8 July 2020·

Trauma and PTSD

Regarding trauma and PTSD…. professionals will often quote figures ranging from 8-20% of the western population living with significant trauma/PTSD… (causes may range from assault/abuse/molestation/combat/accidents/difficult births/medical procedures/perceived life threatening situations/etc…)

One could infer from that, that we live in a traumatised society!?

The other day, I popped down to see a dear friend who has been battling with significant and complex PTSD for many, many years – coupled with my own struggles at the moment I felt inspired to say something aboot it.

A lot of people struggle to relate to those suffering with PTSD (in my experience), a sufferer might seem to be lazy/lacking motivation/lacking discipline/wallowing in self pity/a fucking mess or whatever…

A metaphor I’m finding useful, is to imagine a PTSD sufferer as a thermometer. The daily battle that this thermometer (person) faces, is in not letting the temperature rise too high. If it does, significant dis-regulation (of the nervous system) occurs, “hyper arousal” (not the kinky type) and significant risk can occur as a tipping point is reached.

Once that point is reached, a downward spiral which may include, hyper vigilance, manic depression, suicidal urges, emotional/violent out-bursts, flashbacks etc… (which yes is worse than the more standard night terrors, flashbacks, helplessness, unwelcome bodily phenomena or whateva – is experienced in a more regulated state)

What may occur as weakness or bone’idle’ness…. is (in my eyes) the sufferer doing what they must (not), to keep that thermometer at a low and manageable level (seeking to avoid dis-regulation)… simple tasks such as making ones bed, cleaning the kitchen, going to the gym – things that would seem to be beneficial to the uninitiated observer – actually just act to rise the temperature of that thermometer… and move the person closer and closer to (potentially dangerous) dis-regulation (of the nervous system).

Now PTSD sufferers are not all ways in a super vulnerable state, sometimes it cycles, relative stability and relative vulnerability. A prolonged period of vulnerability can be triggered by life events, associated memories, or simply the repressed experience seeking release and integration.

There is a profound wisdom of the the PTSD sufferer who may appear to be being sat on their arse all day, or even depressing/distracting their (nervous) system through self medication of alcohol, tobacco, drugs or whatever..

The repressed/not fully processed experiences, that are circulating and keeping the system (often on a unconscious level) in a permanent state of fight/flight/freeze/remembrance are simply too big for an individual to process and heal from on their own. Good tribe/community/support is essential, as is integrative therapeutic processes (in my opinion a combination of conventional and body based modalities), as well as practical support and covering of base Maslovian needs (shelter/food/finances/safe relationships) thus creating a sense of external safety (as the internal reality for the poor buggers is anything but safe).

In a chat with someone very close to my heart today, they voiced their desire to help, but also named “not feeling qualified to do anything more than to listen and to believe” (they did not feel qualified to offer therapeutic support) “perfect” I cried, “that is all I could ask of you!” “The therapy can be left to the professionals!

A massive aspect of trauma/PTSD, is both to compare your suffering to others, and thus nullify your own, as well as finding it all to easy to disbelieve yourself/your experience/its validity…. The act of listening AND believing (as much as you are possible as a supportive figure) as well as helping them make their bed/fill in the forms/practical stuff that is simply too overwhelming on a day to day basis.. is of worth beyond expression.

I am in an incredibly fortunate position with a loving and supportive partner, friends, family, services and so on – kicking into momentum in support of me. One thing that stands out profoundly, is that if I had less of that in my life, I would of easily ended up on the streets on multiple occasions over the years, using whatever is available to dull the angst of that which is unprocessed and repressed, which I carry! (I hasten to add I’ve been proactively working on this shit for a decade, it’s still a handful – although the light does seem visible at the end of the tunnel)

Even in professional and well intentioned services, many people don’t REALLY understand what it is like when the PTSD is highly activated… recently a lovely and well intentioned person offered “well it’s good to hold onto some level of routine ISN’T IT”… “well no” I replied “every day is taken hour by hour, and trying to stay fit/active or whatever… simply adds temperature to my thermometer and risks ultimately leading to dis-regulation” (or words to that affect)

So top tips! IF you know someone who is suffering with PTSD, consider them a thermometer… if their bed isn’t made, offer to make the bed! Listen and empathise. Do not to call them lazy or bone idle or whatever from your position of not understanding…