If I were to have been told seven years ago that in just two short years my existence as I knew it would explode all around me and I’d be left wandering around in the seemingly post-apocalyptic rubble of what I used to be, I would have scoffed. I had my whole world in front of me, a successful and much-loved career, wages most people dream of and plans for an active future with my husband. One day at work, that world exploded into a nightmare called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As an educated person living with PTSD, there are many facets of this injury that I have found completely fascinating—not at the time they were occurring, of course, but in retrospect. Coming face to face with the fact that your mind can create images in front of your very eyes that are not real and for me, what was most disturbing about this fact was that I knew what I was seeing was not real. I knew this because as it was occurring, I could actually see past it into “reality” as it were. I was aware of my surrounding reality at the time of what came to be known as a flashback—the walls beyond the images, the details of the room I was in and yet, still the images from my traumatic event inserted themselves into my conscious experience in an attempt to overwrite my reality. In the early days, I often felt at odds with my own mind and body, completely out of control. Little did I know that my neural pathways were at odds with one another and my brain’s neurons were firing in a disorganized manner having encountered a site of injury, at least, this is how I simplistically interpreted countless research papers I’d read on the phenomenon.
With guidance, enormous amounts of patience and unending practice, I have sent the troublesome memories to the recesses of my mind. This is not to say that they no longer offend my consciousness, I’ve just gotten better at keeping them subconsciously contained. My mind is still processing those memories years after the fact. I know this because of bouts of insomnia and impaired concentration, triggering events where my physiology reacts as if it’s in danger and mood fluctuations—symptoms that often occur without my immediate recognition of a triggering source.
Prior to my event, I was never one who believed in something like a stress disorder. I was well versed in the effects of high stress situations because of my career, however I’d always understood those effects to be transient and time limited. For my particular incident, the reactive stress I endured was far worse than any I’d encountered in my career to that point and after two months, it was not abating. I sought help.
In my early days, I was told by many that this was a lasting disorder, that there was no cure and I would have to learn to live with it. I have been living with it and I can. It’s not a cure per se, rather a global acceptance of my new limitations in tolerating stress. I wish I could offer more but I believe in the concept of neuroplasticity and I believe that my brain itself is busy processing and “rewiring” so that perhaps one day in the future I will be able to consciously bring forth the reminders of that incident and only experience limited disruption to my daily function as my brain effectively channels the neurological chemicals around a site of injury.
I cannot explain fully how it feels to be almost a separate being cut off from one’s own physiological reactions and mental machinations. The sheer speed with which my mind would jump back to that incident regardless of how seemingly innocent the conversations were at the time is purely fascinating. The fact that I can now block those memory paths and redirect them is also fascinating to me. Our brains are so highly capable of handling millions upon millions of bits of information in speeds that are just unfathomable.
I became aware of a theory that explains PTSD from a neurobiological standpoint and an injury perspective, that I agreed with completely. I felt it. From the day it happened, I called it a glitch in my processing pathway. I just knew that there was something not working as completely as it should and in those early days, I envisioned it as (and I’m dating myself here) a record skipping. Oddly, this is why I fought the common psychological perspectives that essentially told me that this was “all a function of how I interpreted my event.” The accompanying symptoms, the loss of self, the identity issues, the depression and mood impacts; those were the psychological impacts of the injury and in this regard psychological theory proved successful. Healing from a psycho-biological injury is a cooperative process, it’s not purely biological and it’s not purely psychological, it’s a balance of both.
As our skin heals around the site of a wound and begins to scar over it, my scar is inside my brain and because of its sheer complex nature it will take a while to rebuild, recover and bypass the injured area. I like to think of it as rebuilding a train bridge that’s been destroyed, for now, traffic is being directed in the paths of least resistance and I must cope with those effects. In the interim, I continue to practice my psychological coping skills, while by whatever means, my brain is building a new pathway to help me channel more effectively the neural inputs that are bombarding the damaged zone. It’s called healing. It’s what a body does and as a human being, I’m not above my biology.
There are many around us who don’t understand, who expect us to be the people we were before our traumatic encounter, they struggle to hold us to old measures of behaviour, but we have changed and accepting this new reality is difficult for everyone, especially us. We’re adjusting to new coping levels, new perspectives and new concepts of who we are, as though what we once knew of ourselves was also “damaged in the flood.” Our brains are actively healing and teaching us new ways to cope. Never allow anyone to hold you to outdated expectations of who you are. Be who you are in the moment and accept that rather than impose upon yourself outdated concepts of whom you used to be, this too is called healing.
I hope sharing my perspective gives others who face this injury hope. It’s a tough and painful struggle but we’re designed for resilience. It’s in our very nature to heal. Patience is a hard pill to swallow, but once you begin, you find resources in yourself that you never imagined possible. We’re designed to heal and carry on. Remember this. Take it to heart. You have an amazing capacity to heal.