Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD or Continuous Stress Disorder or C-TSD, C-PTSD Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder
What? Why? Who?
Soldiers? Weak? Symptoms?
These are the same questions that I had once asked about our nation’s heroes returning from Afghanistan. And now I find myself trying to give an answer to those around me about my own current mental health – My PTSD.
Ya know when you open your Netflix app? You often see a message on your screen:
or if a storm completely knocks out your internet?
These onscreen notifications tell the viewer what is happening internally – in the wiring. PTSD sufferers have a damaged (a wounded) wiring system of sorts, internally. When I personally come undone, I stammer, I stutter, I have to ask “What are we talking about?” mid-conversation, I use the wrong word or can’t think of a desired word. My CONNECTION IS LOST.
I’ve gotten lost driving around in the town I have lived in for over ten years. I’ve been asked my phone number and nothing CONNECTION LOST.. That’s a terrible experience: knowing you are an intelligent adult, have a college degree, and you can’t access the part of the brain storing your phone number…
(not good) SELF-TALK BEGINS: “I mean come on… You’re in your 40’s and you can’t offer the most basic of information… Seriously- you are such an idiot..” [and the vicious cycle of being so flippin’ stressed out that your brain shuts down and you are screaming at yourself in frustration because] – “Come on Suzanne, you are frickin’ smart enough to remember your phone number!”
I am trying to come back online… BUFFERING THROUGH LIFE.
After suffering through another unimaginable set of circumstances with one of my two adopted children, I opted to stay overnight with a friend rather that go home yesterday night. Mi amiga listened kindly to me try to explain how my brain was operating at that moment. While lavishing food love on me – homemade French toast, blueberries, bacon, and O.J. for dinner, she tried to understand the fears, the shaking, the stuttering, … and the danger I faced that she couldn’t see. [Side note: Are there many things better to comfort a person with than breakfast for dinner? I think not. She is the best!].
When attempting to explain to her how I was currently engaging in our conversation … about returning home after drinking the bleach my son had maliciously put in my cup,… I was SIMULTANEOUSLY being bombarded with countless intrusive thoughts and concerns racing through my mind.
[The background or intrusive thoughts clamouring about my head included escaping, safety, scanning my body for physical manifestations of trauma, a voice of someone terrified screamimg a litany of cuss words, noises and the no noticing of noise, self-talk of “pay attention, focus, focus,” I AM GOING TO DIE on repeat, et cetrera- as in there is more]
In seeking to understand what I was going through, my dear friend, Courtney came up with a brilliant analogy.
When you encounter someone triggered by what likely is an innocuous sound or image to most, to the one wounded by trauma, it sets off a MAINFRAME OVERRIDE MESSAGE.
Personally, I have been triggered by a beach ball thrown at my back, logs for sale at Publix to put on camp fire, an unexpected person coming around a corner, ice in a cup, and a Tae Kwon Do demonstration just to name a few.
These triggers either startle my auditory system or visually remind me of something related to the traumas. Oh, and then there’s the triggered state for no apparent reason.
Aaaaaaand the fun begins.
HYPERVIGILANCE kicks in. Every sound is amplified. PTSD sufferers even have better hearing when triggered. The blood flow in the body is rerouted during fight, flight, freeze or fawn. There is increased blood flow to the ears! (I know, pretty cool design by our Creator don’t ya think?!) An overactive startle reflex is in place. Peripheral vision is sharpened. All systems are a go for launch!
My husband can’t even figure out how to enter the room post trauma. If he walks into the space I am in and my back is facing the entrance, when I turn around, his presence makes me catch my breath, heart rate speed up, and fear grip my chest. I just wasn’t expecting anyone.
If he tries to signal me with a noise, that makes me jump as well. And jumping may be a slight underestimation of the response and reality. I am TERRIFIED. Being afraid in your own home is the absolute worst.
I am always planning for an attack with a minimum of two escape routes…
but all this is not evidenced on the homescreen. The home screen, what you see, is the same prior to the injury, the seeing, the experiencing, the trauma(s).
When you walk up to a computer you don’t always know how many other operations are running.
With the bandwidth of a computer maxed out, the front open program is sluggish and everything takes forever!
Completely me! Trying to lock the car door eludes me. I look at the two icons on the electric button- one has a lock in which the curved metal steel touches the squarish bottom part, the other icon has the curved part in an unlatched position. I see this visually, but I got nothing. I question myself, “so if the metal is touching, that means what? And the open latch.. Does that mean the door is open or will open? Do I want to unlock, lock, so frickin’ confusing!
But it literally isn’t.
Then the stress of not thinking straight hounds me, hisses at me, “Stupid, deficient, broken, helpless”. Biblical side note: That hissing is from a serpent, on his belly, lying, hoping I believe all of these labels. In my current state, I believe and beat myself up.
This mostly inactive, lethargic and listless presence of mind responds to commands internally or imputed by others- Unresponsive. Like when you can’t remember the right combination of username and password and the message in red reads Our system doesn’t recognize this information.
Thats exactly it!
I bet you can’t pat your belly and rub your head. Or is it pat your head and rub your belly. I am going with guess #2. Anyways, it is hard to do two tasks that use different systems in the body. Want to run for your life? You will need use of the parasympathetic nervous system. Would you like to find something gluten-free, reasonably priced and not made from cornstarch and sugar my just to get around the whole gluten thing? Believe me, you will need full executive functioning of the frontal lobes in your brain to make it out if the grocery store in under 3 hours.
Without being mentally “online”, actions take tremendous time and effort to accomplish. Actions like ordering your words coherently, deciding what to wear, retelling a story without you listener falling asleep because you have told every contingency and fully disclosed every backstory to “where did you go for lunch yesterday?”
The details seem so important to get your message out. From my research, I think it involves a complicated web of physiological, mental, spiritual, and social motivations. One thing I haven’t read put together by PTSD experts is the wounding messages of
1. I CAN’T TRUST MYSELF BECAUSE I OVERPLAY THE TRAUMAS I EXPERIENCED OR I AM TOO SENSITIVE. Therefore a full fleshed out explanation of a midday meal is warranted.
2. IF OTHERS HAD MORE INFORMATIOM (LIKE I NEEDED TO BE ABLE AVOID MY HURT), THEN LIFE WOULD BE BETTER. So I go on and on about the decision making process between Panera and Outback.
3. I’VE BEEN TOLD I AM MAKING NO SENSE REPEATEDLY AND OFTEN. I think “that aspect may be a little muddled. Let me explain in greater detail.”
Surprisingly, this syrupy roundabout thinking and then responding or reacting may occur years after trauma. It may generate hurt feelings as the murky thought processes are often hog-tied together with self-esteem.
So to you, my sweet friend who has stuck around quite a while in this lengthy blog post, picture the circular arrow you impatiently stare at on your computer screen after trying to pull up a task or operation. You expect a prompt output from said computer. But then you get nothing, nada, zero. (The “beach ball of death” as one of my friends calls it.)
The arrow circles around and around like a dog after its’ own tail – but not near as amusing. In fact, it can be quite irritating or exasperating. I can see that look in your face. I start to understand the social cues but for the flippin’ life of me, I can’t connect.
There are other issues going on in the background that you can’t see.
I could go on and on.
Bahaha.. Laughing at myself. My injuried brain wants to clarify still more.
Pretty sure this behavior came up yesterday telling something to my oldest daughter.
And to you my sweet friend struggling with PTSD, I will keep clarifying until mental health isn’t perceived as a weakness. It’s the most natural response to the things we’ve seen. So go reBoot. Find your equilibrium.