On a good day, parenting will test the integrity of your character. On a bad day, parenting will test your will to live. Parenting children with trauma histories will cause you to test the integrity of everything and everyone you thought you knew, for the rest of your life.
~J. Skrobisz

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Inside the mind of PTSD

Are we all souls at a state of unrest? We hear talk of the dead coming back to haunt because they have unfinished business.  When people die we wish that they rest in peace because maybe some don't. We seldom mention the living being at the same state of mind largely because we still have time to settle ourselves.  And if we can't?

I know, I'm a rhetorical pundit, but that's only because these thoughts rumble through my head like a battered dump truck that has hauled one too many loads of rocks and rubble from a dig site to an undisclosed offload site.  In my mind, the offload site doesn't exist so the rocks and rubble of my thoughts pile up in various places of my frontal lobe only to be removed and hauled to another part of the same cerebrum region; an infinitesimal loop of  digging, hauling, and dumping the discord of my mind.

Where am I? I'm in an eddy of life, one of those swirl pools in a bubbling creek where water effortlessly glides over smoothed granite stones while leaves and pollen get caught up and slowly spin in a rock outcropping from the force of the current that flows past it.  It's not a terrible place to be but the water can stagnate.  I've often wondered if after the years of so much trauma and stress I have become accustomed to that pace and subconsciously crave it, like longing to be in the fast paced current of the creek, perpetually bubbling over the granite stones, racing onward to nowhere in particular but moving nonetheless.  I've read a few cursory studies that have demonstrated that brain chemistry is altered for PTSD sufferers and therapists agree that the best way to come out of the adrenaline high from the racing stress-induced pace of life as a result of trauma, is to force oneself to be quiet and rest.  Easier said than done. 

Sunday mornings are the hardest. I hate the solitude of it, waking alone, sipping coffee alone, ruminating about the things that need to be done before a new work week starts, accidentally making myself anxious, wondering if I will be alone for the rest of my life, scrolling through endless facebook posts, deleting email, trying to brighten my mood with good music, opting to sit on the deck and listen to nature's music, petting the dog's head, thinking about the to-do list and being frustrated that it is always just me to get those items checked off, longing for companionship, texting people just to feel connected to other souls, dreading when Sissy wakes up because I can't tolerate her drama any more, feeling frustrated that I can't just enjoy what I currently have because life is actually really good right now, realizing that I'm stuck in that loop in my brain again, wishing beyond hope that I could be a soul at rest finally.  

I chastise myself for not enjoying what I currently have, for being incapable of just being.  I remind myself that I have overcome enormous obstacles and that I'm OK.  I stop and breathe and let my temporal lobe absorb the sensory stimulation instead of stagnating in the cognitive frontal lobe.  I allow a slow smile to creep across my face.  A friend replies with a text message and I feel connected again.  Wonder girl giggles in her room at a video she is watching.  The dog harrumphs at me for not continuing to pet her head.  I feel my blood pressure drop and the anxiety fade.  I put on Reiki soothing music or I do a meditation.  I tell myself positive affirmations.  I recount the amazing things I have done in my life time and remind myself that I have overcome impossible obstacles.  I hear the wind chime and watch squirrels chase each other from a branch on one tree to a branch on another tree, forty feet in the air.  I hear the rumble of a motorcycle and think, "good for them, it's a beautiful day for a ride," then I plan to take a drive in the mustang with the top down.  I hear someone's yard blower and say, "add that to the to-do list but don't panic about it, you LIKE yard work, it's soothing and gives you a sense of accomplishment."  Another text comes in and it's a second friend wishing me a good morning.  I feel loved because I have so many amazing friends

I don't want to be alone forever.  My little soul can't handle it.  I wasn't created to be just one, I have always been a lover, a romantic, the marrying kind.  I want to give to someone and find comfort in a warm embrace of unconditional love.  I want to have a Sunday morning on my back deck with coffee for two. Two people to accomplish the to-do list, another soul to breathe the air with me and giggle about the nutty squirrels.  Another person to have great ideas about how to spend a day or what flowers to plant in the front or to grumble about cutting the red tips.  Someone else to say, "hey, we should walk the canal today," or "let's be slugs and stay in bed all day, Monday is almost here."  I will myself to be at peace even though it's only me, every day, all day, knowing that I can't make love come and that happiness can only come from within, not from another person.


This is what it is to be in the mind of someone that is recovering from PTSD.  I have endured some incredible trauma that should have rendered me helpless but I chose to overcome and be the best me I can be, every second of every day.  The mother of one of my students is currently doing research on mice with PTSD.  The preliminary findings are that the hippocampus region of the brain is smaller and has fewer neurotransmitters and those neurotransmitters that exist don't fire signals correctly. When I heard the results of her research I cried because of the validation.  I kept saying that my brain doesn't work right, that I have to work around the erroneous messages in my brain and it's true.  I do.

PTSD  manifests differently for sufferers.  Clearly our soldiers that have been in combat have a distinctly different form of PTSD than people that have endured other traumas.  Treatment is unique to the individual and should not be taken lightly.   For me, through therapy, I have managed to eliminate every trigger except one, being called by my full name "Jennifer".  If I can't overcome that trigger, then I will likely legally change my name but that is a huge decision and not one that I take lightly.   One of the biggest challenges I still face is the anger of having a traumatized brain, the frustration of fighting with my thoughts and the difficulty it creates in finding a place of rest and solace regardless of my circumstances.  

For my readers that caught up with this blog in the beginning, when things were so hard with Sissy, the answer to your unspoken question is, "Yes, raising a damaged child with so many mental health issues and the resultant behaviors from those issues caused long term exposure to stress and trauma that exacerbated my PTSD." Although Sissy has control over how she responds and she openly chooses to respond poorly, actively defying her therapy goals, it no longer causes me further anger, I just shake my head in exasperation and walk away, removing the impetus for her defiance.  But raising a disabled daughter is not my only trauma.  I had a traumatic abusive childhood followed by a traumatic abusive marriage.  By all accounts, I shouldn't be as functional as I am and to that end, I give myself measures of grace and mercy.

If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, I hope this post helps you understand what it is like inside the mind, the daily battle that occurs there, the struggle to keep balance mentally and emotionally, even with tools like pharmaceuticals and therapy.  I have gotten to a good, safe place in my journey and for the first time in my life feel like I am the one in control of my destiny.  It has taken me years, hard work, persistence, and the internal motivation to be better.  I can't undo the trauma to my brain, but I now know how to function well despite it.  Please give someone with PTSD a hug today and tell them they are doing a great job.  Like me, they may feel like their soul will always be in a state of unrest, regardless of the beauty, life, and love that surrounds them.

No comments: