Monday, May 13, 2013

My PTSD Treatment is Ending, but my Work is Just Beginning.

Well, here it is, my discharge week, and the question on all your minds is most likely "was it worth it?"

No doubt about it, it was hard, emotionally draining, painful, embarrassing, even terrifying at times as I faced intense emotions that were very difficult to control even overwhelming, and I've only just begun to understand and grieve what I now realize I lost due to my trauma, so more emotions to face.

At the risk of sounding dramatic or self pitying, I lost my entire childhood. I will never know what it feels like to be excited about coming home to show my parents something, I always feared going home. I will never know what it is to be protected by my dad or told I'm special. I lost my sense of security and safety, essentially I lost trust in a safe world that contains safe people. I lost my dignity and the opportunity to discover who I was as I grew up, because I was always concerned about "keeping the peace". If others were happy then I was happy, and that's how I functioned up until two weeks ago, and these are only the primary losses, there are also secondary losses which are spin offs of the primary losses. For example, I also lost my chosen career as a performer, because I couldn't remember choreography or script due to the damage to my brain caused by the trauma.  That damage also caused me to have great difficulty focusing which made most activities frustrating at the very least and reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. As a coping mechanism during childhood, I numbed myself to the terror and fear otherwise I wouldn't have been unable to protect myself and my siblings. That terror, anger, sadness and fear, however, remained locked away in my brain as I continued to try to numb myself from it's effects by being addicted to productivity. I worked 12 hours days most days, and still managed to direct, perform, and go to the gym and hot yoga. This way I wouldn't have to think about my feelings or needs, I could just go on denying them just as I did when I was a kid. Some become addicted to alcohol or other substances, but any addiction is self harming which is another symptom of PTSD

As a result of my trauma, I was taught many core beliefs that were untrue such as I'm unworthy, unlovable, undeserving, I don't work hard enough, and the pressure of believing I can always do better (perfectionism is another symptom). I also developed many fears that interfered with my relationships and my ability to live a "free" life, and these have remained with me all my life. My fear of abandonment.... when people didn't return my texts, or when my teenage children began to exert their independence, caused intense anxiety which reflected my belief that the person not replying or my children pulling away from me meant they didn't care or love me, and they were going to leave me, and I would react in an destructive and desperate manner such as yelling, accusations, or even hurting the other person for allegedly hurting me. Any time I felt a loss of control, I would become extremely agitated, even angry because having as much control as possible makes me feel safe. I don't trust my own judgment most times until I mull over a decision for days causing me more anxiety. Essentially, I have been "stuck" in my trauma for the last 40 years.

Trauma changes the brain's structure which is the reason for many symptoms exhibited by sufferers of PTSD....
  • Can’t find the words to express your thoughts? That’s because the prefrontal lobe (responsible for language) can be adversely affected by trauma, which gets in the way of linguistic function.
  • Can’t regulate your emotions? How could you when the amygdala (responsible for emotional regulation) is in such overdrive that in some PTSD survivors it actually enlarges.
  • Having problem with short-term memory loss? Of course you are: studies show that in some PTSD survivors the hippocampus (responsible for memory and experience assimilation) actually shrinks in volume.
  •  Always feeling frightened no matter what you do? Understandable when your medial prefrontal cortex (responsible for regulating emotion and fear responses) doesn't regulate itself or function properly after trauma.
Fortunately, the very plasticity that negatively impacted my brain due to trauma can also be used to positively affect my brain, but it will be a life long process as I continue to experience triggers and re-enactments. At least now I know what they are, and I can choose, if I can remain strong, to not allow them to have as much power over me by grounding, using meditation, mindfulness, different reactions and choices to what was once habitual, I've also taken up drawing (I'll post some of my work here some time soon).  All these things lay new neural pathways that help the brain to return to what is closer to normal. Let it be known, however, anyone with trauma will never be completely the same again.

So I still have a lot of work to do, old habits die hard, and the grieving and mourning of my losses has really just begun, but now I understand, and because I understand, I hope I can make different choices whereas before, in my mind, I hadn't any choices. I'm sure it will be two steps forward and once step back most of the time, and many thanks to those of you who sent messages of support.The people in the program with me were incredibly strong, creative, and inspirational, they taught me even more than the psychiatrists, I'm so grateful and honoured to have shared this experience with them.

Please share any of this with someone you think might have PTSD, or if you have a question I can answer, I would be happy to do so.

So was the pain, sadness, and fear all worth it? Absolutely!

1 comment:

  1. Hooray for brain plasticity! I'm so happy for you - that you have the keys to take advantage of it. I knew mental illnesses caused changes in the brain, but I didn't know any of the specifics.
    You are amazing and strong and I am grateful that you are sharing your story. Keep up the wonderful work!



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