions" off can't possibly be a bad thing.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:17 PM on July 27, 2005

I don't know if it's any consolation at all, but when things like that happen I remind myself that I just put myself in a position where it's nearly statistically impossible for the event to happen again. Only soothing on an intellectual level, though.

I was held up at gunpoint a few years ago and didn't end up loosing anything, because I was honestly flat broke (college student at the time). It shook me up for a good long while, but I eventually moved on (and out of New Brunswick, NJ) which helped a lot. Plus, hell, I've been held up at gunpoint once, whats the odds of it happening again ? (knock on wood, of course). I'm not going to go running through an unfamiliar "bad area" late at night, but I'm not going to be too afraid of the places I know either.
posted by GreenTentacle at 9:20 PM on July 27, 2005

Brought back long lost memories. Was a a grad student at that point and one late night on my way back from lab I got pinned down on the ground by couple of guys who i think were looking for somebody else. They took my wallet out and realized I was not that guy and let me go. I called the campus cops next day and they wanted me to do some identification later on. I declined because I had to walk that route on a regular basis. I guess it was little bit easier than yours because they did not seem to be intent on robbing me. It was still a jarring experience at that point. I started to return home earlier. Eventually I forgot about it.
posted by flyby22 at 9:20 PM on July 27, 2005

What kind of repercussions?

As a result of my misfortunate experiences, I can no longer cross a bridge, any bridge. My experience had nothing to do with bridges.

Every day at just about 3:30pm, I vomit. My friends, and thank God I still have any, call it "puke-thirty".

My repercussions are a result of serving in combat. The difference between you and I is that I had a choice in the matter.

You don't have to be all sick and crazy feeling. Go and get the help you need, for both you and your girl. You didn't deserve this! Take care of it before it really starts to get a hold on you.

I wish you two the best, and yes, it goes away after a while, but in your case you don't have to wait for that. Go see a professional.
posted by snsranch at 9:21 PM on July 27, 2005

He now thinks all black guys are bad guys

What bothers me is that I can feel that kind of paranoia creeping up on me. Riding in the back of the cop car through the neighborhood after the robbery, looking at all of the people who matched the description (many of whom were being detained by all of the other cops in the neighborhood), and looking at the 500 or so mugshots at the station, I felt that kind of nonsense penetrating my mind.
There's a lot of "victimless" crime in my neighborhood, mostly drugs and male prostitution, and all of the perpetrators that I see seem to be black. I have to stop and remind myself that everyone's an individual and not to make generalizations. Several times a day, in fact. I don't want the experience to warp my values and turn me into someone that I've avoided being for my whole life, even though it would be easy to slip down that negative path.
posted by Jon-o at 9:25 PM on July 27, 2005

A week and a half ago is still very recent.

In college, I was the target of a kidnap attempt. It happened while I was out by myself walking around late at night.

I'd rather not go into the details of the thing itself. But for almost a year afterwards, I had to have someone else around me at all times. I also just could not go out at night at all. By nightfall I was inside - preferably with friends. I was absolutely terrified of the dark. I also almost dropped out of college then but was helped immensely by one of the resident tutors. She even talked to all my professors into giivng me a break.

Anyways, all the advice I can offer is that time heals. This happened during my senior year. After graduation, I spent the summer with my parents in San Diego, surfing and weightlifting during the day - and home by nightfall.

By the end of the summer and to this day, the whole thing just seems like a strange nightmare, distant, like something out of a book. And it makes for an interesting story - everytime I've told people the details of it - what happened, how i got away - they are just glued to their seat. :)
posted by vacapinta at 9:47 PM on July 27, 2005

snsranch, my heart goes out to you. You too, Jon-o, and everyone else who posted here about their personal experiences.

I've had a few things stolen (without any personal violence involved), and it felt like such an invasion. I can only imagine what it feels like to suffer this way at the hands of a stranger.

Best wishes to all.
posted by equipoise at 9:55 PM on July 27, 2005

it will go away in time ... i was working at a motel when i was held up by a couple of guys ... and it just takes time

i don't recall being especially anxious, but that, and some other experiences caused me to be watchful for a long time ... which is not a bad thing ... if people see you are paying attention to your surroundings, they're not as likely to rob you ... still, you sound as though you're a little more than watchful, which isn't good

if you feel uncomfortable, it wouldn't hurt to see a counselor
posted by pyramid termite at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2005

Everyone reacts to trauma differently; what isn't a big deal to me may be a tremendous shock to someone else. I underwent a traumatic experience when I was 19, and experienced some minor post-traumatic symptoms for more than 10 years, even with excellent counseling and psychiatric help. Sometimes I still think about it -- but the difference now is that I'm not reliving it all.

I echo the suggestions of others that you and your girlfriend seek counseling as soon as possible. You may be reacting to this incident in ways of which you aren't aware right now. Get professional assistance now, so you both can get on with living, and walking in your neighborhood after dark.

I don't know how you would have reacted to my incident or how I would have reacted to yours. I do know that you need assistance, based on the symptoms you've listed. The sooner you talk to someone, the sooner you'll be able to remember it without reliving it.
posted by lambchop1 at 10:14 PM on July 27, 2005

Jon-o, the feelings you're having are normal after an event like this. It has to do with having your life threatened and having a sense of security destroyed.

The DSM-IV calls it a "disorder" - i.e., PTSD - if the feelings last more than 6 months, at which point they're interfering with your enjoyment of life. At the week-and-a-half mark it's still perfectly normal to be having these sorts of feelings.

A trained counselor or therapist can help you re-integrate your ego, that is to say, work through the issue and feel better. Or you may just want to wait a week or two and see if things are getting better on their own.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:23 PM on July 27, 2005

Your holdup was traumatic. Your life, and the life of a loved one was threatened. You felt tremendous anxiety and fear. One of the terrible effects of victimization is that the bubble of healthy denial we mostly walk around in gets punctured. This is the bubble that reassures us that we're safe if we don't do stupid things. In fact, of course, we're very vulnerable beings and random bad events happen all the time to people who don't deserve it. That sort of helplessness doesn't feel very good, and people do all kinds of things to avoid it.

Your reactions are entirely normal. Be gentle with yourself and your girlfriend. Your symptoms may or may not go away by themselves. Warning signs would be if they persist or get stronger, if you find yourself using drugs or alcohol to cope, taking dangerous risks, if your sleep is disturbed, if you and your girlfriend start getting into a lot of conflict, and/or if the symptoms cause significant disruption in your activities of daily living.

Therapy can definitely be helpful to you - EMDR is an evidence-based therapy that is targeted toward PTSD. There are controversies about whether it's better than other treatments, but you could certainly read about it and/or check it out.
posted by jasper411 at 10:33 PM on July 27, 2005

Don't get a gun, and lose the mace.

Firstly, they're constant reminders of the event and of your fear. Every time you put your hand in your pocket, you'll be thinking about how you would use it if something were to happen right now, and your whole life becomes one endless urban combat scenario.

Secondly, they're useless. Would you have really used the gun or the mace in the hold-up? Where might you be if you had? Assault charges? Manslaughter charges, and a life on your conscience? Shot yourself? Dead?

Talk to somebody soon. It will still take time to deal with it, but it'll take less time with professional help.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:00 PM on July 27, 2005

I recently dealt with an injury that could be described as traumatic, and I've felt the weird waves of anxiety and stupid phobias since. Seemingly the norm, I've tried to reassure myself that things are fine rather than burying them for a later time.

If I were in your shoes, I would consider taking some self-defence or martial arts classes to a) channel that restlessness into b) reducing that feeling of helplessness while c) getting a workout, releasing stress-relieving endorphins, and promoting a nicer night's sleep. Bring your girlfriend along, if you want. Go out to dinner. Tell her you love her.

And then move on. Worse things have happened and might happen in the future. The best that we can do is try to conquer whatever gets in the way of the important things. Right? Good luck.
posted by rfordh at 11:09 PM on July 27, 2005

My house was burglarized while I was away for a weekend about a year ago, about a month after moving into my apartment. The guy had gone up on the roof of my building, climbed down onto my fire escape, and kicked through the gate that I have over that window. Some cash had been stolen, but nothing serious.

After that, I became overly paranoid, jumping at the slightest sound in my apt, even keeping a big knife nearby. I'm still not fully over it, but time passes, and you get over things.

I've been robbed at gunpoint too (they kinda kicked my ass also), but somehow that didn't leave a mark like being burglarized did.

If you're asking whether you should see a therapist, then you should. You obviously need to talk to someone.
posted by Edible Energy at 11:23 PM on July 27, 2005

If you had posted that you had fallen down and broken your leg, and that it hurts really bad and you were barely able to walk, but were not sure if you should see a doctor, what do you think the response would be? That would seem pretty ridiculous, wouldn't it? But it's the same way with emotions, anxiety, fear, etc.

You've suffered a trauma and it will take time to heal. You certainly can be a "rugged individual" and try to heal it on your own, without the help of anyone. But if you tried to set your own leg, you'd probably end up with a weird limp for the rest of your life and you would never be able to run very well. It's the same with being mugged (or burgled, or serving in combat, or ...) The point is that you almost certainly will benefit from the help of a trained professional, and I can think of no reason whatsoever why you shouldn't give it a try.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:32 AM on July 28, 2005

(please note that I'm not saying that every person that gets mugged and then doesn't seek therapy will be permanently ****ed up in some way. Just that there is a chance that can happen, just like there's a chance that a leg that's not set properly will never heal right.)
posted by Rhomboid at 1:34 AM on July 28, 2005

I was once in a situation where someone was trying to kill me. Actually heard the bullets whiz by my head with that odd whistling (not really a whistle but for lack of a better term) sound. Was pissed and a bit shaken for several days.

But I got over it by appealing to my baser instincts. I went with a gun-afficiando friend and he helped me pick out a lovely silver Sig .45, relatively compact so its easy to conceal after getting my state's conceal-carry license.

And the memories of the attack haven't bothered me since. I'm sure 90% of mefi would disagree with me, but having the means to defend yourself is one of the best psychological crutches you can have. Its just simple human nature.

Also, if you have any strength at all, I'd recommend getting training on disarming an armed opponent. I've learned a relatively simple technique which, if performed correctly, will end up breaking the gun finger of your opponent and giving you a bit of an advantage.

Hopefully this is a once in a lifetime event for you but obtaining weapons and training will replace your trauma with a steely resolve of "never again". And then you'll be able to go through your days without the memories haunting you.
posted by pandaharma at 2:31 AM on July 28, 2005

I was mugged at knifepoint about a year and a half ago. I think counselling is good and blathering about it to any friends you can get to listen.

It's a horrible thing when you're in that helpless situation, and you might go through some dark times, but you will get back to normal trust me.

I agree with the suggestion about getting weapons and self protection training. I know a decent website - email me at j ulb if you're interested.
posted by lunkfish at 3:42 AM on July 28, 2005

that should be j (underscore) ulb (at) - thought I was being clever using funny brackets..
posted by lunkfish at 3:43 AM on July 28, 2005

Sorry to hear your story, Jon. I would advise you to get some help as other people here have. This is a great first step though.

My girlfriend and I were together at the time and since the robbery took place essentially on our doorstep, we've both been having trouble just walking around our neighborhood after dark, trouble sleeping, and just generally feeling unsafe.

Believe it or not, a lot of people who've never been through anything have the same fears outside of home. I try to steer clear of the streets at night in urban areas for the same reason. When it starts to creep into your home and your sleep, though, it's time to seek help.

Regarding guns, you're in Philly so I wouldn't recommend it. In other areas, particularly rural ones, however, it can work out well to carry a firearm. Attitudes are rapidly changing, but there are towns out West where almost no crime occurs due to the reputation of residents and shopkeepers having handguns. Clearly that doesn't apply in most cities where the gunholders are generally just the muggers and gangs, and where pulling out your own gun is hardly likely to get them to run.

I wish you the best of luck in getting back to a state of normality. It's attainable.
posted by wackybrit at 3:59 AM on July 28, 2005

I was "mugged" after a fashion, by a couple of guys with a crowbar and a knife, in my home a few months ago and I felt a lot of the same things you did. I still do, sometimes, though it's getting better. I'm no longer afraid when I hear my landlady's homecare worker do laundry because it happens twice a week, but someone walked past our rear window five minutes ago, and I'd really like to know who is in our yard at 7:00 in the morning - but I'm way too nervous to actually go and try and find out.

I've also found that as I increasingly forget what the guy looked like, I think more and more people look like him. Almost any smooth skinned, thin, young black guy will set me on edge. If they wear an earring, as well, they make me tremendously nervous. Seeing an old friend I haven't seen in 5 years at a wedding on the weekend reminded me how stupid this is, since there are thousands who meet that description in this town, and only one who mugged me.

I'm not sure where this is going, exactly. I never got counselling and for awhile I was pretty sure I was fine with that, as I got over the random crying jags fairly quickly (having to deal with the crap that came with my car being wrecked a few days later took the edge of the robbery, a lot), but 4 months out, I'm starting to feel some long term effects that I'm not sure are going away. I think maybe if I'd talked to somebody (besides MetaFilterians, who were very helpful) then it might have helped forestall the things I'm feeling now. I guess I'm saying that if you have the opportunity to go for counselling, you should take it, and not assume that things will be okay with time. It doesn't seem like they necessarily will be.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:28 AM on July 28, 2005

Create a safe space inside your home. Beef up your home security, buy a dog, light candles, whatever. Make sure you feel safe inside your home. You shouldn't have trouble sleeping.

Do some research into the statistical frequencies of such hold-ups. Once you understand how rare these kinds of things are, you can put the event into perspective. You had a bad day. This is part of living in the city. Think about this carefully and logically--write down your thoughts to make them extra clear--and don't let your feelings run away with you.

Be prepared. There's no need to buy a gun; a gun will likely make you more unsafe. Maybe take a few self-defense classes. Maybe buy a big, dark coat with a hood. Be more alert to your surroundings but chide yourself if you become overly paranoid.

Lastly, take back the night. Go for some walks with a friend at night and soak up the atmosphere. Treat your girlfriend to some nice late dinners. Catch some late movies. Consciously put yourself under the same conditions, again and again. If you're out and about and you start to feel skittish remind yourself that you're not afraid. The quickest way to overcome such fears is to just face them head on.
posted by nixerman at 7:06 AM on July 28, 2005

vacapinta, if you don't feel like sharing the story with us, that's cool, but I'm really interested in hearing the details.

As to the advice given about martial arts training/carrying a gun/etc., I think the best part about it is that it gives you a little more self-confidence. A lot of the time you'll be targetted because you look vunerable. The problem, of course, is that it gives you more self-confidence. Which, in the wrong situation, could end up escalating a situation when the perp just wants your wallet.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2005

I would recommend seeking some counselling as there is nothing more releiving than speaking to others about it. That's why you came here and asked us, it's perfectly natural. You can be the most rational and intelligent person and you would still have a lot of mental aftermath when it comes to threatening situations such as this.

I was at my house one evening, walking from the doorway across the room to my computer desk in the corner. As I passed the large roadside windows and bent over to type a post on my machine the strangest sensation occured. I was sprayed by drywall powder and there was a faint 'Click' as the bullet passed through the wall. It went over my left shoulder, above my monitor and into the wall in front of me. I just kind of stood there for a second, utterly confused. Could this have just happened? Am I dreaming? I didn't really think a lot of it at the time.

Over the next few days I began to accrue certain characteristics that you mention. I started having nervous thoughts and I just couldn't get it off my mind. Thankfully I had a large group of aquaintances as well as a professional therapist that I could speak with to help placate my emotions. I imagine that if I was in a face to face situation with an attacker the visualizations and general thought patterns would have been much more reinforced and a little less easy to deal with. Best of luck to you, Jon-o.

I would also recommend not buying a firearm, as most the people I've known who get them as a response to a situation do not treat them with the respect they deserve. This usually gets them in trouble, for example a friend who was relatively paranoid one evening (had seen the same car roll by his house very slowly multiple times, etc) decided to take his gun with him on a little trip. He was pulled over the next day on the way to work and charged with not having the weapon properly secured, among other things.
posted by prostyle at 8:03 AM on July 28, 2005

Jon-o, a lot of what I've got to say has already been said in one fashion or another upthread, but I thought I'd add how one friend of mine dealt with his reaction to a violent mugging on one of the trains.

He saw a therapist. He joined a gym. He also took up martial arts, and later dropped that for boxing. He wrote an album worth of songs. He mostly worked through his emotions anyway he could, both physically and emotionally. In the end it was these activities and time that healed many of his wounds.

Hang in there.
posted by safetyfork at 8:20 AM on July 28, 2005

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