Saturday, February 28, 2009

Healing PTSD: Don't Hit The Symptoms With A Hammer


Recently I read this quote in a thread on PTSD Forum:

"Telling a person with PTSD to 'get over it' is kind of like trying to heal a broken bone by hitting it with a hammer."

This is so true, isn't it?

The effects of PTSD only get worse when people who don't understand it or us start declaring what we should do about it. The metaphor should remind all of us that sometimes people watching from the outside just don’t really get what’s going on on the inside. But that’s OK. We know what’s going on, and our ability to communicate it is another value of talking.

Today's the last day of February, which means the end of the second month of our BRIDGE THE GAP PTSD healing workshop and our 2009 PTSD New Year Healing Resolutions #2: I WILL TALK.

A quick recap of the top 10 healing steps we’ve covered this month:

1 – the importance of talking in the healing process

2 – 10 reasons you don’t want to speak; and the one reason you really, really should

3 – the importance of integrating memories

4 – learning to talk

5 – tips for outlining the story

6 – putting the story on paper

7 – crafting the script

8 – learning to say it out loud

9 – preparing to share the story with someone else

10 – letting the story out

It’s not easy to begin telling our story, but it does get easier. It’s like walking: first you stumble forward and do a faceplant, then you learn to hold onto things nearby so you don’t fall. While you do this you learn how to rhythmically and with balance put one foot in front of another. You develop a level of comfort and proficiency. You begin to walk a little faster, a little farther. One day: you run great distances. That's the future for all of us.

But you don't have to take my word for it that talking and choosing the words helps. Maybe you’d like a scientific and medical reference for the value of writing out the story and then telling it; no sweat:

This TIMES ONLINE article, ‘Feel upset? Writing it down helps you calm down, scientists say’ explains that recent research findings “suggest that one of the main motivations for writing and verbal expression… is the way such activity brings peace of mind and relieves stress.” The article goes on to say that, “The research could also be medically useful, as it suggests that writing therapy could help people suffering from psychological conditions such as social anxiety disorder, phobias or post-traumatic stress.”

So there. If you ever questioned what we’re doing here, rest assured: I do my homework. More importantly though, I lived it. I’ve done it. Our traumas and healing journeys are all individual, but our symptoms are universal. The best self-healing practices are, too.

(photo: Darren Hester)

Friday, February 27, 2009

PTSD Healing: The Value of Talking



We’re coming to the end of the second month of the BRIDGE THE GAP healing workshop. In January we explored the idea of creating the right intention for healing. In February we’ve been looking at the importance of learning to speak about our trauma. Today, take a breather from all the work you’ve been doing to heal and let it settle. Sometimes, it’s good to step away and let the ideas, thoughts, beliefs and expectations work their way into their proper places in our minds.

Yesterday, I spoke about PTSD to a group of survivors and caregivers at a local hospital. A large part of the discussion came to revolve around the idea of how survivors see themselves after their trauma. One cancer survivor said that he was having trouble reconciling how he saw himself (as weak) after his cancer struggle versus how his colleagues viewed him in recovery (as strong). This is another value of speaking: in addition to finding the words to express our trauma, we also begin to find words to express what we’re thinking and feeling about it. When we can tell people what we’re struggling with we can work through the ideas so that we begin to see things in a better, more healthy way. By the end of the discussion this man began to see how others might perceive his recovery as strong even though he himself knows that he had weak moments. Hopefully, as he goes through the next few days he'll revise his own opinion of himself and see the strength his recovery represents.

There’s a balance to be found in perceptions; talking helps us find it. Through talking we learn to reperceive events. This is incredibly helpful in healing, especially because so often our perceptions – muddled by emotion – are incorrect. I’ll give you another example:

There was a moment during my trauma when I felt myself leave my body. There was a tunnel ringed with white light. I was moving toward it. In the midst of all my pain it felt GOOD! I wanted to go there and get lost in it. This memory, both incredibly intense and also fuzzy around the edges, haunted me for years. I thought about it constantly, strove to find that peace again, and wished more than anything that I could have remained in that other place. I knew myself there, I recognized myself; back here in the normal world I did not recognize myself at all.

After my PTSD diagnosis I did a lot of research to understand what was happening to me post-trauma. In all of that research I came across the idea of dissociation. I didn’t fully understand the concept, so I found Holly, a trauma therapist, to sit down with. I interviewed her about dissociation. I grilled her for all of its meanings and implications. I learned that dissociation is what the psyche does to preserve itself when an experience threatens to overwhelm it. Ultimately, our discussion caused me to learn these very important things:

1 - Part of my PTSD was struggling with recurring dissociative states of depersonalization and derealization. I needed to address these things in order to heal.

2 - I’d been looking at that tunnel memory all wrong. It was not supposed to be life-defining; it was supposed to be life-preserving.

3 - Instead of wanting to get back to that out of body experience and live there, I should respect the intelligence of my psyche and appreciate how it worked to support me in a traumatic moment.

4 - I should honor that some deep part of me knew what needed to be done and when, but also understand dissociative states are not ones in which I am meant to live, nor are my memories supposed to define my future.

5 - I’d been chasing (and chased by) a memory that was supposed to be a brief moment in time, but my own thoughts and emotions had created it into The Meaning of Time.

6 - My lack of understanding was hindering my healing.

Geez, that’s a lot to learn just from talking about one thing! The fact is though, once this misperception was corrected my healing moved to a new place. Talking can do this: it can remove our inaccurate perceptions and correct our journey so that we can heal.

Just another reason to consider letting the words flow. You might actually heal when you do. Talking leads to understanding leads to healing. Now, wouldn’t that be worth talking about??

Have you experienced something similar to this, in your trauma or healing? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(photo: PhOtOnQuAntiQuE)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Healing PTSD: What We Are Responsible For, Or: Recovery Dynamics


My friend Mike C and I trade notes about our philosophical take on healing. Recently, we wrote about the responsibilities to which each person must commit along the healing journey. I decided to turn the conversation into a list for us here because it never hurts to re-examine our ‘shoulds’.

Here then, for your amusement, entertainment and inspiration: 9 things we are responsible for to help facilitate our own healing:

In my words:

1. Education - we are responsible for learning what we need to know about PTSD in order to understand what we are dealing with and how to treat and manage it.

2. The Work - we must own the effort. Healing isn't bestowed upon us; we must be willing to do the necessary internal and external things that must be done to enhance, support and further our healing.

3. Research - it is up to us to discover the resources to support us on the healing journey. We don’t heal by waiting.

4. Making connections - we cannot heal in isolation. It is up to us to connect with practitioners, friends and family. We must reach out.

5. Commitment - in order to reach a better future we must devote our energy toward defining and discovering it today.


In Mike’s words:

As with anything in life constructive change in one’s life (recovery)....seems to revolve around 4 dynamics:

1) awareness

2) action

3) discernment

4) improvement

These should be integrated into one’s life as if it was to be charted based upon four circles, and each circle represented one dynamic(respectively). The spot where all four overlap would be the ideal recovery or constructive change...

And one more unwitting thing, from my other friend, Mike H’s blog post yesterday: “... choose where balance lies.” Read his post to see how he’s assessing and revamping his healing priorities. It’s an exercise we all should do every once in a while to make sure we’re moving toward the goals we set, and to figure out how/where we’re getting distracted when we don’t.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. What elements of responsibility would you add? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(photo: jfs13)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

PTSD Healing: Preparing to Speak, Part 2


By now you’re thinking about with whom you’re going to take this next step in healing and share your story. How’s it going? Have you decided who it will be? What are you thinking as you mull over the choices?

One benefit of beginning the talking process is that it will help improve your relationships with friends and family. I know if I had talked earlier it would have really saved my family a lot of grief. They could see I was suffering, but they didn’t know what was wrong or how to help. (I could see I was suffering, but I didn’t know what was wrong either. Talking gave me a way to figure it out.)

Another point: my erratic and aggressive behavior often made my family feel like they were the problem and so a wide gulf was often created between us. Not a nice way for them to spend family dinners, vacations, and holidays. Especially vacations and holidays. I ruined many.

It’s hard to live with and love a person with PTSD – we are foreign to people who are not suffering and they are foreign to us. The only way to bridge the gap between them and us is with words.

[Note: Maybe your family is the problem. All the more reason to find someone outside of it with whom you can share and find support for healing. Later you can heal your family relationships if you choose. Even that will come down to words.]

You can prep people before you tell your story by showing them this article, 'What I Wish My Family Had Known About PTSD'. A guide for friends and family to understand us, this article explains the basics of our PTSD experience and how they might relate to every part of it.

Now that you’re imagining to whom you might share your story, take that thinking a few steps further and consider:

1 – The best time for this discussion. What would provide the right circumstances for this type of conversation? When will you have some private time you can invite someone to sit down and listen? Look at your calendar and choose a day that you will have time to prepare and center yourself (for example, by doing some breathing exercises or meditation). Speaking about our trauma can be stressful; choose a time you will not feel rushed, and a time your listener can give you his/her full attention. Also, choose a time you will not need to go or be anywhere afterward so that you can gently unwind from this conversation, perhaps with some more breathing and meditation techniques.

2 – The best place for this discussion. Do you think it will be easier to discuss this in the privacy of your home? Which room will make you feel most comfortable? Think of every room in the house and decide which one will make you feel most relaxed. Or, you might choose to have this conversation in a public space. Sometimes, when we’re out of our personal environments we are more able to view and act objectively and in a controlled emotional state. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS CONVERSATION IN THE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH YOUR TRAUMA TOOK/TAKES PLACE.

3 – The best way to tell the story. First, let’s say this: You do not need to be perfect in how you get the story out. The more you tell it, the easier it will become. I stuttered a lot when I first began relating the chronology of events. I couldn’t think of words, I lost my place; I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say or how to say it. You have a script – take it with you. Break it out into bulleted forms or put large spaces between paragraphs so you can refer to it if you get lost. Second, let’s say this: You do not need to be perfect in how you get the story out. Even with all of our preparation we can’t always tell the story without stopping and starting to gather our thoughts and control our emotions. That’s OK! There are no points or awards for perfection. Healing isn’t about being award-winning in our communication; it’s only about communicating so that we begin to find and receive the help we need so our struggling eventually ends.

In opening up we must be in a situation in which we feel safe, secure and believed. We must decide the level of detail we desire to share. In choosing the person, place and time, make sure that all factors will come together so that you are feeling comfortable and prepared for what you are trying to do.

Lastly, remember this: I suffered in silence for 20 years. As you know from your own situation, those were not happy years and I missed a lot of life because I was not willing to dive into what was wrong and come out the other side. Don’t make the same mistake. Be brave. You can do this. Open your mouth and let the words and emotions and past come out. Let the past come out so that the future can come in.


(photo: revod)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

25 Things About My PTSD


My friend over at Catatonic Kid tagged me with a meme: ‘25 Things About You’. Usually, I don’t play the tag game, but I thought it might be fun to apply it to PTSD.

So, here they are: 25 Things About My PTSD:

1 – My trauma occurred in 1981; one year after PTSD was officially recognized as a psychological disorder; many years before anyone would consider it applicable to people outside of the military.

2 – For over 20 years my hair fell out by the handful on the anniversary of my trauma.

3 – My most prevalent flashback was the moment I felt myself leave my body; and then chose to come back into it.

4 – My trauma was due to a rare illness that none of my doctors had ever seen before; they didn’t know how to help me. My most prevalent nightmare: people are dying and it is all up to me, but I don’t know how to help and cannot save them.

5 – I didn’t speak about my trauma for 4 years afterward. And then I spoke once, and went silent again for 14 years.

6 – I tried psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, EMDR, TFT, TAT, EFT, Chinese healing, reflexology, chiropracty and energy healing. While they alleviated some of my symptoms so that I became functional, they didn’t eradicate my PTSD.

7 – For 20 years I became extremely anorexic in order to control my body so that I felt safe.

8 – I only dated men I knew I would leave so that I didn’t have to get close to anyone.

9 – After college I held 11 jobs in 15 years in 5 industries because I could not focus in one place for more than a year, or decide what career I wanted.

10 – I spent over 2 years out of work with an extreme case of fibromyalgia.

11 – My insomnia was so bad I slept an average 2-3 hours per night.

12 – I’d been a nice kid before PTSD set in. Afterward, I was always on edge, angry, sullen and in a raging fury at the slightest provocation.

13 – At the height of my PTSD I cried anywhere anytime. Could just be walking Baylee in Central Park, or on line in the grocery store, or catching a plane. The environment didn’t matter, the tears would begin and I was powerless to stop them.

14 – I struggled with undiagnosed chronic-extreme PTSD for over 25 years.

15 – For 15 years I suffered from mysterious illnesses no doctor could diagnose or cure. (Sound familiar, like, say, my original trauma?) All of these illnesses approximated aspects of the original illness, although they were not as drastic.

16 – Illnesses kept me in a constant state of being triggered so that eventually the physical toll on my body included liver, stomach and intestine dysfunction, plus an advanced state of fibromyalgia and osteoporosis.

17 – The turn in my healing came the day I: 1) realized I was living in a state of perpetual fear, 2) decided I would not accept that my life would continue to be destroyed by PTSD.

18 – As part of my healing I researched trauma and PTSD. Here’s what I learned: Their effects on us are reversible.

19 – A large part of my healing came from deliberately constructing a post-trauma identity: I worked very hard to define and focus on becoming the person I want to be today and tomorrow despite what happened to me yesterday.

20 – I pursued joy as part of my healing program. For me, this meant dancing all the time! The more joy I felt the more courage I had to do the healing work, the more I believed I could eventually be PTSD-free.

21 – It took 3 LOOONNNGGG years to heal after I was finally diagnosed. Things got worse before they got better.

22 – Healing really began when I stopped saying to everyone, ‘Heal me!’ and started saying, ‘I want to be healed!’

23 – Within one year after deciding I wanted to be healed – and doing the post-trauma identity work – all of my physical symptoms cured themselves. That’s right: liver, stomach and intestine problems healed. Osteoporosis reversed (I gave it a boost by doing strength training when the fibromyalgia finally left me).

24 – Hypnotherapy ultimately got rid of the symptoms I couldn’t eradicate myself: nightmares and a driving sense of anxiety that I had to make something meaningful come out of my trauma.

25 – I am now into my second year of being 100% PTSD-free.


I have bridged the gap – so can you!


I’m tagging all of you, readers! Post your own list in the comments, or send it to me and I’ll post it – anonymously if you prefer.

(photo: hannah.aviva)

Monday, February 23, 2009

PTSD Healing: Prepare To Speak Part 1


In his book Youth and Identity Erik Erikson states, “… the ‘I’ is all-conscious… we are truly conscious only insofar as we can say I and mean it.” Can you say ‘I’ and mean it??

In order to survive the aftermath of my trauma, ‘I’ was a word that conjured too much fear and confusion for me to say. What slowly emerged as my post-trauma self was a girl who denied everything, beginning with the need or right to speak and extending to everything that might have been good or pleasurable. Joy was denied. And happiness. Religion. Trust. Faith. Medicine. Love. I believed in nothing, not peace or gladness. Neither glory nor pride. Everything became suspect. Everything became a potential trap into which I might fall and the result would be an overwhelming blight of emotion, an empty vortex of disillusionment, a catastrophic event.

Nothing seemed safe, so I never achieved a major step of the healing process: I didn’t “acknowledge the harm … [of] experience and discharge … feelings of grief, anger and despair.” Fear ruled me, and regardless of how often my mother offered to talk (which she did since the day of my hospital release) regardless of how often she suggested I might feel better if I did, I raged in anger at the idea until she, too, fell silent. And so, rather than move through denial and depression and anger toward a new understanding of myself, over the years I sank deeper into a definition against rather than of the new 'I'. Plus, I sank deeper into an internal silence until finally, there was no voice at all.

I was 13 when my trauma occurred. I was 17 when I first spoke about it. In the intervening 4 years I couldn’t come anywhere near the subject.

And then something broke inside of me and what gushed out one impromptu day was something I don’t even remember. All I remember was that my mother and I were out to lunch and the next thing I knew I was sobbing and she was holding my hand and it was the first time I admitted to myself that I was struggling with the past.

It would be another 20 years before I realized I could be healed; before I made the choice to become healed and do whatever it takes to make that be so.

What I do vividly remember from that day with my mother, as we lunched at a local diner and then drove to New York City for the afternoon, was the huge feeling of release. The feeling that I was no longer carrying around a secret – from myself and everyone else. It would be years before I spoke about it again, but I still remember the tremendous feeling of a weight being lifted. And also, my surprise that it could be lifted just by my attempting to talk.

For the past 3 weeks we’ve been building up to the moment that you share your trauma with someone else. Over the weekend, I posted the voices of other survivors who are finding the words. Now, it’s your turn.


BRIDGE THE GAP EXERCISE:

Your mission this week is to determine one family member, friend, or professional practitioner with whom to share your story. Make a list of the possible candidates in each area.

Carry the list with you; refer to it during the day. If you do not immediately know whom you wish to open up to, let your inner voice guide the way. When you randomly look at the list you will feel a reaction to the names on it. Which name has a positive reaction associated with it?

[Note: If you have already accomplished this step of speaking to family, friend and practitioner, your focus should be on whom you will tell the secrets you still keep. I went through years of therapy without admitting to my therapist what the real driving force was behind my PTSD. I talked about the horror of my illness, but I didn’t mention my continual flashbacks about leaving my body or how those flashbacks were driving the day to day life I was trying to lead. When I finally did tell him this, it brought me to a new level of healing. We cannot fully heal if we keep secrets. Now’s the time for you to get comfortable with the idea of letting out the last bits of information you’ve kept to yourself.]

Some points to think about:

1- The goal is not to go around telling our suffering to unspecified people who may or may not want to hear it. The plan is to reach out appropriately by developing the ability to have a dialogue with a support network: specifically chosen family, friends and practitioners.

2- Anyone to whom we tell the story should be in the position to have chosen to hear it and indicate how much detail he/she desires to know. Be up front about the nature of what you wish to share.

3 - In choosing to whom you will talk, consider the qualities that person possesses. For example, is he/she kind, empathetic, compassionate, respectful, understanding, supportive? You do not need to share with someone who does not have the characteristics to understand the courage it takes to do what you’re doing, and the conscience to know what the right response will be.

4 – Do not feel shy about your right to speak. One of the effects of PTSD is our detachment from the world. This is a major impediment to healing. If we are suffering without support, then telling the story is not a self-indulgence; it is a necessity. Healing cannot occur if we are all alone with our thoughts.


(photo:Elephant Soap)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

PTSD Healing: Voices Around the World


Think you’re alone, you’re the only one who’s ever experienced your particular trauma of PTSD? Think your thoughts, symptoms and daily turmoil is your exclusive world? Well, think again! The first thing we all come to understand when we begin bridging the gap between ourselves and the outside world is that we are not unique. We are not special. We are not the Lewis and Clark of the PTSD frontier. There are tons of others who’ve come before you, and just as many that walk beside you.

I received an email from a friend this week. In it she says, “Lately it’s been like I want the help, but it’s like walking into a blind fog. I’m hesitant, I don’t know what to expect and it keeps me moving slow.” Ever thought that to yourself? I know you have. I used to think that often. It’s one of the major crossroads of healing and we all travel past it.

I’ve been struck this week by how much we all think and feel the same things, no matter the source of our trauma or the location of our lives. From Australia to the United Kingdom to America we all speak the same language.

I follow some other PTSD bloggers. Interestingly enough, we’re all writing about the same things this week. That is, VOICE and IDENTITY.

For us here at Parasites of the Mind, I’ve been writing about developing the ability to talk as part of the healing process of deliberately constructing a post-trauma identity. For me, constructing a post-trauma identity was the basis of all my healing. After my trauma I knew I was changed, but I didn’t know what to do about that. I was terrified of whom I had become, plus I was lost. Also, I was so sad that I had warped into this twisted nightmare of a person. I sank into a really deep morass of nothingness: I lost my voice because silence was less threatening than speaking, and I lost myself because I didn’t know what to hold onto or how to get the old me back. The original person was gone. Who was the new person supposed to be? It wasn't until I began making choices about who she was and could be that I truly began to heal.

We all struggle with these same issues. The more we share our experiences the more we realize that while our traumas are individual, our PTSD experience is very universal. Listen to the voices of these other bloggers:

In her post, ‘It’s a Start, and other thunderbolts from nowhere’, Catatonic Kid writes “I had things to say”, and “I never felt like I had a voice before but down a seemingly dead-end road I found mine and I won’t give it up”, and “Saying it, mustering the breath and the body to utter each slippery little syllable, so maybe you stutter, stumble but you do it. And then you see how what’s inside is a little more real, a little closer somehow.”

Jacqui in her post 'Emotions By Proxy' on 'Welcome to Earth' says, “I can only feel by allowing myself to imagine what it would be like to explain my life or how I’ve been to someone else.”

Mike H on Mike’s Musings writes “With PTSD you meet all sorts of aspects of yourself … that you'd rather not face. In the end however you have to face it.”

Yes, in the end we each must find our voice and face who we are! We must decide who we are today and who we want to be tomorrow regardless of who we were yesterday. We are entirely capable of constructing a post-trauma version of ourselves that incorporates the good things we’ve learned about ourselves since/because of our traumas, and the good things we choose to develop so that we become whole, functional and happy adults. All we need is a plan of action.

Ultimately, we are not defined by our traumas. We can be anyone and we can do anything, regardless of what we have suffered. We choose to drag the past around (or let it drag us), or: We rise up and choose to do something to stop all of that.

We have choices to make, people. BIG choices. For that we need to exercise our voice. And, we need to work toward a clear vision of who our future self will be.

The past does not foretell the future. The present is where we choose to let the trauma win, or triumph over it. What choice are you making??

Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(photo: Sara Lee)

Friday, February 20, 2009

PTSD Healing: What Lies Beyond the Words


Three and a half years ago I sat down to write out my trauma. I’m a writer, after all, writing’s what I do. I turned on the computer, I adjusted my seat, I fiddled with the lamp. I opened the window. I sat back down at my seat. I stared at that annoying flashing cursor. I decided I needed a cup of coffee. I went to the kitchen. I scratched Baylee’s belly and waited for the water to boil. I stirred up a great aromatic blend. I went back to my desk. I sat down. I stared at the blank screen. I decided I needed a cookie to go with the coffee. I went back to the kitchen. On the staircase, I passed a new book I’d bought. I sat down to read a few pages.

Do you see where I’m going here? The will and desire to heal are not a straight line. We will be pulled toward healing just as we’re pulled toward not healing. Healing is frightening. Healing asks us to go into the dark believing we’re going to come out into the light. What we must do is have faith that the healing process will bring us to a better place.

Not that faith is an easy thing. Pulling together our thoughts about our trauma and the healing process can bring up new stuff we weren’t (and, thank you, didn’t want to be!) aware of.

I’ll show you what happened when I started writing. I had just moved to Florida from New York City and bought my first house...

A lush tropical garden of weeping French hibiscus, bougainvilla, jasmine, huge red lobster and white birds of paradise surrounds our patio. It is the perfect place for me to stalk the past. While the humidity curls damp tendrils on my neck, I’m slowly beginning to look at events, recount facts, develop a chronology; mine my memories with deliberate consciousness. In the end, there will be something that resembles a plot with characters, conflict, climax and resolution. I will have followed the proper academic protocol for story writing, but will it get me anywhere? Are Charcot and his cronies correct in thinking that telling the story heals trauma? More recently, is Horowitz et. al. correct in assuming that the “repeated replaying of upsetting memories serves the function of modifying the emotions associated with the trauma, and … creates a tolerance for the content of the memories”?

When I am through with this very thorough reconstruction of events, will 1981 seem inconsequential? Will I be able to see myself after all? Or is this just another way to honor the trauma because as I get going and get the swing of laying out the facts, telling the story seems pretty damn easy compared to examining, exploring and exposing the deeper meat of it all, aka, Those Things We Don’t Discuss About Trauma.

It’s so much easier to breeze over the flow of time than to discuss, for example:

The acute and sudden sense of overwhelming powerlessness.

My surprise at being so powerless; the seismic shock of that surprise.

The internal and external measures I took (and continue to take) to accept that shock.

How acceptance of shock causes an identity to splinter.

The disorientation splintering brings.

The ways in which disorientation forces the sculpture of an unrecognizable self.

How much that new self is not an entirely comfortable place to be.

How frightened I am that no place will ever be comfortable again.

How I no longer trust myself, anyone else, or anything in the universe at all.

How difficult it is for me to talk about any of this.

How much I want to speak but can’t.

How distressed I am at this unexpected absence of words.

The fact that I am lost. I am overwhelmed. I am afraid.


Doesn’t sound like things are going well, does it? But a wonderful thing happens when we begin telling the story: We start looking beyond the facts and see ourselves and what’s really driving us. We start understanding the why of PTSD instead of just living the what. We begin learning what it will take to heal.

The past 3 weeks of focusing on the I WILL TALK healing resolution has brought you to the point that the words are moving out of the dark of your mind and into the light of the world. This is a terrific accomplishment. This act of bridging the gap between you and the rest of the world will lead to a new level of healing.

Next week we’ll start looking at strategies for choosing the 5Ws of telling our story – the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the right person, place, time and method for bridging the gap between the story controlling us and us controlling the story.

Over the weekend, take some time to 1) finish revising your trauma script, 2) practice reading it aloud to yourself.

Freedom is coming, friends. Let your words lead the way!

(photo: lotusfee)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Healing PTSD: Wiping the Slate Clean


There’s been a big buzz this week, many articles popping up about the memory busting side effect of Propanolol, a beta-blocker blood pressure medication that seems able to inhibit the reconsolidation of memories. Read this terrific Mail Online piece, or this condensed Reuters article for full accounts of the recently released study results and a small bit of info on the implications of this idea.

The crux of the reporting:

"A widely available blood pressure pill could one day help people erase bad memories, perhaps treating some anxiety disorders and phobias, according to a Dutch study published on Sunday.

The generic beta-blocker Propranolol significantly weakened people's fearful memories of spiders among a group of healthy volunteers who took it, said Merel Kindt, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, who led the study.

"We could show that the fear response went away, which suggests the memory was weakened," Kindt said in a telephone interview."

Huh. Basically, what’s being proposed is that:

"The findings published in the journal Nature Neuroscience are important because the drug may offer another way to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems related to bad memories."

I don’t know – is manufacturing a small bogus fear of spiders really indicative of, say, the traumatic memories we all experienced and live with the residual feeling of every day? I might put more faith in this study if the subjects had actually been locked in a room with a couple tarantula first.

What bothers me is the identity issue this whole idea raises, as highlighted in the Mail article:

"Dr Daniel Sokol, a lecturer in medical ethics at St George's, University of London, said: 'Removing bad memories is not like removing a wart or a mole. It will change our personal identity since who we are is linked to our memories."

Exactly! Our experiences make us who we are; if we cannot remember what experiences brought us to where we are today, how are we to view ourselves? How are we to move forward into tomorrow? How are we to have a firm grasp on our identities if we cannot remember how we experiences led us to form them?

The whole idea of erasure is a little freaky to me. Anyone else feel this way? Would you want to take a pill and have the past just evaporate?

Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.


(photo: uberllama)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PTSD Healing: Learning To Say It Out Loud, Part 2, Or: Rehearse!


For many of my undiagnosed PTSD years my brother and I lived together on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. During some of that time I dabbled in playwriting. When my first play went into production I learned pretty quickly that what we put on the page sounds different on the stage.

As I rewrote and reworked the script, I added to the revision process by reading the characters’ lines out loud. This disturbed Bret. He’d come home from work and hear a few different voices speaking in my room, and then, when he stuck his head into say hello there would just be me sitting at my desk, pencil and script in hand, looking up at him as if he’d just interrupted a deeply fascinating conversation.

The first time this happened Bret carefully looked around the room and then back at me.

“Who are you talking to?” he asked cautiously.

He looked worried. I was, although we didn’t know it at the time, deep into PTSD, so he was used to me being a little off and needing some looking after, but having whole conversations with myself was something new.

“There’s no one here,” he said.

“I know.”

“But I heard voices.”

“Yes,” I said, “I’m revising.”

What I had discovered during rehearsals was that two things were happening: actors’ verbal interpretations of my writing gave different inflection and meaning to my words, and also: sometimes the words that sounded so right in my head sounded really awful when put together on the tongue.

I am not the Magellan of revision – for centuries poets, playwrights and other writers and orators have been revising their work by reading it out loud. For us writing our trauma scripts there are some great advantages to reading it aloud before we speak it to anyone else:

[For those of you who are already speaking with great ease, you are not exempt from today’s exercise! We all hold back. We all keep some details, images, or instances secret for ourselves. Sometimes it’s because we just can’t bear relating them, other times it’s because we don’t know how. Now is the time to figure out how to say what still haunts you.]

1 – You get used to hearing the story yourself. We can’t help it, we get emotional at the thought – much less the act – of relating what happened to us. If we don’t practice what it sounds like before we speak to someone else then we’re hearing it all for the first time at the same time we have an audience. This is not necessarily a recipe for success. We’re dealing with our own emotions about the past at the same time we’re feeling very emotional and vulnerable in the present. Not the best way to go.

2 – You get to hear how the words sound. When we’re writing, we can tend to overdo it a bit. Big fancy words and long explanations sound wonderful when we’re speaking to ourselves, but you’ll lose your audience this way. Likewise, if the phrasing is ambiguous and lacking detail the audience won’t get the whole picture which, in this case, is extremely important. By rehearsing out loud you can decide if there are better words to express what you mean, more succinct ways of telling it or more facts that should be conveyed.

3 – You get to practice the feeling of speaking and remembering at the same time.
We deal with enough unwanted flood of emotion without bringing it on ourselves. Let’s not take the positive step of beginning to tell the story and sabotage it by not being prepared for how it feels to hear it and feel it at the same time.

4 – You get used to how it sounds when the ideas, memories and emotions exit your head and enter the world. In our heads memories can loom so much larger than life we can’t imagine shrinking them down to world-sized pieces. But we can. When we put them on the page they shrink a little. When we speak them out loud we get to see that they are only memories, after all. They are not happening in the moment and, though we may be a little psychologically skewed, we are still strong enough to pull it all together and share the burden with someone else.

I could go on; this is just a starter list for the benefits of speaking. These items only relate to where you are in the process today of writing it out and getting it ready for public consumption, which is a topic we’ll tackle next week.

For today, to continue the BRIDGE THE GAP healing workshop your goal is to begin reading out loud the script you wrote a few days ago. Find a quiet place where you are isolated and alone. Block out at least 30 minutes when you can read your script out loud, revise it, and read it through again.

Look for phrases you stumble over, words that just don’t fit, ideas that don’t really get the point across when you hear them out loud, and gaps in the narrative that need to be fleshed out.

Trust your instincts. When something doesn’t sound right you’ll know. Stop, revise, start over again from the beginning. The goal is to be able to read through the entire script without feeling the need to revise anything.

Final tips:

Play with your voice. Experiment with how high or low, strong or weak, full or thin it is. Find a register that feels comfortable. Don’t fake it. Be real.

Control your breath. Read slowly. Do not be in a rush to get out the story. Take your time. Breathe. Speak slowly and clearly. This will help your audience take in and understand what you’re saying, and it will also help ground you. The breath is an extremely strong source of calm to the body. Use it to your advantage.


(photo: EmazingEm)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

PTSD In Television & Film: Just for, er, Fun


For my Celebrity Psychings interview one of the questions I was asked had to do with accurate portrayals of PTSD in television and film, and it got me thinking: It might be fun to have our own little PTSD tv/film library.

I’ve polled my peeps and here’s what we’ve come up with so far (in no particular order). I’m hoping you can help me add to the list.

Television:

The character Olivia Benson on the show Law and Order SVU
The character Major Owen Hunt on Grey’s Anatomy
MTV’s True Life series PTSD episode

[Note: Coincidentally, Dr. Phil is airing a show today about PTSD in the civilian population.]


Film:

Redbelt
Awakenings
Good Will Hunting
Peaceful Warrior
Regarding Henry
Apocalypse Now
Reign Over Me
In the Valley of Elah
Black Snake Moan
Between Heaven and Earth
The Legend of Baggar Vance
Fearless
(this is my personal favorite)


What would you add to this list?? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(photo: brizzle born and bread)

Monday, February 16, 2009

PTSD Healing: Learning to Say It Aloud, Part 1, Or: Crafting Your Story


An interesting study was released this weekend (conveniently in time for the biggest collective kissing day of the year) that indicates cortisol levels are reduced by locking lips. This is a tough nut to crack for PTSD application. I mean, here we are dealing with symptoms of emotional numbing, anger and the detachment of dissociation – and scientists are proving that if we did just the opposite, if we passionately smooched for a while – it would actually be very healing for us. A conundrum, yes?

Just like the rest of the PTSD riddle what we need to do to bridge the gap from PTSD to healing is a bit of a big jump. But I still think this info is good to know, so that when we’re having a bad day we can stop ourselves mid-stride, say to our partner, “Come over here and kiss me!” and feel a little better afterward. Sort of a new twist on cognitive behavior methodology. And not a bad one to get us thinking that maybe the isolation in which we cocoon ourselves is not the best way to go. Let me know what you think about this.

Getting back to the idea that TALKING is part of the healing process, today’s the day to look over what you wrote last week and get it into the shape of a script. That’s right, today you’re a playwright putting the finishing touches on a climactic monologue.

Using a highlighter, read back over the story you wrote out. Pull out the sentences and paragraphs that you feel tell the story in the best possible way. Rewrite the piece so that your favorites lines, explanations and descriptions are all in one place in one stream of information. Good. Now you’ve taken the burden of telling the story in the moment right off your shoulders.

If you’re anything the way I was, I could not tell the story. I could get out jagged bits of info in completely unrelated sentences one at a time. I could not look at the person to whom I was telling the story. I could not think straight while I was telling the story. And I usually couldn’t get out enough of the details for the other person to get the whole idea behind the story. Usually, I’d abruptly say, ‘That’s all’. By the time I was finished trying to formulate the throughline I’d be a black emotional mess and my thoughts were all over the place. I think the main reason for this was that bringing up the memories in the moment and sifting through them was too much of an emotional overload.

Having a script helps us lessen and get over these issues. With a prewritten script we no longer have to rely on our own clearheadedness to get the point across. We can memorize the script and then go on autopilot. We have a guide; we don’t have to do the guiding of the story. We know what to say without dipping into the past in the moment of the present to get there. Now that’s my kind of healing!

Today, sit down with your recollection. Think about it like a big lump of clay. You’re going to take that blob and transform it into a piece of art. You’re crafting the story. You’re choosing the words. You’re hand-picking the memories. You’re rising up just a little at a time to take back your power and control. You’re the artist of your healing journey. Create. Create. Create.


(photo: wacky_tom)

Friday, February 13, 2009

PTSD Healing: Wrestling With the Words


It’s great to organize all of the troubling thoughts and memories in our heads. That's the whole point of the work we’ve been doing with PTSD Healing Resolution No. 2. Gaining control over the things that swirl is the first step toward freedom. But that’s only the beginning.

Next, we need to pin down the memories on the mat. To conquer the past we must prove ourselves stronger that it is. And we are stronger – even if it doesn’t feel like it! We are in the present. The past only continues to affect us because … Well, the truth? Because we let it, subconsciously or otherwise. Creating your future means consciously choosing to move beyond trauma and build a new life. Learning to speak about the past is a major step toward that action.

Once you have a general idea and ability to conjure and organize the memories, it’s time to get them out of your head (that’s the ultimate goal anyway, right?). Step #2 in our I WILL TALK resolution is to begin putting it all down on paper. When people want to communicate clearly and effectively they don’t just ramble off the top of their heads; they write speeches so that in the moment their thoughts are focused and follow an explicit order. Today, that’s your task, too: begin getting the words out and down.

The key here is to solely focus on retelling the story of your trauma itself. Take some time today to sit down and write it out. Use details. Set the scene and then in plain language explain what happened. Utilize the flowing structure of the writing we’ve done in the past and just begin to write. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or syntax. Begin writing and let the words flow and don’t edit yourself – we’ll do that later. Don’t set a timer for this exercise, but do give yourself a boundary. Say, 60 minutes. Know that you will have a completed draft by then and force yourself to stick within the limit. (Of course, if you get going and need to go beyond the time limit, keep it up! But know that within 60 minutes you must have put something of the whole story on the page. If your trauma lasted over a series of days or years you may need more than one writing session to get the whole overview done. Working in 60 minute intervals will control the amount of time you spend in the past.)

Plan ahead: When you’re finished writing, give yourself a reward. Go to the movies. Meet a friend. Call a buddy. Listen to your favorite music. Watch television. Read a book. As you would cool down your body from exercise, do this for your mind, too. Get close to the memories, and then put something between you and them. Writing out the story is not an easy task, but it is the beginning of regaining your power. Word by word you can take back yourself, your life and your future. Do it gently and pamper yourself.

If this exercise seems too difficult, trust me – you can do it. Sit down. Try it. If you can’t follow through the first time. Walk away. Think about it. Go back the next day and try again.

When I’m in pilates class the teacher always shows us the most difficult position, and then offers a modification of it. So, here’s a modification if you’re not ready for the advanced position yet:

Don’t write in the first person; write in the third person instead. Remove yourself from the event and it will be easier to look at and write about. Instead of saying, “I walked down the street,” say, “The young girl walked down the street.”

Changing to a distant pronoun is a way to ease into taking an objective look at yourself and your circumstances. My entire graduate school thesis – a book of poems dealing with my original trauma and PTSD – was originally written in the third person, about a man because I just simply could not get that close to myself. That’s okay. These things take time. Eventually, you’ll be able to write out the whole story.

Need an example to get started? Here’s an excerpt from my own:

The hospital staff remained woefully behind predicting or salving this rare illness’ progression. Ultimately, my parents became the primary managers of my care. They were the ones who ceaselessly researched and predicted; who turned my quarantined room into a burn unit through sheer instinct and will.

They worked as a team, my mother inside the room, my father in the domain beyond the door. My mother directed the staff and devised creative ways to get things done. To move me from one position to another, to avoid the insertion of a feeding tube, or to insert an IV when there was no unaffected skin in which to stick a needle – my mother was the presence in the room that figured out how to do the impossible with the least amount of pain. Meanwhile, my father corralled doctors, hired burn unit nurses, and tracked down leads and medications. My parents didn’t panic. They didn’t cry. They didn’t wail, moan, carry on or wring their hands. Instead, they got to work and became my advocates and nurses; the cheerleaders whose voices would guide my way.

The first two nights in the hospital were uneventful. My parents set up cots in my room so they could sleep beside my bed. We were waiting. I was taking massive doses of Prednisone and Benadryl in an attempt to stop the allergy from escalating. My parents met with doctors and hired nurses to care for me around the clock. Specialists examined me. Everyone prepared for what he or she thought might come.

Mostly, I lay in bed with my eyes closed. The headache had become so intense that the smallest noise was too much. The blisters on my lips and torso continued to develop, but they were small, still only the size of chicken pox, an illness of which I had fond memories since my brother and I had it together and spent most of our days at home driving my mother crazy by jumping on the beds and blowing up balloons that we let fly around the room while the air escaped and we doubled over with laughter.

The word bulla was never mentioned.

The words possibility of infection were not spoken.

I lay in my standard issue hospital bed thinking these little blisters and this big headache were as bad as things would be. And then things happened that made me understand otherwise.


See? Not so tough in the end. Focus on the details and let them guide your way. You’re a detective, remember? Writing about a scene. Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts. Just you, the facts, and a pen and paper. Nothing so scary about that. You are in a safe place. You are creating your future by exorcising the past. Think about that, and then get to work!

(Photo: CrotchSplay)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

PTSD Healing: Taking a Time Out


It’s good, every now and then, to stop the world and get off. We push and push through these PTSD days at such a rate that our energy becomes depleted and could use a nourishing, restorative infusion.

I’ve talked before about the power of meditation. Elizabeth Stanfill on DESTRESS YOURSELF had a good piece this week about Deep Relaxation Meditation, which can be a wonderful practice to restore your energy stockpile. We heal better, faster and more deeply when we give our bodies and minds the right kind of fuel.

In addition to meditation, guided visualization is also a strong component in healing – as a form of meditation, not only does visualization boost energy, but it also feeds your mind (and your subconscious) with details for your imagination to chew on. Laura, the hypnotherapist who healed me always says, “Imagination is stronger than knowledge,” so it can be a very crucial component in the healing mix.

A few weeks ago I posted an interview about and some exercises for guided visualization. One of the guided visualization creators was Grant Barrett. I love his voice, it’s soothing and calm qualities, and I think his attention to detail in his pieces is very unique. I wrote to tell him I’d posted 5 of his pieces here, and why. He turns out to be a very wonderful human being. When he heard about our healing quest he offered to design a guided visualization just for us. And then, he designed not one but two!

Taken together, Parts 1 and 2 of “Release and Let Go” are a soothing meditation on movement, appreciating our ability to live through experience, safety, forgiveness and love for ourselves. When you have about 15 minutes take some time to listen to Release and Let Go, Part 1 and Release and Let Go, Part 2. You don’t have to be an expert at meditation or visualization to do this. The imagery is simple and the ideas just right to put your mind in a state of peace and ease, which is just where you need it to be because, as Laura (and L’Oreal) like to say, You’re worth it.

(photo: flyheli)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

PTSD Healing: Getting the Story Straight, Or: 3 Tips For Outlining Your Story


With PTSD our minds are all over the place, ricocheting like pinballs from one memory to the next, from one trigger to another. In order to stop the blinking, flashing lights and the (really annoying) pings, bloops and squawks, we need to take control. We need to have a plan. In every aspect of healing it helps immensely to have an outline of what we’re doing so that when the ruckus gets distracting and overwhelming we can go back to the plan, refocus, regroup and relaunch our healing mission.

Today, a plan of attack for telling the story.

First, let’s just get out of the way how difficult it is to imagine telling the story at all. I know that. You know that. But we can’t heal if we can’t speak. And we cannot speak to someone trained to help us if we cannot speak to ourselves. And we cannot speak to ourselves if we can’t organize the thoughts, memories and emotions into a coherent, controlled stream. Learning to fulfill PTSD Healing Resolution No. 2 means we will have to first learn to tell the story in the privacy of our own minds.

The goal in the BRIDGE THE GAP healing workshop is to construct a post-trauma identity, one that will replace the survivor, PTSD self, with a resilient, strong, healed, forward-instead-of-backward looking persona. Who do you want to be? Who might you have become if trauma and PTSD had not got in the way? We’re here to bridge those gaps together and begin a new life in a direction created by you.

In order to build a solid foundation for your post-trauma identity, you need to see the whole picture. You need to see your Before, During and After selves. This is a convenient strategy for learning to tell the story, too. There’s no need to jump into trauma head first or to end it with a bang. We can work our way up to it and then slowly come down from it.

Traditional plot structure (per Aristotle, in case you’re interested) looks like a triangle. It begins with rising action, hits the peak of climax, and then coasts toward denouement, which is the final resolution of a dramatic event. You’ve been working for the past week or so gearing up to put the story together. Well, the moment is here: It’s time to take the memories you’ve been flirting with and get them in line.

Here are 3 convenient ways to push the plot along to help you learn, frame and tell your story:

1 – Who you were before your trauma occurred? Think carefully about yourself before your traumatic event. What do you remember about life Before? What do you remember about who you were? Visualize what you looked like the day/hour/moment before your trauma. Don’t worry if you don’t specifically remember. (I, actually, have very few specific memories of myself Before.) These can be vague impressions or specific recollections. Try to flesh out a picture of your personality and traits. If you were too young to have a clear idea of any of this, imagine who that small child was. Our memories do not have to be perfect; they correlate to feelings and it is those emotions that are our guide and the crux of where healing needs to begin.

2 – Who were you as your trauma occurred? Who did you become During the event? What did you do? Put the chronology of events in order, moment by moment as best you can. Include your own actions, thoughts, and emotions. You survived, there’s something very heroic in that. Don’t forget to include in your recollections the fact that you endured. If you look at the event from this perspective – your heroic survival – you may begin to gain some objectivity that could lessen the intensity of emotion and allow you the comfort of distance in telling the story as it unfolds. Try thinking of the whole experience in the third person first. As in, "she ran out of the room" instead of "I ran out of the room". You can come back to first person language later.

3 – Who have you become since you survived? Who are you After? Telling the story doesn’t culminate just with the trauma itself. In order to get the help we need to heal we must be able to coherently explain what we struggle with. This means how the trauma continues to affect us. We all know the usual symptoms of PTSD – insomnia, emotional numbing, nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance/hyperarousal, avoidance, intrusive thoughts – how are these things manifesting in your life today? Take a good look at yourself and identify what about the trauma is causing these reactions. It’s easy to say, “It’s the whole trauma”, but that’s too simple. There are always specific moments that embed themselves more deeply than others. For example, I felt myself leave my body. That single moment changed my life forever. It is a memory that haunted, terrified and drove me (insane) on a daily basis. To just say that my trauma caused my flashbacks would not correctly pinpoint the what about my trauma that did that. The more specific we can be in telling the story the more practitioners and therapists will be able to help us, and help us more quickly.

[If you can already tell yourself the story, take it one step further: Flesh out the details of the most traumatic moment. Until we have no more symptoms of PTSD we are still in process and that means there’s more work to be done. Dig deeper. Look closer. Get to the nitty-gritty of what has a hold of you.]

I know this is a lot to do. I did it myself, so I know it’s tough and you need to sort of think about it for a while before you actually make the move. That’s okay. Part of healing is thinking things through. That’s a power; that’s a strength. We’re developing new muscles of control – that’s a good thing! Don’t shy away from it because it’s difficult. Healing trauma means making peace with experience, which means being able to reframe and reperceive it in a way that is non-toxic. This is a process we must move through in order to get to the next level of healing. Look at it this way: We are detectives in our own healing case. Getting the story straight gives us clues to what and where we are most in need of investigating. Getting a good look at these details can break the case wide open.

Go on. You can do it. I believe in you.

(photo: saxsolrac)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

PTSD Healing: Meet Dr. Meaning


Some days you just need to go on a road trip. Today’s one of those days, people! Follow me to the Huffington Post where I want you to meet my new friend, Dr. Alex Pattakos.

Affectionately dubbed ‘Dr. Meaning’, Dr. Pattakos is a pioneer in transformational thinking. (Sounds like just our kind of guy!) Healing the past is always about transforming our thinking and changing our (sub)conscious perspective about traumatic events. There are those who say you can do that by constantly looking backward, but I believe it's more productive to turn your face toward the future and get a whole new view of the world.

Who better to give us good insight about moving out of the past and into a better future than the founder of the Center For Meaning? Pattakos’ highly acclaimed book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, is based on the teachings of his mentor, Victor Frankl. The book lays out the following seven principles for learning how to bring deeper meaning and fulfillment to our lives. These are qualities that are healing because they represent choices we make about ourselves and our lives now, today, in the present. The more we live, love, create and enjoy in the present, the less we are affected by the past, the stronger we become in the future. I deeply believe that the foundation of healing is the development of a post-trauma identity. The BRIDGE THE GAP workshop is a path to that. Pattakos’ 7 Core Principles are pilons supporting that bridge:

1 - Exercise the freedom to choose your attitude—in all situations, no matter how desperate they may appear or actually be, you always have the ultimate freedom to choose your attitude.

2 - Realize your will to meaning—commit authentically to meaningful values and goals that only you can actualize and fulfill.

3 - Detect the meaning of life's moments—only you can answer for your own life by detecting the meaning at any given moment and assuming responsibility for weaving your unique tapestry of existence.

4 - Don't work against yourself—avoid becoming so obsessed with or fixated on an intent or outcome that you actually work against the desired result.

5 - Look at yourself from a distance—only human beings possess the capacity to look at themselves out of some perspective or distance, including the uniquely human trait known as your "sense of humor".

6 - Shift your focus of attention—deflect your attention from the problem situation to something else and build your coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and change.

7 - Extend beyond yourself—manifest the human spirit at work by relating and being directed to something more than yourself.


Interesting concepts, no? And this is just a quick overview. I’m about to read Prisoners of our Thoughts and then I’ll be able to flesh out the ideas with a fuller understanding.

Now that you’re all warmed up and ready to go, let’s head over to Huff Post where Dr. Pattakos recently posted an article on ‘Dereflection’, which I thought was so wonderful and informative I left a comment, which Pattakos thought was so terrific he conferred upon me the ‘Zorba the Greek’ award. Come on, let’s have some fun….


(photo: Alex Pattakos)

Monday, February 9, 2009

PTSD Healing: The Power of the Word



So here we go with the second week of PTSD Healing Resolution #2 in the BRIDGE THE GAP workshop: putting the words together.

At the beginning of my healing, when I finally began being able to tell the story in a coherent way, I published this poem:


Turning The Tables


“I will put Chaos into fourteen lines/
…I shall not even force him to confess;/
Or answer. I will only make him good.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

It’s Fear, not Chaos, I fit into fourteen lines
and do not promise to make him good
but build for him a smaller neighborhood
in which to prowl around a habitat of rhymes,
and growl at each new word that severely binds
him while I stand outside the fence with food:
a bucketful of meat, dripping with the blood
of memory. We learn to read each other’s nervous signs.

Anxious, starving, the predatory captive paces
dark and overgrown, familiar places
of my past. Caged, here’s no dangerous cat,
sleekly muscled and nourished on the fat
of my trembling, unstrung timidity –

I am his captor now; his life depends on me.



In being able to tell the story of our trama to ourselves, we become the captors of our memories instead of being held captive by them. Do some healing practice to build up the power of your subconscious. When you finish, sit down in that peaceful state, in a comfortable place, and invite the memories to come. Slowly, one memory by one memory, tell yourself the chronological story of your trauma.

Elizabeth Stanfill, the stress guru over on DESTRESS YOURSELF, left a comment on a post last week. She writes, “I know whenever an emergency worker experiences a terrible trauma, the best thing for him/her to do is defuse the situation by retelling the story with someone who is trained. I know this keeps people happier, a lot longer, and in the field.”

Wouldn’t you like to be happier, a lot longer, and in the field of life? In order to be able to tell the story to a trained individual, you need to achieve some ability to tell the story to yourself. This is an important step; take it carefully but TAKE IT.

Fot those of you who have already achieved this step -- don't think you're off the hook! Go over the story. Identify the detail(s) you haven't discussed. Why haven't you brought them out of your head into the stark light of conversation? It's time, now. It's really time. In order to progress your healing explore what you keep secret. Put it into the chronological mix - don't just let it be a blip in the story. Begin to develop a comfort with the idea of sharing it.

If you have thoughts, tips and ideas of how to make this task easier, please share them with us all by leaving a comment.


(photo: rocdam)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Staying Grounded: A List of Things to Do


Some days it just feels like no matter what we PTSDers do, we can't keep our feet on the ground. The memories swirl, the world tilts and before we know it we've fallen down the rabbit hole.

What to do when gravity disintegrates and you get lost in space?

Recently, I stumbled upon this post on 'Girl Anachronism' -- a handy list of simple things to help yourself stay grounded when PTSD sucks you into a big, blackhole.

What would be on your list?? Leave a comment or shoot me an email; together we can compile a great resource!


(photo: deanspic)

PTSD Advocacy


We struggle with PTSD every day. We seek the treatments. We learn the symptoms. We work the system to get healing results. Who better than we to spread the word about PTSD so that others recognize and validate its presence? (This is, ahem, also a good way to practice bridging the gap.)

This week, both Kellie Greene and I are speaking out.

Over on Celebrity Psychings (the fabulous mental health blog with a celebrity twist written by the rockin’ Alicia Sparks) I gave an interview about PTSD in relation to the upcoming PTSD character on Grey’s Anatomy. Think that sounds like a fluffy piece? No such thing on CP! Check out the interview for an in-depth consideration of PTSD in television and film.

The rest of this post I’m turning over to the voice of Kellie Greene. You remember her, right? She’s the survivor who went on to use her anger to help herself heal – and do some other really wonderful things…

Hi everyone! Last month Michele posted an interview we did together regarding my personal experience with PTSD. During the interview we discussed a rather unconventional thing I did in an attempt to overcome the negative memories associated with the trauma that led to my diagnosis of PTSD. Michele was intrigued and asked me to write a guest blog about it.

As you know from the previous interview, on January 18, 1994 a stranger raped me in my home. I was diagnosed with PTSD about 6 months later. The next three years were focused on putting the pieces of my life, and myself, back together. In September of 1998 the rapist pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 22 years in prison. I had done everything I could do to ensure the rapist was caught and held accountable for the crime he committed. There would be no appeals because he waived these rights when he pled guilty. The ordeal was over. Or so I thought.

As January 18, 1999, the fifth anniversary of the rape grew closer I found myself reverting back to old behaviors: uncontrollable thoughts of the rape, flashbacks, nightmares, unable to sleep, the inability to concentrate, and being extremely moody. I had spent the last 5 years of my life in and out of therapy to ensure I would be able to move forward, but the anniversary took me right back to the exact moment of the rape. It angered me. I knew I needed to do something or else for the next 50 or so years of my life (depending on how long I’m here) I would spend every January 18th reliving the rape.

I finally decided I needed to do something that would help me reclaim the day for myself. Once again I found myself inside the counselor’s office. She suggested I write everything down and then have a burning ceremony in the back yard. Yeah…..No! It felt like a waste of time to burn something I wrote. Another suggestion was to bury it my back yard. Again…..No! If I was going to bury something like that it would have to be in my neighbor’s yard, not mine. So I thought and thought and thought and it finally came to me: SKYDIVING!

I chose skydiving for three reasons: 1) You scream when you hurl yourself out of a perfectly good airplane and those screams replaced the ones from the night of the rape; 2) Hurling towards the earth at 120mph for 60 seconds created an adrenaline rush more powerful than the fight or flight sensation the night of the attack; and 3) On a tandem skydive you’re strapped to a tandem master, usually male, and this helped me to be close to people again. It worked. January 18th is no longer the day I was raped. It’s the day I go skydiving!

News of my skydive spread through the survivor community inspiring others to reclaim their lives as well. The impact it was having inspired me to create Operation Freefall: The Two-Mile High Stand Against Sexual Assault®… the boldest, highest-altitude and most daring event organized to put an end to sexual assault. The event has grown from one drop zone in Florida in 2000 to over 24 locations across the country. Over 1,500 people have skydived, mostly survivors of sexual violence, raising nearly 2 million dollars for anti-sexual violence organizations across America including the organization I started, Speaking Out About Rape, Inc.® (SOAR®).
http://www.soar99.org/

When I made that first skydive I had no idea it would grow into a national event. It was simply a way for me to turn a negative into a positive. And I can honestly say that I no longer dread January 18th. In fact, it’s one of my most favorite days of the year, right after my birthday and Valentine’s. So, if you are having trouble with an “anniversary,” think of ways to create a new memory for yourself. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as skydiving, but it should be something you would only do for yourself once a year. Turn it into a tradition!

This year Operation Freefall is scheduled for Saturday, April 25, 2009. You don’t need to be a licensed skydiver or a survivor of sexual violence to take part (although the money you raise does go to support survivors of sexual violence). If you’d like to participate, please visit the website
.

Blue Skies,
Kellie Greene
Founder/Director
SOAR


Friday, February 6, 2009

Healing PTSD: Learning to Walk – I mean, TALK!


My trauma occurred in 1981. I was 13 years old. Understandable I might not have the coping or language skills to communicate my thoughts, emotions or experience. Understandable I might sink into silence.

Fast forward to 2005. 24 years have gone by. I am 37 years old; I still cannot speak about what I endured. There’s something wrong with that, don’t you think? Oh, I’d made a little progress by then: I could stutter out that I’d been hospitalized with a rare allergic reaction to a medication, but that’s it. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye when I said it. I talked too fast, explained too little, left people only with the vague understanding that something catastrophic had occurred. I didn’t like seeing the pity in the eyes of the person listening. I didn’t like the rubber-necking questions that came from those who just wanted the gory details. I didn’t like hearing the words out loud. Also, while I felt different from those around me, I didn’t want to highlight that fact.

And then, of course, there’s the issue that I myself didn’t want to hear the story or examine the details or get too close. I had spent my life trying to run faster than my memories. Why sit down and line them all up in a row?

WHY??? Because that’s what we have to do so they stop chasing us! Memories gain power when we try to shield ourselves from them. They feed on our fear and grow fate on fate and our desperate attempts to deny what we experienced.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Again and again I get back to our inherent strength. WE ARE SURVIVORS! If we could endure our traumas, surely we can learn to endure, conquer and control those memories that most frighten us. It will not be easy. I struggled for a long time to build a coherent story and be able to include those moments that left the greatest impression on me. This is where cognitive behavior therapy and building up the strength of your subconscious becomes helpful.

Being able to tell the story enabled me to bridge the gap between the power of my memories and my own power; between the power of the past and the power of the present; between being wracked with PTSD symptoms and becoming PTSD-free.

Begin taking back your power today. You do not have tell yourself the whole story from beginning to end in one session. You do not have to delve into all of the deep details. The BRIDGE THE GAP healing exercise today is just to make a simple outline of the following: What events led up to your trauma, and what events occurred during it.

That’s it. A quick in and out into the realm of the unspeakable. The goal here is to begin developing the ability to go near the memories (and if you can already tell the story, the details you leave out) and recognize their human existence. They are not magical beings. They do not have the power to destroy you. YOU hold the power to turn them into dragons or toads.


(photo: ificutmyhairirelandandwills)