How other’s trauma affects my PTSD

I am terrified as I write this. Literally feeling sick to my stomach from stress. My spouse lays next to me having no idea of the meltdown going on in my head, and I don’t say a word because I don’t want to appear crazy.

The evening started out uneventful. After we got the kids to bed, my spouse asked again if we could finally watch the movie “Sully.” I had been nixing that idea for the past couple of weeks when we were deciding what to watch.

I learned during 9/11 I have an unusual experience with my PTSD. I found when I was watching the nonstop coverage of 9/11, my own PTSD became activated at such a level as if I were actually involved in the incidents. The lines became very blurry, and my PTSD symptoms were extremely high.

I can still remember driving through downtown Atlanta on my way home from work and sweating as I looked up at the high rises above me. I was absolutely certain one was going to come tumbling down on me from a terrorist attack.

Since 9/11, I became very attuned to the fact that if I had witnessed a car accident, which is not uncommon in Atlanta, I would replay the scene and the sounds and the stress of it over and over in my head as if it had happened to me.

I have learned to avoid a lot of things since I became aware of how these things were affecting me. I try not to even watch the news anymore. Thus, I knew I should avoid a movie replaying a traumatic event, but I didn’t want to look crazy to my spouse who really wanted to see this movie.

As we watched the movie, I had moments where I could barely breathe, and other moments where I felt panic and wanted to cry. I was crying on the inside. It didn’t seem to matter that I knew what was going to happen in the story. I seem to always over-relate to someone else’s experience of trauma.

Now, my brain is spinning and I am hearing what sounds like a passenger plane flying low around my home. The plane noise won’t go away. My spouse doesn’t hear anything, so I know it is me going crazy.

I know it isn’t real, but the noise won’t stop. I am filled with anxiety. I am telling myself the noise isn’t real, but the sound of the impending airplane is so loud and continuous I can’t ignore it.

I have medication that would help in this situation, but I have worked so hard to not take medication for the betterment of my health.

I am hoping somehow writing about this will calm my symptoms down.

Why doesn’t it help to know this is just my PTSD?

I am so angry at myself for having this twisted brain that reacts to other people’s trauma like this. The anger, fear, and shame now have me feeling suicidal.

You would think with the self-awareness I have about my PTSD, and how this continuous noise is not real, it would make me be ok. It doesn’t.

I am irrationally terrified over a stupid movie. My self-loathing is kicking in. My belief that I don’t want to live life with this kind of terror in my head is kicking in.

Make the noise stop.

It hasn’t.

Will I forever be this tortured soul who can’t seem to get rid of this trauma brain?

I still hold hope one day I will be free. Until then, I work to survive the imprint left on my brain.

December, my most brutal month of the year

Oh, December.

The month starts with my birthday, and even after 5 decades, I can’t bring myself to be happy about my birthday.

Growing up, my birthdays were especially painful for me because my family never allowed me to celebrate them. I can’t recall any recognition of my birthday, which just reinforces the cruel messages my family sent to me.

I don’t matter. I don’t really exist. I should do everyone a favor and kill myself.

I wish the birthday thing got easier, but I have actually spent the last two out of three years in psych hospitals for my birthday so I wouldn’t kill myself.

This year I have been really struggling to stay out. I want to be present for my kids’ Christmas month. Yet, every day I am in touch with my struggle and trying to fake my way through the holidays.

Last weekend I tried to do something special for my kids, so I took them to Christmas shows on Saturday and Sunday. Normally it is something I enjoy. Sadly, I feel guilty because I kept looking at my watch to see when the show was going to get over.

Anxiety is flowing underneath the surface.

I am struggling to stay sane, to stay out of the hospital, to not ruin my kids’ Christmas, to stay married, to not run away, to not fire my therapist, to be compassionate with myself when I do erratic things like randomly schedule an appointment with a new therapist whom I know nothing about and not sure why I made the appointment.

My PTSD is especially bad right now. The triggers are happening over little things. Noises. Stupid noises keep triggering me.

I am coming off as crazy to adults who hold a significant conversation with me. I know I am a wreck and acting in ways I really should be hiding.

My narcissistic, abusive mom is coming this week for the holidays. I said she could come because I think it could be her last.

I have to reconcile in my head as she presents herself as a normal person, with the memories of her harming me so severely as her daughter that my life has been mostly ruined.

I am also coming to terms with how much she harmed me by not only doing cruel and extremely abusive things to me, but more importantly, not loving me since I was born.

It is hard to sit with knowing your family doesn’t love you. It is hard to stay grounded to this earth with that knowledge.

But, still I persist through this magical holiday time when families are supposed to go out of their way to show their love for each other. Except in my family of origin it is all a fraud. Yet, we do it anyway.

Hoping tomorrow I do a better job of being holiday happy for my kids as the most important thing for me is for them to have what I did not.

Is my overwhelm just an excuse for laziness?

I am confused at the moment. I continue to struggle with who I am. I mean, I know who I am and what I believe usually, but the other pieces of my identity don’t always back me up.

My family really needs me to work so our children and the adults can get all their needs met. We are struggling financially, and not too long ago I was bringing home a good paycheck.

These days, I feel like I can’t work. I am working at getting through the days and taking care of my kids, making major changes to my health, and keeping myself emotionally stable.

The fact that I am functioning by getting out of bed and going out into the world, and actively taking care of my kids everyday is a miracle that didn’t exist 4 months ago.

Yet, there is increasing pressure from my spouse, myself, and our mounting debt to get myself back to work in my old job so I can bring home that money again.

At the same time, I still find myself getting overwhelmed by little things from my old life that were easy then.

Today, my major accomplishments were to make myself breakfast, pick up my son from camp, take him to a park for an hour, and check Facebook a few times. Those few things literally took up my whole day and felt like all I could do.

I hear inside my head “you are so weak. Quit complaining and stop being lazy and get back to work.”

I never considered myself a lazy person, but maybe I am. Maybe the overwhelm I constantly feel is just an excuse to get out of work.

I like giving my family money so we can live a good life. I just don’t know if I can put myself back into that position of doing what I do to make good money.

I am good at this work when all parts of me are working together, and anxiety doesn’t hang close by. Sometimes I miss it, so sometimes I secretly dip my toe in the water and feel overwhelmed like I can’t do it. Then I feel completely inadequate.

Who am I? Am I this smart, talented, strong woman who is a good provider for her family, or am I this pathetic, damaged, weak woman who gets overwhelmed when a door slams too loud?

I don’t know. It seems like this is my fate to be on a polar opposite pendulum depending on the moment.

One moment I am feeling healthy and strong with the health changes I am making in my life, the next I am falling down my stairs again and re-injuring myself, and feeling depressed about the state of my health and the hopelessness of not getting help or answers from the medical community.

I was thinking earlier today maybe the medical community is just writing me off because I am 50. I feel like I am 30 in spirit, so it is confusing to be thought of as old.

My life is frustrating and good. I am smart, but cognitively impaired sometimes. I am strong, but easily hurt. I feel really healthy, then chronic pain consumes me again. I am super stable, and then utterly disabled by the chaos in my brain.

The only thing I know for sure is that I am usually a really good mom.

Other than that, who am I?

My Brain After Trauma

Gehirn - Schwingungen 3

Some days, I like to forget about my horrific abuse history and think I am just another ordinary person trying to get by in this world. After all, I can get distracted by the things in life the same way my presumably ordinary neighbors can.

I appreciate the moments when nobody knows my big secret about having Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and that people think I am just another neurotic person, similar to themselves. I am a master at hiding my symptoms.

Then there are the moments when the truth slaps me in the face so hard I can barely stand up again.

This week I met with a doctor to go over my results of some cognitive testing and my QEEG, or brain map. I am very interested in alternative or nontraditional therapies in treating my DID, so I am working with a new “Brain Doctor,” in addition to my traditional talk therapy.

I have always known I am sometimes cognitively impaired, and certainly sometimes operating from a “trauma brain.”

Though I had neurofeedback this past Summer for about 15 sessions, the providers I used never shared what was going on with my brain—they shared positive statements about the neurofeedback results they were seeing. Never the baseline.

In my discussion this past week with the new doctor, it was explained as sensitively as it could be, that I am extremely cognitively impaired and my brain waves look like a badass, not good, electrical storm.

I was told calmly and slowly they have seen worse, but it is pretty bad. The doctor is a genuinely good person and an optimist, and believes she can help repair much of my brain problems, even as severe as they are.

Because I had my son go through this process for a different reason, I knew what the brain pictures were supposed to look like. You want the brain to appear white on the paper.

I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of color on every one of my brain images.

I thought I was really calm during the actual test being done, but the results make it look like I am an anxious wreck. I guess my body has simply become used to the free-flowing anxiety from my PTSD, and I only recognize it when it is over the top.

I showed my brain in my best state. Can you imagine if I showed it when I am doing really poorly?

PTSDbrain

Two years ago, I was working in a highly demanding job in which I was quite successful and made a lot of money. Today, I am not working at all.

The one sentence from the doctor that stood out to me was when she gently said “I can see why you are not working, your executive functioning is extremely low.”

A dagger in my heart.

The scribble scrabble brain waves on the page were not something I can deny. I don’t need to be a doctor to know it isn’t normal looking at all.

The mental anguish I feel on a regular basis has just been verified as totally real, and it is as bad as it feels. It is not hidden or made up. Through this QEEG, I let people see the mess of a brain I have. Lots of internal conflict about doing so.

“You’re such an idiot, why did you let people see what it looks like inside.”

My trauma has without a doubt destroyed the way my brain is supposed to function. Maybe I shouldn’t say destroy because my favorite word is all the buzz these days—“neuroplasticity” (when the brain can heal itself), there is hope through neurofeedback and other brain therapies to repair much of the damage.

I always thought I wanted to see what my “DID brain” looked like. At this point, I am feeling it was a mistake, but hopefully some day I will change my mind about it.

It is an overwhelming picture of myself. And, I actually feel shame about my brain. That’s a new one.

This morning I was looking at a job announcement that came to my email, and what followed were the voices in my brain telling me I can’t possibly work given the extremely low level of executive functioning I am at (confirmed by these test results). Sigh.

I always knew the abusers from my past ruined my brain, but I secretly didn’t want it to be true. Parts of me appear to be so severely abused. I didn’t want to believe they could be as badly abused as they felt and claimed. I realize now how much I was clinging to the hope that not all of my story was true.

It is hard to hide from the serious consequences of the severe abuse I endured throughout my life. It is sad when the ability to deny the consequences is gone.

 

Managing my ambivalence about Halloween

Halloween is tricky for me, and frankly, I hate it every time it comes around.

I am a mom to two kids who love Halloween, so I try so very hard to let them experience the fun of Halloween.

My spouse also goes over the top decorating the house with Halloween decorations. I pretend it isn’t there, and my spouse will never understand it.

My kids love Halloween. They love the dressing up, decorating the house, the endless parties, the pumpkin decorating, and of course the trick or treating and conquest of candy that comes with it.

I pretend the best I can for them that I like Halloween. I hate it. Though, in fairness, before I became pre-diabetic, I enjoyed eating their candy.

Halloween is a scary time for me. As someone who was raised to not trust the world, Halloween makes it all the more confusing. I can’t spot the truly dangerous people very easily because Halloween gives people permission to dress up and act scary.

Reality is hard enough for me, and then we have this stupid excuse of a holiday that drags out for a month of celebrating an alternative reality.

When I was a child, Halloween was also a scary and violent time for me. My flashbacks of Halloween are more like a real horror movie. That’s what is running through my head when I walk my children around for trick or treating.

I would prefer to pretend like Halloween doesn’t exist, and let the other adults judge me as “no fun.”

Sadly, for me, Halloween is just something to survive and get through the month.

I try to be happy my children are excited and having so much fun, but in the back of my mind, I am obsessively counting the minutes until it is over.

Pounding my PTSD head

Agonizing torture. This is what I experienced today in the name of medical care.

I had a special MRI today, one that would show more advanced pictures of my spine.

I have had MRIs before, and the closed ones are always difficult for me to make it all the way through. But, I manage, somehow.

Today’s MRI was different. They asked me if I had medication before I entered the room, in which I responded “no” because nobody had mentioned it to me.

I approached the room and for some reason it was set up in a hard-core scientific way that made it so no one could mistakenly enter. There were lights all around the door frame, and it was sealed in a let’s keep the zombies out kind of way.

My anxiety level went up.

I entered the room and took one look at the MRI machine and my anxiety went up more seeing it was a closed MRI that was actually closed longer that the last one I had been in with a struggle.

I could feel myself starting to come unglued inside, but fighting with myself that I needed to get this done.

I started dissociating, and laid down on the table, placing my neck in the head device. I was starting to feel a panic attack coming on, which is not something I typically experience.

The true horror of the situation came into being after I resolved to myself that I must do it and can do it. That’s when the technicians places a mask-head cage device over my head so I couldn’t move my head if I wanted to.

I could feel myself crying and panicking all in one. I am thinking to myself this is the worst thing that has happened to me since my horrific childhood abuse. I am thinking I should tell them I have PTSD.

But, I close my eyes and tell them to go ahead. All the while knowing how emotionally damaging this is to me.

The loud noises are crushing my mind and spirit until I am the living dead in this machine/torture chamber. I am so dissociated I can no longer move, think, talk, or do anything for myself. Severe collapse resulting from severe retraumatization.

My living dead status enabled me to make it to the end. I could not move at first as I wasn’t self aware enough to know what was happening. I couldn’t talk to the technicians afterward. They didn’t seem too concerned about my changed mental status.

I finally made it back to my car. Totally wrecked by the experience. Split into many pieces at once. Some believe they drilled into our head during the procedure. Fragmented all over the place.

New trauma. I let it happen for what I thought was the greater good. I think I should have stopped it when I saw that head cage.

My spirit can’t take this type of experience. But what was I to do?

9 hours later and my body and brain are still shaking and crying.

And this is modern medicine.

The storm in my head

I have been overwhelmed with various life events I have experienced this past week. I did my best to “handle it.”

My emotions finally came crashing down on me today.

My head is all mixed up now, but I need to get it stabilized as I am solely responsible for my kids this week, and I have a lot of other stuff on my plate.

Hurricane Irma sent my most dangerous perpetrator right to my doorstep. It was a situation where I could not turn my back on my mom and leave her out to die, even though she would have done that to me without a thought.

If I had turned her away, then I would be a monster like her, I think. But, my compassion and decency always has a price for me.

My internal world is all jumbled up in my head, as it swirls around for who knows how long before it crashes and stabilizes.

I went to therapy today, which didn’t end up helping in the stability department. With the tropical storm we had here, the fire alarm went off in my therapist’s building for 45 minutes to an hour.

I switched into a couple of different younger parts of myself who went right into trauma time with the alarm. They were terrified of the sound, and even more terrified of the idea of leaving. This was a “we need to hide moment,” which for us means we literally want and need to hide in a small space to feel safe.

When the alarm finally stopped, it was still going on in our head just as loud (thank you PTSD). The parts who were out could not be convinced it was safe.

Our therapist decided since we were not willing to go outside the building to avoid the noise, maybe it was a good opportunity to talk about what it was triggering.

I thought about that as I watched from inside my head. The others who had come out were thinking about what she was saying. I started to feel us moving to a scene in which an alarm like the one going off meant something. It became clear it meant something bad.

I could see images of scientists and a laboratory. I could hear people talking in the lab. I could feel the little ones inside filling with terror. I thought about mind control programming. I thought about the bad fire I was in as a young child.

The little ones who were out were holding different emotions. One was holding terror, the other sadness. One was frozen, the other about to cry.

The therapist asked for me to come back as she was concerned it was at the end of our session. I could not. The little ones out front had too strong of a hold for me to get back.

The session was like exposure therapy, which was a lot like torture, but it was not something my therapist could control since the parts who were out were not willing to follow her suggestions of leaving.

She finally managed to coax them out of the building, and we got in the car. I could see a text on my phone from my daughter saying her grandma was leaving, which brought me partially back.

I drove home slowly as to avoid an accident or police stop—I don’t usually drive when I am dissociated like this, but I had to get home to see what was happening.

My mom decided in the hour that I was gone to quickly pack up her car and to get out of there just as quickly as she came. It wasn’t safe for her to drive home, but she never listens to me. They had left items in the house that we could easily retrieve for them, but they needed to go quickly and said don’t worry about it.

It made no sense. They could die on the road with the tropical storm winds and rain that they decided to drive through. I shrugged my shoulders once again that this may be the decision that kills her.

As usual for my family, there is no making sense of anyone’s behavior.

I am relieved to have my house back, but I am edgy as hell with the storm in my head. I have been waiting all afternoon for this moment when my kids go to bed so my head can rest.

One of my insiders sent a text to my therapist saying he hated her. Not sure what that was about, but could feel his anger toward her. Maybe he is mixing up her with my mom? Not sure.

Don’t know the point of this post other than to say the storm in my head demonstrates how my parts are attuned to the weather chaos in the world right now.

I’ll be looking for peace again….