Flashbacks

Today as we were standing in line for the school carnival, my son picked up my daughter and then threw her into the floor. She cried, but she was okay.

It looked awful. I know now, how alarming it must have been for him to see that happening to me. The size difference between him and her is comparable to the size difference between myself and my ex. I made sure the baby was okay, and then we left, without attending the carnival, I just could not, I was too upset. My son fell asleep as soon as he was buckled into his car seat, which was five minutes after the incident, so he must have been overloaded and tired. Still not an excuse, PTSD or no, I won’t allow him to get away with it.

My ex used to pick me up by my hair and throw me into the furniture, the floor, whatever. It does not injure much, but my spine is already somewhat crooked, and it often had the after effect of a minor traffic accident. It would take a week or so for the ache to wear off, and I would always hope that there would not be an identical move on me before the ache was gone, as I was not sure my body could take it, when already in recovery from it. I was too busy to put aside time for healing. My abuser did not fully participate in the abuse cycle, there was no honeymoon period for me after an incident.

It could be that my son remembers, and was only playing out what he saw at home, back then. I do not know, even, what she was doing that irritated him. But I do know, that to pick up a human being, just to maximize the impact of their fall when thrown, is horrific, as it is planned. You pick up a person, you touch someone, and then you use the floor to hurt them for you. A punch is less nightmarish than that, and in planning and execution, more impulsive.

I was upset all day. I was also exhausted. I lost my temper twice, and later apologized for raising my voice and excessively scolding the children over their mistakes. The baby was cranky and off schedule, she spent a lot of time in a makeshift bed on the couch. I could not blame her. I thought about it a lot. It has that element of horror in my thoughts, that lets me know it is touching my PTSD. I scarce look at it, and because of what the doctor told me, I am forcing myself to see it, write it, read it. I want to get well. I don’t want to be plagued by this abuse any longer. My thoughts spent some time in other languages immediately after, and I am back in English fully, now.

This is what happens with PTSD, I am sure. You don’t look at the memories, because of the pain. They stay there in the forefront of your mind, unresolved, and any further incidents or “triggers” like what I had today, gets added in. It just snowballs, like a tumor. I am not a doctor, and I still don’t understand it all fully, but that is what it feels like. I even had a pain in my chest. An anxiety, as if I had missed my medication completely. I wonder if I should have taken another. I will ask.

Probably this is why I kept my weight up and cut off my hair when I was with him. I know I felt he couldn’t get to my organs easily if I had a good layer of fat in between his fists and my internal vital organs. It was just the muscles, mostly, and I couldn’t be thrown far, like that. I should have just left earlier than I did, that would have been smarter, instead of keeping the weight on. It was not my fault. No one deserves that.

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Seeing The Doctor

I had my third appointment today. I have two left. We were supposed to discuss how to prevent anxiety. The doctor talked to me about my fears for our safety. He asks me “but your fears are just fears, right? He won’t ever actually come after you, right?” 

I tell him I have an order of protection, issued from the criminal courts, not the family courts. Spanning a decade. I explain I am in programs set up by the state to protect my privacy, that all of us are registered with the State Department, the county we left, etc.

He says this is a first, that he does not know what to do with real and justifiable fear, it is not an unreasonable anxiety. You cannot treat such a thing as an illness. I ask him, “Did you never have DV patients sitting here before? Patients whose lives were threatened, whose children were threatened by their partners?” He says that he has not had a patient who had real threats. Just bluster and idle threats.

I say, please, everyone, believe those “idle threats”. A woman was shot and paralyzed here, last year. Where I lived the year before, a woman was gunned down on the courthouse steps. Those are only the sensationalized cases that made it to my ears, I don’t even watch the news. Get protection, don’t tell anyone “He doesn’t mean it. He would never do it.” because if you have to report it, you have to take it seriously. 

So instead we are treating my anxieties over adjusting to Western culture. He says I look American, well enough, but my mannerisms and my accent often do not mesh with Americanisms. No one knows me, here. No one knows anything about what I left behind. I had a therapist advise me not to tell anyone, when I first got into town. I told the doctor that. He said he cannot believe a therapist told me to hide myself and my past, that this advice was remiss. He says that if I explain to those who know me what my background is, they might understand what is different about me. It might make me safer, offer protection, if I allow people to know me. That it will not make me a freak. 

I just don’t want my children to be shunned. 

 

Memories

I had to cancel my third appointment with the PTSD specialist, I swear due to circumstances beyond my control, such as school and daycare closings, and the sitter backing out at the last minute.

But the relief I felt upon cancelling was so profound, that I swear I now feel a guilt, anyway. 

I am avoiding the remembering and thus the chronicling. It is a simple concept, and I own the memories. It is not as if I have to drive to the library and track them down and check them out. They are not even horrific. No one died. I understand all the rationale, I accept the necessity of it. Usually I have done any work advised by doctors immediately, upon prescription. 

Apparently I am frozen in place. 

Memory

Like anyone, I have unwanted intrusive memories. It’s not something I have ever had a casual conversation about with anyone, so I am unsure how common it is. I am sure it is supposed to be more of an issue with those of us who have PTSD symptoms. I do not know the difference between flashback and what I call intrusive memory. Perhaps they are the same. I see flashbacks as being as how they are portrayed in the movies, as a sort of film playing in front of your eyes, obscuring and playing over reality. 

My unpleasant memories do not do that. They play in the background, like when you have a busy household and the TV is on. It is there, I can’t help but see it once in a while, but mostly I am doing something else. Some of the memories will manifest as just brief pictures of benign stretches of sidewalk, staircases, or trees in the neighborhood where I used to live. Knowing where they are makes them less benign, of course, but the images themselves are not negatively associated with an event. More with a place and a span of years. 

Sometimes, the memories affect my reactions to people. If a man is questioning me, I am treading water. Trying to stay in place, not give too much information, so as not to get a negative reaction to my answers. I won’t actively remember or see the incidents that have conditioned this response in me, but I will remember the feeling I had during them. I don’t know how I appear to others during these times. I instinctively try to look occupied, pleasant, apathetic, all at once. It unsettles me for a while. I always regret how I react, later. I want my reactions to be genuine. Not conditioned responses from abuse. These men are not going to hurt me. Somehow I don’t really believe that. 

Desensitization is supposed to change things like this in me. I cannot imagine. I wish for the magic of EMDR, I wish for time to fade it away, I wish for anything but what I am supposed to do. I don’t want to remember. And the part about that, that part that bothers me most of all, is that the abuse I suffered was not horrific at all. I know so many women with stories so much worse than mine. Women with fractures and scars, chronic conditions from awful injuries. I was very lucky. Why do I have to be affected enough, still, that I require any treatment at all? Why am I not strong enough to be well, now that I am away? Why not my son, too? Why must he have PTSD? We are safe, why is that not enough?

It is very obvious how reluctant I am, to have to actively remember. 

Triggers and PTSD

The doctor told me that the triggers that cause emotional upheaval or physiological distress in patients with PTSD occur because there are memories imbued with high emotional significance stuck in the amygdala. These memories should be processed and put into storage, or long term memory, but they are stuck there because of the emotion associated with them. So when you hit a trigger, or something you associate with that memory, your brain often decides this memory is a current event, due to it’s incorrect location, and dumps all the stress chemicals available to it into your brain/bloodstream. More on those chemicals after this paragraph. So the memory remains fresh, due to it’s location, due to it’s emotional content, which means you avoid thinking about it, and due to the fact that you are avoiding the triggers for it. For if you allowed many triggers into your day, this memory would cease to be associated with them and your brain would not panic at them any longer. The triggers lose importance upon occurring frequently with no ill effects. Rustling grass does not produce a tiger? Brain stops paying attention to rustling grass. Same concept. This is where the desensitization is required in treatment.

That is 120 chemicals, including the cortisol and adrenaline. This is also what happens during panic attacks, this chemical dump. It takes a half hour to burn through these chemicals, which is why my panic attacks always predictably ended. Contrary to how they feel, they will not cause a heart attack, either.

One issue with panic attacks is that they are so unpleasant, that if you feel a little bit like you might have one, you dread one so much that you do panic, and it does end up an attack. So it is a vicious cycle. Luckily, there are time constraints on the frequency as well as the duration. You cannot have more than one in eight hours, if I remember correctly.

If anyone spots an inaccuracy in this information, please comment. This is strictly from memory sans notes, and I am ordering a book on it so that I can get it straight. I will correct any mistakes in factual detail when I have gone through the book.

I am doing this piece by piece, as time allows.

Treating PTSD

I spent an hour listening to a psychologist specializing in PTSD give me the background on evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, brain chemistry, and memory yesterday.

The most effective treatment (he is rusty on his EMDR) for PTSD, he tells me, is desensitization. He comments to me “I have met with you twice, and I have no idea what happened to you. This is why people with PTSD never get better. They avoid their memories and their triggers, and their brain never processes through those memories to move them into storage. You could have a cardboard cutout as a therapist, and if you told it your memories over and over, you would think it was the best therapist in the world, because you would become cured.”

I have four more sessions with him. I have been meaning to post more of what he taught me. It was so much, really, in that hour, that I still have not sorted it out myself. Next time I am bringing a notebook.

Faceless, Voiceless, Words On Screen WARNING TRIGGER ALERT

I, a survivor of domestic violence, have no advocacy or crisis training. Many women do, after experiencing such emergencies in their own lives, give back to their communities after undergoing such training. 

I aspire to this. I have not been able to make the time. I am still reaching out. 

I have done many things, to refer women to professionals or to help the local DV shelter. But the most important thing I do is a secret thing, between myself and one other. I have a secret friend.

She has a secret phone. I have the number. We text. Her abusive husband, who has crushed her spirit for decades, must never know she has this secret communication. I am one of three in possession of this secret number.

Sometimes it is agonizing. The two times her phone rang me, with no discernible noise on the other end, I was certain she was caught. I could not be calm until I heard from her again. When she admitted her husband probably had molested one of their children, I did panic. I called the doctor who had given me her phone number. I got a text, a minute later, telling me this had already been reported. 

Her husband, from her hurried confessions, seems to be a sadistic man. He uses religion, criticism, gaslighting, threats, violence, and the children to keep her caged. He has raped, molested, violated, beat, and threatened whoever he wanted, when he knew he could not get caught for it. The sort of man who keeps a smiling face turned to the community, and then pours the sand from his shoes out on the floor, after he shuts the door upon arriving home. Just to mark his territory. Just to prove he is king, of all in the house. 

I have never seen her, nor heard her voice. The doctor gave me her phone number, and her first name, and no more, only telling me I should text her, never call. What is done to her is done behind closed doors. It is all her word against his. That is what it boils down to, in the courts. She asks me, “What if the people he has harmed, who told me they would testify, do not?” What can I say to that? How can she protect her children from him, without being there? How can she leave? The unknowns are the most frightening, your mind fills the unknown with the worst that could happen. 

She has been brainwashed into believing that she is a failure, not good enough, barely tolerable. She has been gaslighted into such a state that she doubts her own sanity.  

Tonight she told me I provide her with a sense of calm, a comfort. I hope so. That is all I want to be, for her.