Bully in my brain

bullyWhen I was first diagnosed with PTSD (and really, even now), I punished myself for having it.  I guess that’s pretty common for people like me. As I journaled through the influx of emotions and hyper-vigilance of those first overwhelming weeks, I wrote and said some pretty nasty things to myself. Stop being such a drama queen! You’re such an attention whore…these things happened YEARS ago! Get over it!” It was pretty ugly, but I was ugly, so it makes sense. I was a bully.  I shamed myself for needing to go to therapy twice a week. I shamed myself needing therapy at all. I shamed myself for being dramatic and sleeping with a knife by my bed and one eye on the door. I shamed myself for how I felt when I was faced with a trigger. I shamed myself for even having triggers. I shamed myself for my nightmares.  I shamed myself for not being a good enough wife. I shamed myself for spending so much time writing in my journal.  Yeah, I shamed myself for just about everything. That’s PTSD for you. It’s a self-centered bitch that likes to be in charge. Oh, you’re planning on spending time snuggling your husband on the couch tonight? I don’t THINK so! You’re going to have tachycardia and nausea instead, loser!”  My life was like a giant puzzle tossed in the air…pieces flying everywhere and nothing seemed to connect. I couldn’t put any of it together to see the bigger picture, or even a fragment of the picture. Pieces would fly right in front of me, and slip away before I could make any sense of them. Even a four year old can put together a puzzle. What the hell was wrong with me?

Somehow, I managed to keep it together enough to continue raising my kids and keep my business running. It took every ounce of energy and concentration I had, because what I really wanted to be doing was lying under my blanket in my locked bedroom. I spent most of this year like this: kids, therapy, journal, work, bed…kids, therapy, journal, work, bed.  Unfortunately for my husband, there was no room for him. Journaling was a tool my therapist gave me. She gives me the tools, and I have to figure out how to use them to fix my problems. At least, that’s the plan. Anyway, I just so happened to have signed up for a four week course to become a Certified Alzheimer’s Case Manager, right around the time all this PTSD shit hit the fan. “Great”, I thought. “I have to learn about dementia right now?!” She started the lecture by discussing the brain, specifically the limbic system. I dreaded where this was going, but once we started,  I actually found it to be a welcome distraction from my flashbacks and paranoia. But here’s where it gets exciting… I actually learned about something that was directly related to what I was going through…the amygdala.

In a nutshell, the amygdala ( pronounced “ah-MIG-dah-la”) is a section of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses, including detecting fear and preparing for emergency events. Any physical or psychological threat activates the amygdala. When this happens, the pre frontal cortex part of the brain activates. It assesses the situation and decides whether the threat is real and what to do about it, then shuts down the amygdala. Like when someone startles you…your amygdala reacts with fear, and the pre frontal cortex realizes it’s someone you know and shuts down that fear response. Pretty simple, right?  However, chemical and biological imbalances can present after trauma, resulting in an over-stimulated amygdala. So, instead of the quick “fight, flight or freeze” then relaxation, sufferers often find themselves without the relaxation part of that process. Basically, the amygdala holds on to that trauma…and won’t let go.

“Ahhh…so THAT’S why I feel this way”. It made sense. It was like I put at least 6 pieces of the corner section of my puzzle together. Validation! “So, I’m NOT a drama queen, after all…it’s just my amygdala”. I felt the heavy weight I’d been carrying around just lift from me. I felt…good.  I sort of skipped out there, humming U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” and replaced the word “beautiful” with “amygdala”. “It’s an amygdala dayyyyy…..” (yes, I’m that big of a dork). I felt free. Wow…I couldn’t believe an Alzheimer’s class cleared up my PTSD! So easy! Why didn’t my therapist know about this? We could have saved me so much angst…and so many co-pays!  I couldn’t wait to fill her in on the cure I’d just discovered. She was going to be so grateful to me!

Well, that’s kind of funny to read now, isn’t it? Yeah, that euphoria lasted a good 45 minutes or so, before I returned home to my trigger of a husband and learned my next lesson… just because you understand why you have these feelings, doesn’t mean you can control them. So, in perfect traumatized form, I beat myself up for singing that song… for thinking I was better. “You fool. There’s no fixing you. You’re damaged. The whole world doesn’t change just because you took a dumb class, you dumbass. You’re still scared. You’re still needy. You’re still worthless. What’s wrong with you?” God, I  hate that damn bully.

So here I am, 7 months later, still finding I’m beating myself up for my feelings, my needs, my expectations. Only now, since I’ve learned about why I’m such a bully, I’ve found I’m a little less mean. I’m slowly rewiring my brain to allow myself have these feelings and not judge them so harshly.  When I’m feeling sad or insecure, I allow myself to feel sad or insecure (well, sometimes). That in itself takes a boatload of work, but that’s what this journey is: work.  The rewiring work is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve got the right tools. Each therapy visit, each journal entry, each mediation, each yoga class…each one gives me a new tool. Now it’s up to me to remember to use them.

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9 thoughts on “Bully in my brain”

  1. Yes! The amygdala can be a bitch, can’t it? I have a very dear friend who was shot in the head and lived (after she died- and yes, she met God and Jesus, but that’s another story). She lives with brain damage and has taught me buckets about brains and reactions. I can still remember one time when my husband said something that triggered me and I went off on him. He called me on it, and I stood there and told him he had no idea what I put up with when I was growing up with my mother. He said it was no excuse. At the time, I had no idea about the amygdala and trauma wiring, and reactivity

    I gave hypnosis a try about 15 years ago to help me lose weight. A few hypnotherapists later and over a decade later, I met a hypnotherapist who I still work with. The joke was on me because I thought hypnosis would help me with a lifelong eating issue. What it’s been doing is heal all my childhood crap plus a whole lot more. Still working on the weight thing, but making significant progress. When I work with my current gal, I usually see her when I notice an emotional trigger that keeps coming up. A session is like a guided meditation, but deep. I am able to see where the trigger started- what caused it in the first place- and heal it. Many people can do this on their own using meditation, but I suck at meditation. (I’ve also used this gal to help me heal the causes of some physical issues as well, like type 2 diabetes and reflux disease).

    Sounds like you’re on a great path. Keep it up!

    1. My therapist wants to try hypnosis with me to learn to get past my triggers, but I’m just not ready to go there. I know this has been a life long journey, but I didn’t know I was on the journey until this February. It’s just too soon to face that part of it. It’s ok though, because I have accomplished a TON in the past 8 months! I treated therapy like a full time job..I think I filled a good 6-8 journals during this time, so I figured I’d give blogging a try. It’s one thing to spill your soul on pages to your therapist, or tell a few close friends, but it’s a whole other thing to put it out there for everyone. “Hey world, look at my flaws!”

    1. Thank you, Patricia. I think humor is the only way to survive this process. It slightly lightens the heaviness of the content. Debbie Downer is only funny on SNL, not in real life?

      PS. I’m obviously new to blogging and wordpress and all of this, so somehow managed to comment back to you anonymously! That takes talent, right? Anyway, I deleted the fake me and put it back as the real me. Of course, if you didn’t notice the original reply, then none of this makes sense, so ignore me!

    1. Hmmm…not sure how I missed all three of these comments….sorry! Anyway, thank you for the blessings. I wasn’t patient last week, but today I am, so I’m just going to be grateful for today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. I do continue to walk forward, even if it’s 2 steps forward, 1 step back. I’ll still get there:)

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