Tuesday, April 14, 2015

PTSD -path to healing. by (me!) sandra, tvgp

I had the very recent experience of meeting a handsome young man who is.. Write now, in 2015, battling PTSD.  Our conversation was very brief.. I did not memorize/retain the specifics.. which branch of service, -marines?  how many tours/specifically where he is returning from.. 3 in Iraq? 1 in Afghanistan?   -those details did not stick.. what did stick, is that he is currently experiencing PTSD.  and the rest I will have to reask..  Jim Ott introduced us.  He is one of his students at Las Positas Jr. College.  -and Jim Ott had interviewed me many years ago for a newspaper article, and so knows, at least a portion, of the battle I had with PTSD.

I am intimately acquainted with this horrific disorder.

-even though I have a variety of other things/projects/responsibilities/events to plan for, etc.

I find that since meeting Francisco.. all of my brain real estate, so to speak, is consumed with working this out:

what do I have to say  -exactly-  about healing from PTSD?  my battle taking place in the 1980's...   90's...    vs. What they know now in 2015..

is what I learned even applicable now?  mine went

1. Undiagnosed.
2. Untreated.

Before PTSD was even a familiar term..

quite frankly, I did not know what the hell was wrong with me.

in our all too brief conversation, what I did share with Francisco is that..

How I even found out I had.. PTSD.. was that I happened across a documentary, on PBS, I believe, about a war veteran.. (Vietnam?), who was describing his symptoms..

I was like, "that's what I do!". " I'm like that!"  "Oh my God.. I know exactly what you are talking about!"

and I listened VERY CLOSELY to every word of that interview..

I believe it marks the first time I ever heard that term: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

what amount of time passed I'm not sure, but.. next I remember being inside a book store..  down the spine of a blue book I saw those very words in white font: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

I pulled it from the shelf and started randomly reading a sentence here, flip page, a paragraph there..

and I mean I literally.. -literally!-  fell to the ground crying


"A match!!... a direct match!...".   and that marks the day I went from viewing myself as a complete freak to viewing myself as someone with SYMPTOMS of a thing that actually had a DIAGNOSIS.   and it was the first time my -behaviors- started to make sense.. took on a larger context..

So, the first thing I want Francisco to know is this:

PTSD is a type of living hell.   I can validate that.

it would be awesome if it didn't exist at all for sure,   -but that would also mean traumatic experiences themselves didn't exist, and as optimistic as I am; I'm not seeing that any time in the near future..

so, what I do want you to know, is that, it being 2015

1. PTSD is more familiar and therefore diagnosed more immediately.   -that's a great thing all by itself, because how can you heal from something when you don't even know what it is?

2. " they have medicine!!".   -I'm not currently in the loop or knowledgeable about what medicine, but just learning this makes me want to say "take it!!".   anything that helps... " do it!"

3.  the accumulative knowledge about PTSD  -should!-  help you heal, in a shorter amount of time, than those who went before..

and what I KNOW for SURE:   healing IS possible.  The hell you experience now.. is not for the rest of your life.  the hell you are experiencing now

"Its temporary!...  hang in there!!"

and before I close this post for today I just want to say that the number one!   #1!   -most important thing to do.. in front of every other thing you must do in order to heal:

SLEEP.   -without sleep, without a good nights rest; none of the other things you can do to heal are effective..   And SLEEPING well is one of the hardest things to do if you have PTSD..

So!   -whatever it takes..  medicine.  A huge meal.   tough exercise to wear you out.  A long hot bath..  Some combination of all of those..

Do it!   it is my profound experience that without good sleep.. Healing cannot take place; period.   -start there..

More later..   

"Thank you!" Francisco for your noble service!   everyday you are a step closer toward healing..

One day.. you will look back on this time..  and celebrate that you made it through..

Blessings!   ~sandra.   PTSD survivor.

P.s. I will come back here to discuss shows I've seen that to my personal experience.  -tell you to do the exact opposite of what you should do to heal..

in order to understand this.. We need Eric kandel..  You need to understand the. -life saving!- distinction between

Sensitization and habitualization...   /forgive my spelling..


ill just keep returning here as windows of time present themselves. -write what's on my mind; organize it later


SYMPTOM:  one of my symptoms:  -certain experiences are locked in my brain forever; others have faded.. but one of the stand outs is when the power went out in my neighborhood.

I mean to tell you.. quicker than you can blink.. I was in fetal position on the floor. -terrified.  -alone.  paralyzed by fear.

I could see the phone..  and how long it took I can't remember, but eventually I got to the phone and called my mom..

the power outage itself.. was caused by a car crashing into a poll somewhere in the area; but it would be some time before I learned this.

all I knew at the time, -and at the time, I lived alone

/may I stop to recommend that when you have PTSD, you should not live alone.  but there is also this strange.. perhaps another symptom.. which makes you always want to be alone.

anyway.. I was alone, it was night, and so, when the power did go out.. unlike if it had happened during the day.. my place went from lamp-lit to pitch black.   and as suddenly.. I hit the floor.

similar experiences have happened in recent years and I am happy to say.. I respond now like a normal person.  -but.. I sure will never forget that..

and it helps me graduate from a vague understanding to a deep knowing..when I hear about others..

I had a vet tell me that during one of their celebratory lunches.. in a room filled with military personnel.. that when they did a gun salute and blank fire.. one of the guests.. at the sound of the gun.. took off in terror running out of the building to save her life.. and had to be chased down by a couple others..

I don't vaguely understand that in a text book way; I utterly know that experience.



-traumatic experiences cannot be erased from memory; but can, and should be diluted.

my healing progressed at a much more rapid speed when I started to realize the truth above; when I set out with great intention to dilute..

repetition of thought is another symptom of PTSD.. it is my experience .. well, if I were to provide an analogy from a lay person perspective..

let's pack some damp sand in a box, level and several inches thick.

take a toothpick and draw in the sand a line which represents a specific thought.  repeat. Draw a line over that line, over and over again to represent the repetition of that thought.  The line area becomes deeper and deeper and deeper.

Now, draw a line in a new area to represent the breakthrough of a different thought. A new thought.  stop.

pour some water on the sand.. where does it naturally go?  -to the deepest line..  skimming the others.. A tiny bit everywhere else..

but it is my experience that repetitive thoughts attract themselves.. default in the brain to the most common, deep path..  the deeper that area is, as a result of the repetition; the more likely incoming  thoughts will automatically go there; -the most popular, deepest, most common, familiar path...

but.. go back to the level, damp sand.  draw lots of lines (pathways);  Draw them this way, and that way, several here, several there, repeat and make deep lines here, shallow lines there.. Etc.

pour water.  -where does it go?   -much more spread out, -yes!

no longer defaulting, or gravitating to that one deep line (path).

-so, I set out, to create, with great intention, new pathways in my brain.  So many new and different experiences; consciously -that it would slowly become impossible for my thoughts to keep repeating themselves..

I set out consciously to make sure these new experiences, which become new pathways in the brain..

were of a positive nature.  things I enjoyed...

that would be my healing homework assignment for current PTSD patients:

get away, and avoid at all cost, the retelling, remembering, repeating of your traumatic experience and go do and see things that bring you joy, peace, laughter..

this is not the same as repressing, or denying..or stuffing down..

It is proactively healing!

-after! after! after!   -after!   -you have created a plethora of new pathways.. 

then..  slowly, selectively.. revisit traumatic experiences to process them in a healthy way..

to try and process too early is highly counterproductive. In my opinion and experience it intensifies and prolongs your suffering.


the younger you are when a traumatic experience takes place.. the deeper the line in the sand.. because you have fewer pathways to begin with.. fewer lines to begin with..  

no matter the age though..  create new paths; new lines; make them pleasurable.  dilute! Dilute! dilute!


SYMPTOM:  when the police pulled a sketch drawing on paper from their briefcase..  I responded to the picture as if it was the actual predator.  -there is no need to be terrified of a piece of paper; or picture on a paper..  but the traumatized brain loses its ability to distinguish..  it is responding to the memory triggered; not the actual object itself.


when? I don't know.. but I once saw a program where the way they were treating PTSD in war veterans.. was to hook them up to a virtual reality screen in a helmet.. and in a safe environment.. play war scenes for the vet to view.. and meanwhile they were taking measurements of heart rate, etc.

I was up out of my seat, yelling at the people I saw on TV..

"What the fuck are you doing?!?".  " you will kill him!   you just set him back twelve years!?"

-because, to my personal experience.. Nothing could be more counterproductive.

and so, it was to my GREAT SURPRISE, that said vet reported that this technique did in fact help him heal.

I still.. write now..even with that (one) testimony (mascot?).   -highly recommend you do not sign up for that program..

in fact, even now, I think..   I wonder how many vets were not helped that we did not have access to on the TV show.  I doubt very seriously its 100% success rate..

and I am so opposed, that I think..  -if you did this.. and some of the vets got worse..  if it sent them to the depths of depression.. And months later  -or years.. they committed suicide.

-that was not suicide; that was murder.   Unintentional maybe.. But that was homicide.

-I try and imagine

If some scientists doctor types were like..

"OK.. Put this helmet on..   you are in a safe place.."

and then I watched as a violent gunman predator attacked and raped..

My God.  I can't think of anything more stupid.. I really can't.  -when you consider an already traumatized brain...

honest to God..

-let's give poison to the cancer patient..

- tell the man on the bridge there's nothing to live for..

-let's hand deliver an overdose to the clinically depressed..


my suspicion is that the mascot on the TV show..

he most likely didn't have a genuine form of PTSD to begin with..

if he did, -that would kill him.

-there is also such thing as a healthy, normal response to trauma.  No normal person goes happy go lucky skipping into the next day and adventure of life;

-there are consequences and there is processing to do mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.

I would say..  if you even let someone put a virtual reality helmet on you to reenact violence, trauma in a safe environment..

the willingness alone proves that you do not have PTSD to begin with.   Someone with PTSD would be like..

Stay the fuck away from me with that thing..

So if you are willing.. that would suggest to me.. You are merely having a natural, normal, healthy response to violence and trauma..

it can be overcome via desensitization techniques.

If however you have PTSD..

for you.. We need an entirely different plan.

/where is Eric kandel when I need him!?!



SYMPTOM:   i remember being paralyzed by fear.  that is not an analogy; it is a fact. I do not mean kinda like, I do not mean similar to.. I mean actually and completely paralyzed -by fear.   I was not paralyzed by a physical injury to my spinal cord or from a stroke. I was however just as paralyzed..unable to move even my pinky finger.. I was literally frozen in a position on the couch; in a sitting up position but could not move.  I remember thinking to myself.. Your hands are not broken. Your legs are not broken.  -move something!  make something move! Wiggle a fucking finger.. Something! Shift.  Do something!  All your body parts work!

but I could not -for the life of me..   move.  

I eventually fell asleep from exhaustion.  When it was daylight again. I could move.


At 7:40 AM, Blogger Jim Ott said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts and advice and blessings for Francisco. He is an amazing writer who has so much to share with the world about war and leadership and being in the military. Yes, he was in the Marines and was a platoon sergeant in Afghanistan, having earlier served in Iraq. He experienced much combat. I am honored to have him in my classroom and in my English class. Thanks again for caring and for this post.


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