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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Numbing and avoidance, day 3 of National PTSD Awareness Month

Before I start on the cluster of numbing and avoidance symptoms I want to make it clear that I think each PTSD symptom starts out as a useful effective survival skill. They keep you alive. They also can become your biggest problems, but they start out as lifesavers.
Under numbing and avoidance there are 7 symptoms. They are based in the brain's built in capacity to rapidly adapt to whatever is going on and on its built in need to be in control.
So, in my opinion, the first one, not having all your emotions, comes from a combination of attention to threat (so feelings fall away because they can actually interfere with survival), the need to be in control (no distractions), and the brain's ability to rapidly adapt to what is going on so you can survive. You may puke at the first kill you see or do, but it will become just another everyday occurrence quickly. It helps you do your job and survive, and it also protects you from a depth of pain most people never have to face. After all, we are all brought up to think we have to get over things and move on, preferably rapidly. This has no relation to the actuality of mourning friends and other losses, but it is a common idea. Being numb helps when there is no space or time for mourning and it helps later when people say, "Aren't you over that yet?" It is practically illegal to be sad in America.
The next symptom in this cluster is "feeling detached and estranged." This is REALITY. You are different and other people can't understand. I realized this when I was writing Recovering from the War and thought I was beginning to understand and then Bob and I went to Platoon. After, I was saying how awful one of the scenes was and Bob looked at me oddly and said, "It's worse when it's real." Holy shit, I thought! I can't understand because I am simply hearing about it, seeing it on the screen, reading. I can't smell it. No one is shooting at me. I'm not there!
This was an epiphany for me, and I share it whenever I speak on PTSD. Do not say you understand, because you can't. Say you want to understand.
Anyhow, feeling detached and estranged form others is appropriate. For one thing your locus coroleus has changed and become hyper-responsive to danger and stress, which inevitably ties back into the hypervigilant symptoms I talked about in the first posts.
This is also an effective survival strategy after the war is over because people say such shitty things to veterans: Arent you over it? How many people did you kill? Or even, like happened to one of my WWII vet friends who hadn't eaten at a table for a year: where are your manners? Being detached and estranged in these circumstances is protective.
I will talk about a sense of a foreshortened future tomorrow.
This will be cross posted at the usual places, My book page on FB, my author page, my personal page and here at blogspot

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