Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Complex PTSD, Part II

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Yesterday I began a brief survey of six potential indicators for a new term proposed by Judith Herman of Harvard University.  That term is ‘Complex PTSD’.  Today I will discuss the second of those six potential indicators.  This one is consciousness.

According to the National Center for PTSD problems with consciousness may be noted in the following ways:
  • Forgetting traumatic events
  • Reliving traumatic events
  • Having episodes in which one feels detached from one's mental processes or body (dissociation)

When I began therapy last year I had no idea how efficient I had become in practicing the coping skill of dissociation.  EMDR therapy and regular consistent work with my therapist helped me to develop a newfound appreciation for just how often I was unknowingly dissociating.  As I gradually emerged from this unconscious pattern I often felt as if I was awakening from a very long and unpleasant dream.  Even now, sixteen months later, I still find myself stopping in my tracks on occasion and simply witnessing the beauty of the world around me.  It seems I awoke from a persistent tendency to dissociate after practicing it off and on over the course of nearly three decades. 

Forgetting traumatic events is a coping mechanism I find perfectly understandable.  When a person becomes overwhelmed by a situation in which his very life is threatened I think it is only natural that some loss of memory of the incident might occur.  Forgetting events (at least for some amount of time after they occur) can allow a person to protect his psyche until the environment around him becomes safe again.  Once such safety is reestablished a person can then begin to open back up to the world and allow the pain, fear and anxiety previously experienced to come more fully into conscious awareness.

I had developed a tendency to dissociate as a means of coping.  As my own therapy has progressed I have come to more deeply appreciate how I lived in a persistently heightened state of anxiety for many, many years.  This insight was long in the making.  It was as if each therapy session were the equivalent of adding a step to a ladder or stairwell.  Eventually I laid enough steps in place that I could gain an elevated perspective on my life and truly begin to see how what I had experienced had affected me.  I essentially developed a ‘bird’s eye view’ of my life.

My growing clarity regarding how much anxiety I felt throughout my childhood initially left me feeling consumed in a fresh wave of pain and grief.  But eventually the benefit of the insight began to encourage me more than it burdened me.  I believe the consequences of clarity can, ironically, sometimes leave people feeling even worse when they are first in therapy as compared to that time in their lives immediately before they seek out help.  I believe it is not uncommon to have an initial feeling of euphoria when a person first enters treatment.  The mere acknowledgement that something is simply not working in life is a first and vital step to healing.  But I think most of us subsequently experience a ‘psychic dip’ as the full scope of what real recovery and restoration of our health will require of us begins to become exceedingly clear.  It thus doesn’t surprise me when some people abandon their commitment to restoring their lives when the initial euphoria disappears.

Post Script

Fifty Day Challenge, Day #19

Healthy activities today:

  • I went to visit my chiropractor
  • I am going to sit in the sauna at the gym
  • I am going to remind myself of that which is good and functional in my life to keep my attitude positive

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