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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

PTSD

Today is supposed to be Tuesday Triumph day.  I planned on having some cool craft or redecorating triumph to share with you.  But instead of talking about those kinds of things, I think I will talk about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD is often associated with soldiers coming home from war.  They have been through extreme trauma and they suffer the effects of it for a long time after they are home and safe.  It is a real and scary thing---sometimes leading to suicide and other scary situations for themselves and their families.

But soldiers aren't the only ones who suffer from PTSD.  All of us are vulnerable.  Any time we experience something traumatic, we become vulnerable to this disorder.  Our bodies and minds are pre-programmed to help us live and learn from our experiences.  If we experience something very negative, our brains remember everything about it.  Even when we are not conscious of that memory.  Smells, sights, words, sounds, feelings are all recorded in our brain.  Things that happened before the trauma.  Things that happened during it.  Things that happened after it.  All recorded and kept in our brains for future reference.  It could be something mildly traumatic.  It could be something very serious.

Later, when we are in a perfectly safe environment around perfectly safe-seeming individuals, something may trigger our memories.  Something said.  Something smelled.  Some tone of voice used.  Some particular word.  A sound.  Anything that registers with our brain as being similar to the previous trauma. Our  body suddenly goes on high alert.  The fight or flight chemicals course through our veins.  And we are ready and over-ready to face the new threat.

The problem is, there usually isn't a new threat.  Things are perfectly safe.  But because of our previous experience and because of our body's reaction to the current situation, we are not sure.  We can't tell what is happening.  We don't know what to trust.  This can be a very scary experience in and of itself.  This is when panic attacks happen.  This is when people lash out at others needlessly.  This is when people revert back into their little shells and don't trust the world.

PTSD is more common than anyone thinks.  It is affecting most or all of us on a regular basis.  Whether we are aware of it or not.  It may be mild or it may be severe.  Most of the time, we are unaware of it.  But it would be wise to take a good look at oneself.  Often.  

Why is it that you hate certain things?  Why do you avoid certain situations?  Why do you feel so insecure around certain kinds of people?  Do you feel sick after doing a particular activity---for no reason at all?  The most obvious forms of PTSD are seen in those who've had the most severe experiences.  Those people usually go and get some help.  But all of us may need help.

I remember the best advice I ever heard for dealing with PTSD.  I think I read it somewhere in a book or on the web.  It said, whenever you feel that familiar panicky feeling, ask yourself these questions:

"Am I in immediate danger?  Is someone currently holding a gun to my head?"

"Do I smell smoke?  Is the building I am in on fire?"

"Is there really a current and real danger to my life?"

If none of these things are true, I can assure myself that the feelings I am having and the chemicals coursing through my body are an overreaction.  Like an allergic reaction.  I am sending chemicals out in full force when there really isn't an emergency situation.  I can calm myself down and reassure myself that I will indeed live through whatever is going on.  Later, when the chemical reaction has subsided, I can think about what triggered it.

When I discovered this technique, it was a wonderful revelation to me!  That I could ignore those alarm systems when they were malfunctioning.  And I could fix the system later by investigating where the wiring had gone wrong.

This ability to self-soothe and also self-repair my system proves very efficient.

Today, I rarely have panic attacks.  I am able to handle most situations.  I go forward with a kindness towards myself and others that gives me much greater freedom.

And that really is a triumph!  One I wanted to write about today.

2 comments:

  1. I'm sorry that you've had a situation that caused you such trauma. I'm very glad that you have learned how to overcome it. If only others could do the same.

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  2. Thanks Michelle! As always, our lives are a work in progress. ; )

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