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Monday, June 2, 2014

PTSD Awareness month; days 1 & 2

Just posted this on Patience H C Mason, my author page and Recovering From the War, my book page:
Since I just found out that June is PTSD Awareness Month, I think I will try to publish something each day here and on my Recovering from the War page. Don't ask me why I have two pages on Recovering. It seemed like a good Idea at the time.
I find the professional literature on PTSD lacks insight into human nature.
When I was writing this book, I kept asking myself why would a person have this reaction? What is its purpose?
To my way of thinking, the symptoms of PTSD arise out of survival skills built into all our brains: not into the thinking, speaking parts, but in the more primitive parts which react before thought.
PTSD symptoms are grouped in clusters, but the order of the clusters in the official diagnostic criteria make them look random and weird.
My order is arousal first, then rapid adaptation and avoidance, and then re-experiencing, which can't happen till AFTER, after all...
When someone attacks, your body reacts instantly, shutting down or fighting back or running (freeze, fight or flee). It's instinctive. We don't have conscious access to this ability. Sometimes a highly trained soldier will find himself unable to get up and attack because this part of him knows he won't survive. It is not cowardice.
The most common response is to flee. That is why soldiers have to be trained to fight.
So I start with the brain's built in ability to pay attention to threats. Wave your hand in front of a snake or bat at a kitten to see this in action.
We, too, react that fast. There is no thought involved. People who don't understand danger call this an "exaggerated startle response," instead of an "effective startle response," which kept you alive.
Threat creates an emotional response. Emotions are designed to keep you alive. Threat creates anger. Irritability and outbursts of anger are a pretty natural response to people trying to kill you, or otherwise traumatize you. More tomorrow.

So I got as far as "irritability and outbursts of anger" yesterday, a part of the cluster of symptoms which arise out of the brain's natural ability to pay attention to threats, to act instantly in reaction, and then to become constantly wary, checking for more threats. Normal brains do this, become hypervigilant, especially if the threats are constant, or intermittent and prolonged, both of which are a good description of many war experiences (and violent families). Anger can keep you alive and help you endure the privations of war or other traumatic events. "Inability to fall or stay asleep," is the next symptom in this section of the diagnostic criteria. This will also make you irritable as well as being the most effective form of torture, too. People do not sleep soundly in wars. It can prove fatal. The last symptom in this category is the "inability to concentrate," which is another misstatement. The veteran is not concentrating on normal everyday stuff. He or she is concentrating on who has a weapon, how will I get out of this room, is that an IED on the road ahead, etc. Concentrating on survival leaves very little room for listening to your spouse or a new therapist or some clerk at the VA.
When you look at these symptoms the way I do, you see them as an effective set of responses to war and other traumas. They are not weird or weak or abnormal. As a matter of fact I see PTSD as a solution to the problem of war. You lived! Tomorrow numbing and avoidance.
By the way, if you have friended me on facebook as Patience H. C, Mason, you can also follow me on my book page (Recovering From the War) and my author page Patience H C Mason (no periods after the initials.
I am cross posting all of this.

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