June is PTSD awareness month, hold the "D"

"June is PTSD awareness month, a time to remind ourselves that PTSD is real.  It is a recognized medical condition and millions are affected.  Ten percent of women and five percent of men will have PTSD at some point in their lives."

Aaaannnnd this is June.  Pretty much closing in on the end of June...

I've been meaning to write about PTSD awareness month since I received the above reminder on June 1 from a PTSD and C-PTSD support group I'm in, and…  haven't made a peep.  I suppose I could blame moving, or my taxes, or myriad other things, but…  The truth is, I just don't like writing about stuff when I'm knee-deep in the muck of it.  I'd much prefer to be able to say "hey look, I got to the other side of of it, and you can too!"

But I'm not at the other side.  And if I'm going to be totally honest, I'm kind of fed up with myself for not being totally "over it" by now.  Which I know is unrealistic and nasty of myself to put on myself, but let's face it, being nasty to yourself is just sooooo easy!  So it's been an exercise in frustration and avoidance this month, trying to figure out how to be inspiring, uplifting, and come up with something to say about the topic other than "it sucks and I'm sick of it."

It does get better, I can tell you that.  Just not at the pace or to the degree I'd prefer.  And after the last year and a half, I'm realizing that once I beat this round of it, I'm not going to be able to rest easy and pretend it's never going to happen again -- the next bad thing that happens that reminds me of the previous bad things will probably set me off again.  Only then, at least, I'll have had lots of practise using the new tools I've been learning from my trauma therapist.  (And, if my campaign is successful, a therapy dog!)  But that old "the years before five last the rest of their lives" campaign seems to have a mountain of truth to it -- and while science is discovering tons of new ways to manage and re-wire traumatized brains, it's also showing that the trauma's initial re-wiring (especially if the trauma happened in childhood and/or was chronic -- yay, I have both!) causes some massive changes to the brain, many of them permanent.

There ya go, your Debbie Downer moment.  THIS IS WHY I SHOULDN'T BE WRITING INSPIRATIONAL SHIT RIGHT NOW.  But hey, as The Bloggess always says, depression lies.  So you probably shouldn't listen to me anyhow, because depression is one of the most common symptoms of trauma (there, at least I was educational, if not inspirational…).

So I'm going to ask you to listen to someone else instead.  Or, at least, listen to me tell you about something someone else said that meant a great deal to me and I think is important.

Last month-ish, I went to a conference on trauma and addiction.  (No not as an example.  ;) )  There were many workshops dedicated to music therapy and the arts as tools for healing trauma, which I was hoping would give me inspiration and information to help with the Katie Project.  Bonus prize was that I got to learn more about myself and my wacky brain in the process.

Now, when I first was told I had C-PTSD, it was one of those "aha!" moments, where everything that had never made any sense suddenly made sense.  There was a reason why I do and think and feel some of the things and ways I do and think and feel, and it wasn't because I was stark raving mad (OK, some of the things I do and think and feel ARE because I'm a little nuts, but not all :) )  The weird memory blackouts, the barfy-feeling when I encounter certain smells or sights or sounds, my over-active startle reflex, the hyper-vigilance, the moments of overwhelm, the anxiety attacks, fear of being in public, being an emotional sponge, the insomnia… all those and more finally had an explanation.  I wasn't alone, these were all classic symptoms -- normal reactions to an abnormal situation.  Having a name for it, an explanation, was tremendously comforting.  Being understood is an amazing feeling, especially if you've never had that before.

So back to the conference, where I was surrounded by people who understood, and who were helping me to better understand the strange goings-on of my brain, and information-junkie me was just soaking it all in.  When, WHAMMO!  The day 2 breakfast speeches (yes, I was at the breakfast speeches) gave me another "aha!" moment that rocked my world and gave me a new perspective on PTSD and C-PTSD.  One that has inspired me to drop the "D" from now on.

James Buffin, a film-maker who has survived his own share of trauma and has used film and photography in his own healing journey and now to help with others, delivered the "aha!" moment as he appealed to all the therapists in the room (and the conference was mostly for therapists) to drop the "D".  (In case you've been living under a rock, PTSD is short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)  He said -- and I am paraphrasing -- that if a woman walked into the emergency ward with a broken arm or black eye, nobody would say she had "Broken Arm Disorder" or "Black Eye Disorder", they would say she had a broken arm or black eye, and that she'd been injured.  Why then, should we be labelled as having a "disorder" when we have similarly been injured?  "Disorder" implies there's something wrong with US, somehow, rather than recognizing that someone or something else has injured us.  My brain didn't get re-wired because of something inherently wrong within me, it got re-wired because something (or many things) inherently wrong HAPPENED to me.

There are so many people suffering from the effects of PTS injury and C-PTS injury, and there is an inordinate number of those suffering who WILL NOT GET THE HELP THEY NEED because of stigma, because they're afraid this represents a character or personality flaw in themselves, that they aren't strong enough, etc.  Referring to our injuries AS INJURIES erases the shame and stigma attached to "disorder", and can help reach across that chasm and lead people to the medical and psychiatric attention they need, and help them live fuller, happier lives.  OR JUST LIVE (suicide being one of the most evil symptoms of post-traumatic stress).

So let's drop the "D", shall we?  We have brain injuries, inflicted on us through traumatic events or situations.  As with physical injuries, there are varying rates of recovery -- after a certain amount of time, you'll no longer see a cut on someone's arm; a broken arm will heal fully although in some will still be fragile depending on the type of break; a lost arm won't come back, but you can learn ways of working around that.  It's the same for brain injuries: some are easier to heal from than others (and brains are pretty elastic and amazing!), some will never disappear but you learn to work around them.  And while these injuries are a part of our lives, they are not about who we are, but what happened to us.

My name is Alyssa.  I have a Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Injury.  I've survived a lot of shit, got the scars to prove it.  They're part of who I am, but they don't define me.  I also like cookies.  :)

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