Imagine you are being chased by a bear, you are running really fast, it is gaining on you, and you can feel it snarling at your heels, your body physically responds to the situation, it increases your heart rate, it floods your system with adrenaline, and it heightens your sense of awareness. You race towards a tree, clambering up it, you escape, and you survive. You are relieved the ordeal is over.
But it is not...
Everyday your brain is exposed to thousands of stimuli, the brain processes that information on a conveyer belt, stamping it with a date and filing it neatly away.
With PTSD the memory of the trauma becomes stuck going round and round on the brain's conveyor belt. Each time it goes round two things happen;
1. The memory feels real and the body physically responds as if it were.
2. The conveyor belt gets jammed and normal everyday processing is slowed.
So what does this mean? Well I can't really answer that, but I can tell you what it feels like for me.
My brain no longer functions in the way that I expect. I can't concentrate, I find decisions difficult and I become angry and frustrated at my constant inability to do even the most simplest tasks, (writing this blog has taken me the best part of two months).
But I guess if that was the only part of PTSD, I could cope. The most debilitating part of this illness is the constant perception that the memory of the bear is real. My bear follows me about, it jumps out at me in supermarkets, it wakes me up every night and it appears when I least expect it. I am constantly under threat and alert to the possibility of attack from my bear, I live in a constant state of readiness.
I'm joking of course, but when I wake at 2am with vivid hallucinations because my brain hasn't been able to process the normal everyday events, and violent nightmares, I am not laughing. During the day there is little respite too, I see flashbacks to my 'bear' incident and a simple smell, touch or glimpse of something can propel the memory to the present day so quickly my body and mind react as if it is happening all over again.
Like most trauma's I employ fight or flight, sometimes I get angry and fight it, at other times I take flight. But how can I escape from a bear that isn't real? I avoid situations where my bear might be, things that may trigger the memory so I don't go out, I hide at home, but my bear always finds me.
Eventually the depression kicks in, the futility of battling with a bear that does not exist, or the sheer exhaustion of constantly being alert brings the black dog into residence. I surrender to the memory, let it consume me and I feel everything so raw, bleak and pitiful.
At other times I just feel numb, detached and out of all the states to be in, I quite like this one, I have no fear, no emotion, I just feel like I am watching my life on a video tape, anything could happen and I just don't care.
This, for me, is what it is like to live with PTSD.
A Moodscope member.
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