How do I deal with intrusive thoughts after being mugged?
December 7, 2014 1:34 AM   Subscribe

I was mugged just a few hours ago while walking to my car. The guy slammed my head against the side of a brick building multiple times, took my cellphone out of my hand and ran off. I know it's still early, but how do I keep myself sane and maybe get some sleep tonight (and upcoming nights)?

I got amazing help at a pizza place further up the block (they called the police for me and went above and beyond in every way), but now that I'm back home I'm having a lot of intrusive thoughts. I've had things stolen from me before (most notably, my Jeep just over a year ago, and a bicycle that disappeared from my apartment building), but I found those instances much easier to deal with because I wasn't present for the actual events. I've never been assaulted before and I'm having a hard time dealing with it.

FWIW, I currently take Celexa for your typical run of the mill anxiety disorder. Life has been pretty fantastic ever since getting on it about a year and half ago, and I am able to deal with both minor and major stressors in a much more effective way than I ever thought possible. Intrusive thoughts, obsessive worrying and fixations have pretty much been eliminated from my day-to-day life. I'm the most easy-going person I know, and I've never been happier in my own mind.

I don't want the progress I've made to come undone, especially not over something that's unlikely to happen again. Being the target of a violent attack was never one of my worries or fears (speaking of which, I am a huge fan of The Gift of Fear, so the fact that none of my instincts really kicked in to help me avoid this attack is kind of concerning).

I don't want to ramble on and on. What I really want is to hug my mom and my dad forever, but that's not realistic, right? My boyfriend is wonderful, but unfortunately deals with his own health issues and I hate to demand so much from someone who constantly struggles to be well. I have a dog who is a total sweetheart, but I don't know if that's comforting enough right now.

For practical purposes, this incident happened on Cherokee in St. Louis. I live in Maryland Heights. I have health insurance but not a whole lot of extra money to cover co-pays. My psychiatrist is in Washington, MO, but I'm not sure if this is the sort of issue I want to address in that way. I think I'm looking for local resources, maybe a hotline that I can call just to process my thoughts. I know people at work will want to hear about all the details, and I'm fine with that, but I'm not fine with where my thoughts start going when other people aren't around. I appreciate any help or guidance anyone can offer.
posted by blixapuff to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What I really want is to hug my mom and my dad forever, but that's not realistic, right? My boyfriend is wonderful, but unfortunately deals with his own health issues and I hate to demand so much from someone who constantly struggles to be well.

Are these folks all in the same town with you? I strongly suspect that if they wake up a little and really understand what has happened they will want those hugs too. Try calling them. I seriously doubt they want you to do this alone.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:08 AM on December 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

I am so sorry this happened to you. It sounds horrible.

First off, have you got medical attention for possible concussion, etc.?

Do you live with your boyfriend, or is there someone else who can keep you company for the next couple of nights? Don't feel afraid to ask. I feel quite strongly that having someone around you, who you trust, even if you don't talk to them, would be helpful in the short term, and that might lessen the effects in the long run.

Lastly, it might be worth playing some Tetris, or the visual/spatial game of your choice. This sounds silly, but there is evidence that this sort of activity can have a protective effect against flashbacks after trauma. I don't know if it would be effective against non-visual intrusive thoughts, but I would try it in your situation.
posted by daisyk at 2:10 AM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, Monsieur Caution is right about calling your family.
posted by daisyk at 2:11 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest calling the local ER and telling them you were just assaulted and you were traumatized and you'd like to talk to somebody about it. Hopefully they have some kind of hotline they can direct you to. And if you even slightly suspect you may be concussed, I'd suggest going to the ER and getting checked out to be sure.

Call your family. Talk it out with your boyfriend. Call the cops, if you haven't already. This wasn't just a mugging, it was a violent assault. I bet the cops will pay attention to something like that. They don't want some guy running around the neighborhood slamming people's heads into walls.

You've just been through something awful, and it would shake up anybody. Try to bear in mind that it wasn't a personally motivated attack, the guy doesn't know you and he's not going to try and track you down. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You are safe at home now.

I wish I could offer more concrete, helpful advice. Maybe try watching some silly movie you've always loved but haven't seen for a long time. I did a lot of that a few months ago, during an awful medical scare. Pamper the hell out of yourself. Treat yourself like a damn princess. If you've ever had the right to pig out on ice cream, tonight's the night.

Low-key video games could also be good to fill up your brain with other thoughts. I'm thinking of slow, moody puzzle stuff like Myst. Something where you have to wander around and solve puzzles, but monsters aren't going to jump out and go rar at you. You can find games like that online. "Looked room" puzzles and the like.

Be well.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:24 AM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

What? Call your parents and/or your boyfriend. This is precisely why we have human relationships. You will support them in difficult times too. And consider how hurtful it would be for those close to you to realise that you went through this and didn't turn to them.
posted by tavegyl at 2:26 AM on December 7, 2014 [14 favorites]

I don't know about much else but I do know that you could have a concussion. Co-pay is *not* a reason to not see a doc, if you got your head smacked hard against a solid object a time or two. Mostly they'll ask questions, to see if you're tracking right, and have not lost time and/or are confused. They'll shine their light into your eyes. It doesn't take long for them to determine, or that has been my experience anyways.

Did you see stars? Have you lost time? Have you lost the thread of this or that? And you maybe won't even know that you've lost the thread, outside observers will help with that.

I don't give a damn what kind of health problems your guy has. You need to tell him, and he needs to be there with you. If he's too worn down to be with his sweetie on the night his sweetie got their head smacked against a wall, then he's too worn down to be able to have your love. (If you're my sweetie, and this happened to you, I'm taking you to the ER *right now* and not allowing you to give me any shit about it, either.)

Truly sorry this happened to you. Random violence. Get surrounded by people who love you, people you love. Maybe talk to a doc about upping your dose of that anti-depressant for a while, to protect you, to shield you as you heal. The ER doc might be able to tell you, if you do go to the ER.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:33 AM on December 7, 2014 [12 favorites]

YMMV on this, but when I was mugged by three guys, somewhat violently, by far the best thing I did for myself -- after taking care of basic health stuff -- was to walk the streets -- the same streets where the mugging happened. I did it alone because I didn't have anyone to do it with, but if you can get someone to go with you, that would be better. (You can do this even if it's dark and cold; just bundle up and have someone with you!).

It sounds totally counterintuitive but it made a huge difference to me. Until I took my walk I had spent hours desperately trying to distract myself by whatever means necessary and was just going around and around in circles, crying, making things worse for myself. The walk helped, I think, for a couple of reasons:

1. Most importantly, it replaced my associations of "walking the streets == scary" with "walking the streets == nice". When I started the walk I was jumpy as hell but by the end those associations had absolutely been replaced. I firmly believe it was that immediate replacement that meant I was left with no post-traumatic issues at all in the long run (despite how horrible I felt in the immediate aftermath, before I went walking).

2. It gave me back some of the control I felt I had lost. It reminded me that I had been the victim of bad luck but I was a strong and functioning human and I could totally navigate the streets and be in charge of myself.

3. It tired me physically -- I literally walked for hours. The exercise was super effective and exactly what I needed, and when I got home I slept well and soundly.

Like I said, YMMV: when I mentioned to my doctor afterwards that I had done this and how effective I felt it was, she was really surprised and said she would have told me in advance that it was a bad idea. Maybe it would have been for some people. But it really worked wonders for me, so I offer the idea to you in the spirit that it might work for you as well.
posted by forza at 2:51 AM on December 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

I am so sorry.

Here's what I can share from my experience. I worked for 5 years in therapy to deal with PTSD from childhood abuse. It helped so much. My life was so much better! I got pregnant and it stuck!

Then I had a traumatic labour, and my baby died several days after. Eventually, I had the thought you did, basically: Is this going to take my life down to what it once was or worse?

This answer was no. I will not lie; it was hard and sometimes, esp. In March, still is. Bit I had learned how to get help, how to honour myself, etc. I knew what was possible.

I would expect you will feel anxious for a few days, need hugs, etc. you deserve that! Let the wave pass. There are grounding exercises (breathe deep, feel your toes, spread them out, think of things you are experiencing with all your 5 senses). You might want to get out and spend some adrenaline - run, bike, swim.

If it doesn't pass in a few days, reach out to a specialist or a hotline.

You'll be ok. Again, sorry that happened to you.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:04 AM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sorry this happened to you.

The idea that people who love you don't want to know or help you when you've just experienced a big trauma is probably your anxiety speaking.

Also as dancestoblue says go to the hospital. You can scrim/save/deal to cover the co-pay but the same can't be said for a brain injury.

Speaking from my experience with being violently mugged (and having anxiety problems) unfortunately working around the streets at night will probably feel weird and scary for a while. But happily I can also report this feeling fades with time and exposure. A year later I don't think it's a problem at all.

Obviously your brain is different from my brain - but I wanted to directly answer the question and say that there is hope.
posted by Erberus at 3:06 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy heck. Look, you are not being oversensitive in being anxious right now. You were attacked, and your person and property violated. You can't stop thinking about a violent attack that happened extremely recently? That sounds normal to me and not at all representative of regression in your anxiety disorder. This is a completely appropriate and understandable thing to feel anxious about. On top of that, there's a good chance that you have a concussion and there are acute physical reasons for any disordered thinking right now.

Please approach your loved ones and friends for help. This is a completely appropriate time to need and expect help. Not to mention an appropriate time to dish up the money for a co-pay and make sure you are relatively ok regarding head trauma.
posted by zennie at 3:15 AM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

As you consider this, put this event in the trauma box, not the generalized anxiety box. And, moving forward, seek out someone who specializes is post traumatic stress if that resource is available to you.

I agree with those above that suggest that, at this moment in time, either going to the ER or calling friends/family (no matter what time it is) is appropriate and a healthy thing to do.

I'm sorry this happened to you..

posted by HuronBob at 3:45 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

My heart goes out to you. Call the Crime Advocacy Center. 314-652-3623

I'm surprised the cops didn't take you to the hospital to get checked out. If you're awake now please consider going to the hospital. And do call a friend to stay with you for the next few days. Do your parents live nearby? Go home if they do.
posted by mareli at 4:23 AM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you were my friend, I'd demand that you either come over to my house to let me take care of you or let me come over right away to take care of you.

Please call your boyfriend or parents.
posted by discopolo at 5:09 AM on December 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

This happened just last night. It is really okay if you miss some sleep or need some time to deal with this. You have this random internet person's permission to have a few days that aren't "completely normal, 100% functioning" while you rest in the way you need to, get help from doctors and friends, and snuggle your dog.
posted by Hypatia at 6:13 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Intense rumination is exactly how the mind tries to cope after trauma. Here is a list of symptoms after trauma and a list of coping strategies.

One powerful thing I read about trauma, especially PTSD, is how it is an energy that stays in the body, especially if you felt helpless. Animals in the wild respond to trauma by fight, flight or freeze. If they freeze, they always physically "shake it off" afterwards, to relieve the body tension. So you could try to physically shake it off yourself - wiggle and shake, punch your arms out to the assailant, shout at them, go for a run. Re-enact the ending YOU want, where you come out in control. This will help release the trauma energy stored in the body.

I am so sorry all this happened. You are safe now.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:13 AM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. I agree with the others it's worth getting checked out, medically.

I was mugged several years ago (slammed into a fence) about a block from my apartment in NYC. I could see my bedroom window from that place on the sidewalk.

Call your mom and dad and talk... just talk. Take solace in how many other things in your life are normal and steady. And touch is important: My best friend came over that night and just held me on the couch for a long time until I stopped wanting to cry.

The thing that really helped me in the long term was to practice being more assertive and aware of my surroundings. Getting mugged was not my fault (that's important: this was absolutely not your fault), but I decided to make it as difficult as possible for it to happen to me again. I stopped wearing headphones. I started scanning the street and doing that city eye-contact thing where you just stare right through people. I started walking a lot more assertively and purposefully, like I was heading somewhere specific and getting there quickly, even if I was just out getting coffee.

And quite honestly, I started carrying a fantastically solid and heavy umbrella. I would grip it in my hand and take it with me everywhere I went. Sunny days and rainy days. It was part weapon, part talisman. I'm squishy and soft and I'd never fight off a mugger, but having this heavy thing I could bean someone with (hypothetically) made me feel really empowered. I carried it around for about a year, but it was a year I needed.
posted by mochapickle at 7:48 AM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hello. I'm new to this site, having run across it when searching for something totally unrelated.

I'm so sorry this happened to you. I want to echo what some others have said about reaching out to parents and boyfriend, but I want to add -- only if they're safe. I have PTSD, and I know how important safe spaces are. My suggestion to you is to get to one of your safe spaces right now. If that's with parents or boyfriend, great, but not, as I said, if they're not safe. If you don't have a safe place you can get to, is there something you can do to make the place you're at safe? I'm not talking about setting up a security system. I'm talking about what changes, sensible or not, would make you feel safer where you are? Part of you may be feeling like a hurt child, so don't ignore things like wanting to be wrapped up in a blanket. Go for it! Wrap in that blanket.

If the safe place you go to has safe people there -- talk to them! Tell them about what happened, don't keep it to yourself. You have a chance to short circuit long term effects of this experience by giving yourself the opportunity to process it now. A lot of PTSD is due to the brain kind of misfiling of information about the experience. If you talk about it now to safe people, you have a chance to get it filed properly now and save yourself pain in the future.

Most of all, though, get to safety. If you're in a safe place stay there for a while and consciously notice that you are safe and how that feels. Sending you good thoughts.
posted by Aunt Scilly at 8:08 AM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Go to the doc, get your head checked. If your brain is fine, you might ask for a small supply of ativan to help with sleep / anxiety over the next couple of weeks. Take it easy and be well.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:23 AM on December 7, 2014

There is nothing wrong with your having intrusive thoughts about this now. It is a terrible thing that actually happened to you very recently, and one that happened despite (cf. your reference to "Gift of Fear") what you believed to be sufficient precautions. This is your mind spurring you to punish the people who wronged you and protect yourself better from it happening again. Which is AS IT SHOULD BE. It is the purpose of therapy and medication to take enable your mind to function appropriately and proportionately with your circumstances, not to numb you from attending what acutely demands attention.
posted by MattD at 9:25 AM on December 7, 2014

Let the boyfriend help. He'll be good at it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:42 AM on December 7, 2014

An older (55+) friend of mine couldn't sleep after being attacked in the street (not mugged, but she described similar feelings of powerlessness and "reliving" the attack in her head all the time, seeing the attacker's face when she closed her eyes, etc). Her doctor wanted to give her tranquillizers, but she didn't want to take drugs - she felt that her reaction was normal and she didn't want to numb herself to it, but rather work it out.

A week after the assault, she joined a self-defense course and immediately started sleeping at nights again. Ymmv, of course, but it might be worth a try if this sounds appealing to you!
posted by ipsative at 9:58 AM on December 7, 2014

In general, talk about the experience if you find that you want to, but don't talk about the experience if you find that you don't. Talking about it while feeling safe and supported can be helpful, but reliving it in situations that feel "forced" is generally unhelpful. It's ok to tell people that you can't talk about it right now if that's the case.

As others have said, make sure to get your medical needs taken care of.

As far as the idea that you're backsliding on your psychological process, it's very unlikely. Symptoms after a trauma don't even get diagnosed as a disorder unless they continue to create significant distress for a full month; what you're describing is a completely normal response to a traumatic event. Be gentle with yourself, physically and emotionally, right now. Be around people who can support you and be gentle with you.

You might also be eligible for services or compensation for medical or counseling expenses through Missouri's Victim Services. I would give them a call, especially if finances are keeping you from seeking help.
posted by jaguar at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2014

Nthing getting yourself checked for concussion.

Disclaimer: Your emotional responses sound totally proportionate to the situation, do not require further explanation, and will assuredly fade in time.

BUT it is also the case that emotional dysregulation is a common symptom of concussion. Occasionally accompanied by subdural hematoma, which, depending on where it's located, could easily mean you need brain surgery ASAP to save your life. I'm just saying. A medical professional can tell you whether you are concussed, whether your injury warrants a scan, and whether the scan implies a need for surgery.

You know what's another common symptom of concussion? Being too dazed or in shock to realize you need to get checked out. THAT'S WHY YOU NEED FRIENDS AND FAMILY to have that kind of alertness on your behalf, notice if your symptoms are getting worse, etc.

Back in March, mrs_goldfish got doored on her bike. She thought she was going to walk home, and called me to come get her. Because I was there, I could tell the rescue squad which symptoms were symptoms of concussion vs. symptoms of absentminded professor. (Not knowing what year it is? Like she kept telling them, that's totally normal.) But there were other questions they wouldn't have thought to ask her that did prove something was wrong. The rescue squad said she was a borderline case, I helped her decide to accept their ride to the ER, and oh hey subdural hematoma!

Believe me, no matter what my immediate problems were, I was very very very glad to be involved. And not just to make sure she got treated. It's the kind of time when Being There For Each Other is crucial. Like, I dunno, family holidays, or something, although that sounds strange. But if you're together, it creates solidarity, and if you're not together at times like that, things can become weirdly alienated.

Please report back. Unless they tell you not to look at screens for a while.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:38 AM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wish I could offer you short term help - sounds like getting checked out medically is step one and getting some emotional support is step 2. In the medium term, In California there is a program for Victim Witness Assistance that can help pay for care after being the victim of a crime, including paying for counseling. Check what is available where you live. Here it is funded by criminal paying restitution so you don't need to feel guilty about using their money to get help.
posted by metahawk at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you call your psychiatrist, explain what happened, and ask for a prescription for 5-10 low-dose Xanax (or something similar)? Nthing everyone saying that what you're going through is 100% normal, but something to temporarily cut out the adrenaline response will help you sleep for sure.
posted by mchorn at 3:32 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

This happened to me, to some degree, about 2 years ago. I was punched in the face, lost a tooth, but no money was taken. I hope that by now you've talked to a medical professional; for me, it helped knowing that, while I lost a tooth, my jaw/skull weren't broken.

I felt relatively little pain the day of the attack and was fairly chipper, a "what else can I do?" attitude. However, the next day I hurt. I think I had some whiplash, my lip was swollen, and I just ached all over. I probably lay on the couch for most of the day, because I didn't feel like existing. Even if I hadn't lost a tooth or split open my lip, I would have taken the day off. Be ready to take one or two days off of work, because I'm not sure you'll feel like doing a damn thing.

I had a really hard time sleeping in the following months. I had nightmare visions of men breaking into my apartment, rage directed first at the low-income housing in the area, then at the horrible politicians/developers/whomever had created the conditions in which random assault is a fun idea. It was an impotent, scared rage, but it was there. I was jumpy for a long time afterwards, and I still don't like walking at night.

However, it has gotten better. I've been on a few walks at night with no incident, which has helped my fear. I've been reading a lot about city planning, education, and race relations, which is bleak stuff, but helps me understand life from the other perspective. I think that having something to focus on would help, because it was those lonely moments that were the worst.

Good luck. It's a hard thing to bounce back from, but it can and will happen.
posted by Turkey Glue at 7:48 PM on December 7, 2014

I was mugged violently and it was scary and I was messed up for a while after and now I'm about as back to "normal" as could be. Just to reassure you that things will probably settle back to normalcy after you process. But others have gone over this fairly well. What I want to say is...

I know people at work will want to hear about all the details

People everywhere always want to hear the details of everything. You don't owe them anything, even if they're someone you have a good relationship or even if they're someone you love. It's totally okay to say "I don't want to talk about this right now, thanks."
posted by threeants at 8:30 PM on December 8, 2014

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