When you live with Post Traumatic Distress Disorder situations need to come with a reaction meter.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as the name suggests, is a condition that occurs in response to a Traumatic and Stressful event. Most commonly it’s diagnosed in soldiers returning from a war zone and victims of sexual assault. This makes it an interesting point of study across the two types of events and their physiological similarities.
Because of my experience, I’m familiar with the determination of victims of sexual assault and their capacity to submit to heartbreaking violence in order to survive. However, what many people don’t understand, is that within the flood of chemicals released in order to initiate fight or flight, survival may mean completely ignoring those impulses.
In attempting to draw parallels between sexual assault victims, survivors of random traumatic events and soldiers, I’m drawn to one common factor. The need to resist the body’s chemical response to either fight against, or run away from, danger.
If you’ve ever had a fright, you’ll know that doing nothing while every fibre in your body is buzzing with chemicals designed to help you survive, is a tough call. Consequently, in order to do nothing, you must physiologically “ignore” the circumstances. It seems you must either “normalise” the events or create an emotional distance in order to overcome the chemical assault. (Try not jumping when you get a fright!)
Mr Wonderful thinks I’m extremely tolerant. He thinks that I have an amazing capacity to put up with circumstances that would have others “punching on” in an attempt to assert dominance. But he also knows that it comes at cost.
The cost is, I am also extremely tolerant of events that any “normal” person would consider exciting. Things like a new baby, or a vacation, or a new house are subdued to normal. Sure, I can fake excitement, interest or concern when needed but sadly those “feelings” are usually absent or confused amid an assortment of dread, anxiety and apprehension. After all, emotions are to be endured rather than enjoyed; aren’t they?
So when Wonderful mentioned that he’d listened to veteran soldiers describing themselves as coming home without a personality, I think I finally found a link.
The commonality may in fact lay in the need to ignore the chemical stimuli generated during a traumatic event. Best described as doing what you need to do, rather than what you want to do.
Having worked so hard to normalise and avoid the chemical impulses that drive our “emotional” reactions; because to react “emotionally” is dangerous; our lives become awash with a pervasive and intellectualised nothingness. Then, as you’d expect would happen, when we become incapable of overcoming our feelings, we either explode in a frightening overreaction or dissociate to the point of avoiding reality.
Sadly, it would appear that when our soldiers are sent home to resume life, it’s a life that only exists for those who have continued to live it in their absence.
Like victims of violent and often sex related crimes, it seems a new parallel life needs to be created in order to manage an alternate reality. A reality created within our experience.
If during our traumatic experience, ignoring the chemical stimulation to either fight or flight was the only way to survive, it must be, that loss of emotional control is in some way dangerous. Distressingly, the ongoing conflict seems to create a fear that we may in fact lose emotional control. The consequence of which may be deadly. (Sounds like anxiety to me.)
It seems to me that our fight or flight response to danger may not be our only options. And the alternative means being able, in the face of an overwhelming chemical stimulus to do something, to do nothing. But at what cost?
Today from Mahatma Gandhi: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
If you need help to deal with your symptoms see your doctor. If you need to talk to someone NOW call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Deb Shugg is an awarded business woman, wife & mother, author and a sufferer of depression and anxiety. To contact Deb click here.
(Abuse of another person is NEVER okay. If you are being abused or, if you are an abuser please seek help.)