Wednesday, October 15, 2008

THE PROBLEM WITH TRAUMA SURVIVORS

"When Charcot (1887) first described traumatic memories over a century ago, he called them ‘parasites of the mind.’ Because [some] people … have a fundamental impairment in the capacity to integrate traumatic experiences with other life events, their traumatic memories are often not coherent stories; they tend to consist of intense emotions or somatosensory impressions, which occur when the victims are around or exposed to reminders of the trauma…. Years and even decades after the original trauma, victims claim that their reliving experiences are as vivid as when the trauma first occurred. Because of this timeless and unintegrated nature of traumatic memories, victims remain embedded in the trauma as a contemporary experience, instead of being able to accept it as something belonging to the past."

This quote appears in Bessel van der Kolk (the current guru father of truama psychology) and Alexander McFarlane's article, "The Black Hole of Trauma".

I don't know about you, but this passage describes me exactly. For 25 years I didn't know what was wrong with me, and then I read about 'parasites of the mind' and it all became so clear. My dissociation, the dysfunctional fog in which I lived, my constant fears, illnesses, depressions, emotional coma -- all of it came from these parasites that leached my ability to lead a productive life.

It all began in 1981 when, at the age of thirteen, a rare allergy to a medication plunged me into Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS). This life-threatening illness turns victims into burn patients almost overnight. By the time I was fully recovered I had lost more than just 100% of my epidermis; I had lost all sense of myself as anything other than ‘survivor’.

For over two decades I wandered through the darkness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not that I knew that. Although I saw a multitude of professionals for relief from various, typical PTSD symptoms, not one single care provider (and that included several therapists and other medical staff) suggested that the fallout of trauma could lead to physical and psychological symptoms that would impair my ability to live a full life. Instead, they all scratched their heads when I turned up in their offices begging for help. Countless medical tests to define the cause of (what turned out to be psychosomatic) symptoms left my body bruised and my bank account incredibly depleted. Years of psycho- and cognitive behavior therapy did little for me. I would experience a temporary lift, and then a triggering event would occur and BOOM! I'd be right back where I'd started -- sick again, anxious, insomniac riddled and unable to see straight from fear, illness, depression, dissociation and sleep deprivation.

But that's not what this blog is about. This blog is about surviving survival. Coming out of the fog, swimming up to the surface of life and breaking through with strength, force and joy.

When I turned forty I decided it was time to change everything about the way I approached life. For over 25 years I'd lived in the shadow of trauma, consumed by a panic of fear, isolation and depression, suffering nightmares and flashbacks and a whole host of other physical and psychological disorders related to the trauma. In an effort to finally free myself from the past I determined to pursue joy in the present. I decided to get rid of the parasites once and for all.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Michele, have you heard of Dr. Richard Mollica's work on PTSD? His work is focused on refugees but it has a lot to say to all of us. I cherish his book "Healing Invisible Wounds," in which he describes lessons we can all learn from those who have gone through trauma. Another author I'm reading right now is Judith Herman. Her book is called "Trauma and Recovery" (might be 10 years old now but very insightful to me!). I wish you continued success in finding your joy.

giving up is not an option! said...

OMG. Your story sounds so similar to mine as far as trying to get help to get better.

LIke you, I read read read to try to figure out what is "wrong" with me and how to "fix it".

Good job and thank you for posting this awesome journey you have been on!