PTSD

PTSD is about More Than Traumatic Experiences

Guest Post

Robin Klammer is a writer and mom living in a tiny town in Northern Ontario, Canada. While the nature is beautiful, there’s not a whole lot for a big city girl to do in the woods, other than swat the bugs away. 

Robin currently has a book a of poetry and prose titled Words to Light My Way Home depicting her struggles through anxiety and depression. She also hopes to write more books in the future including a memoir and a humorous collection of her favorite pieces. 

Her dark sense of humor has helped her and a growing audience see a different perspective as she paints her story in a new light.


PTSD and ACE

The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk will compel you to think of PTSD in a whole new light. When I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read a sample and get an idea of the author’s writing style. Needless to say, I was hooked and ordered the e-book. I’ve been reading it every chance I get. Not only is it packed with helpful information, it gets down to the nitty gritty of why one person reacts in rage, while another becomes almost catatonic. 

It depends on the severity of the trauma, whether it was ongoing from childhood, or more tragically, infancy. This is also known as Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Since language is learned later on, we may not have the verbal skills to describe what we feel at a very young age. This is where body memories come into play, and it has a profound effect when you don’t understand what is happening.

My Early Years

Pixabay

At the age of about four or so, I have a few distinct memories; one of which was quite unsettling. I remember waiting for my mother to pick me up, and I was afraid to disappear from the window in case she forgot what house I was in. A young child’s logic, to be sure. I’d like to say this was an isolated incident, but it would happen again every so often, approximately every two or three years.

In the present, I feel quite anxious or agitated at times, wondering if tragedy will befall a loved one when they go out for groceries or what have you. I imagine all kinds of scenarios and find myself upset about something rather simple, which hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t feel simple at all. This is but one example.

Terror

Pixabay

Throughout my childhood, I learned to read people’s body language quite early and I could sense if they were good or bad. I was right more often than not. There was one man who, upon meeting him for the first time, made my heart race and sink (if this possible), and my stomach churned with dread. I knew there was something very wrong with him. And, I would be proven correct, much to my horror.

For a couple short months, though it felt like a lifetime, I was terrorized by this man, who also preyed upon my mother because he likely knew with absolute certainty he could control her. At the time, I was ten years old and had been through a lot already, but it was nothing compared to what would happen next.

The worst part was I could never predict what he would say or do or how he would react. He kept me on guard at all times and would come into whatever room I was in and throw water in my face for the sheer hell of it. If I asked what I did, he would answer with a smug look on his face, and say, “You know what you did!”  If I tried to defend myself by saying I didn’t do anything wrong, I might get a cold shower to “cool me off”.

The Balcony and the Knife

Unsplash, cropped by author

What this inevitably taught me was to always be hypervigilant and second guess myself. This did nothing to help me of course, and I still feel like I’m on constant duty, which is exhausting. I’m prone to muscle tension which leads to frequent headaches and sometimes migraines.

Often, silence was both a blessing and a curse. I lived in terror, wondering what would happen next. One of the worst nights was when he came back with Mr. Submarine sandwiches. I was quite hungry, so I was thrilled to have this food. But shortly after eating, something didn’t feel quite right.

Soon, he started destroying items around the apartment and throwing stuff off the balcony. I was worried someone would get hurt below. I was also scared he might try to throw me off the balcony. 

This might seem dramatic, but by that time, his 16-year-old son, who was also living with us, had tried to take me onto the balcony. To this day, I’m very uneasy at high altitudes. I try my best to remain present, but my mind is back at the hellhole when I was a child at their mercy.

This night was different though. He decided it would be fun to throw a knife at the wall, and he was rendered gleeful by my fear. He started to cut his hand and wipe the blood on the wall and even draw with it. I was terrified. 

I sometimes wonder how I managed to get through that horrific time of my young life. Only my blind faith in a higher power helped get me through.

Lascivious Intentions

Pixabay

There was much I was afraid of, but I knew he had lascivious intentions. It was quite obvious in his eyes. I was often scared he would try something with me, and I had no idea how far he’d go, since he seemed capable of such vile acts. It didn’t happen then, but a few years later when his daughter and I became friends, he would try to get me into bed when I stayed over. I realize now it wasn’t the best choice to even go to his place, but I was lonely, and his daughter was basically my only friend at the time, and he knew it. 

Many years later, after he died, I still had nightmares about him until something shifted. I’m not quite sure what it was, but when I dreamt about him, I would start yelling and swearing at him. I even threw water at him, and he seemed to shrink. That was probably one of the best dreams I’ve ever had. I was taking my power back, and he was nothing but a coward.

Symptoms

There are so many symptoms of PTSD, and the triggers are as unique as the people. Everyone responds differently to traumatic experiences, but there are common symptoms and effects:

  • Extreme vigilance/awareness of people and surroundings
  • Easily startled by noises
  • Insomnia, inability to sleep soundly
  • Nightmares/flashbacks
  • Spacing/zoning out, unable to stay present in the here and now.
  • Prone to rage
  • Substance abuse
  • And more…

The Brain

Image of MRI, Pixabay

What I found interesting were the studies noted in The Body Keeps The Score. MRIs showed the left side of the brain, mainly responsible for logic, language, time and space, were largely inactive. This explains why people may not be able to speak when experiencing a flashback. It’s as real as when it happened to them, and they’re not able to see it’s not reality because they experience every feeling and sensation as if it were happening in real time, regardless if it were years ago. 

I’m about halfway through this book, but I feel like I’ve learned so much already. I know, without a doubt, I’ll have new knowledge with which to incorporate into my healing process; and I know there is much more to learn as I pore through this invaluable book. 


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