Today I ventured back as I went to the Social Security office to straighten out my benefits. My anxiety crept in me like a growing fire, ready to explode at any moment and engulf me in flame. As we got nearer, I spotted the baseball stadium — a trigger for a particularly painful memory. In no time, I was sucked back into the past, experiencing all the feelings I had on that day. I asked to be alone in the car and dissolved into hopeless tears. Other memories of doctors and nurses asking me endless questions flooded in as well. I did not want to be there. I did not want to feel small and powerless again.
My inner mom (more on her later) came to me and told me, “You do what you can do and that will be enough.” I collected myself and enter the building and sit for a short time in the Social Security Office. The visit was relatively uneventful. I sat quietly plugging my ear and closing my eyes.
Once we were done I went to the bathroom where I once again dissolved into tears. Exhaustion set it.
When I got home I looked up an article by Michele Rosenthal, a woman very knowledgeable on the subject of PTSD. In the article, Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain, she describes the ways in which trauma alters key brain structures affecting your perception, emotional regulation and memories.
When we experience trauma, the amygdala, our emotional center, becomes hypersensitized to seek out danger. I used to see danger everywhere. Today I saw it in the baseball field and the Social Security Office.
The hippocampus moves short term memories into long term storage. Trauma causes the hippocampus to stop working properly and traumatic memories (the baseball stadium, doctors) stay in the short term area, readily available to ruin your day!
The prefrontal cortex which usually works wonderfully at modulating our behavior, language and emotional reactions goes on the fritz after trauma. We are left unable to inhibit inappropriate responses (hanging up an important call, running at full speed away from a stressful situation), sometimes we lose our words and can’t speak and sometimes we find the words but they’re all derogatory (I have unloaded a barrage of cussing and all together horrible language I could never have imagined).
Facts like these have acted as guide posts in the dark forest, showing me I am not alone. Someone was there before me and erected these signs for me to follow so that I don’t get lost.
The ways in which my thoughts and behaviors have changed because of the PTSD have caused me to doubt myself, sincerely. But as I continue to learn, I know I am not alone in the forest, other people have walked there, other people are walking there now. We have but to find each other.
Michele Rosenthal also offers a wonderful supportive online community for healing from PTSD on healthunlocked.com/healmyptsd
Thank you for reading.
‘Til next time.