Today was a therapy day: PTSD and Triggers, Oh, My

Today was a therapy day.

My head hurts.

I don’t want to turn this into a complete PTSD blog, but I always have found blogging therapeutic, even before blogging.  I used to send my friends emails of some of my most stressful days because i could write them funny and my friends enjoyed them and I got stuff out of my system.  Before that, I wrote letters, although mostly, of course, I never mailed them since that would have required the sort of organizational level where one has addresses, stamps, and envelopes all at one’s fingertips or at least has the general idea of the location of all those things which I never did and still do not.

So a couple weeks ago I had homework of making a list of PTSD triggers.  I used an old advertisement and paintshop to create this:



I filled in each of those until I ran out of room.  My therapist loved it so much she wants a copy for her files AND she says she bragged about me to her supervisor who was mainly excited that I did my homework.  Apparently I am the only patient they have had recently who did her homework the first week it was assigned.  Or so they say.  Remember, I’m cynical.  Also bitter, because it took me a long time and was incredibly difficult and stressful and was itself a pretty rough and serrated trigger and now I want to go punch the people who lightly and easily do not do their homework because I am jealous.   And this week I am reading Anger Management for Dummies.

I mentioned I ran out of room. That required a page two:



This one I filled in by writing in a spiral from the outside edge of the circle around and around and around until I got to the center. I used different colored inks mainly because thinking about the colors helped me pretend not to notice the things I was writing and why.

I also filled in a couple things in the small circles, and then used the larger margins to copy some quotes that I had found helpful recently, things that describe my feelings, things from other bloggers with PTSD or other issues.

And now I am the Therapist’s Pet or so she would have me believe.  It occurs to me that it’s a good thing we live here in the boondocks where everybody is a hunter or is closely related to somebody who is or I’d probably be committed for the above graphics.

This last week I was supposed to think about the patchkit type things as I have mentioned before, solutions, things that help.  That list fit on a tiny stick it pad page, not even the regular sized stick it pad, but the little, miniature one that is about 2 inches square, maybe.

This probably means that the triggers outnumber the helpful coping mechanisms by about 10 to 1 but I can’t tell for sure because that would require doing math and math has always been a trigger, probably the earliest and first trigger I ever recognized although I wouldn’t have used the word trigger, I just knew that math freaked me out in a way utterly disproportionate to the actual threat that math posed to my existence, not that you could tell by the way my heart-rate went up, my breathing spazzed out, my tension levels sky-rocketed, my head, oh, my head, and I felt fury, rage, resentment, and rage swirling around me like being dive-bombed by a swarm of no-seeums.

This is what happens when some idiot in the ivory halls of education inflicts new math on kids who have a psychopath for a parent who insists on ‘helping’ with homework.

My troubles over math were so severe that once in the eighth grade a very sweet elderly math teacher who knew how well I did in other subjects asked me if something was wrong at home because she was concerned.  I told her no, nothing at all was the matter, I just hated math.

No, nothing is wrong.  That’s the same thing I told the sixth grade teacher who asked me what was wrong that made me sit in her classroom and stab my fingers like I was a voodoo doll using the pins I had taken with me from sewing class, and it is pretty much the exact same thing I told my tenth grade humanities teacher when he took me out of class to talk privately in the hall and ask me if somebody was hurting me at home.  Actually, him, I think I just laughed and shrugged my shoulders because I wouldn’t say no anymore, but I still couldn’t say yes, either. I didn’t want that responsibility. I did not want to be the one who broke the silence.  That would make whatever happened after that my fault.

So, anyway,  I have always known I have a problem with math and I have known why.

I have another problem with a normal, day to day task that ought to be easy and simple and it was once something I did easily and lightly and even happily.  But now I have panic attacks within 15 minutes or so.  If I stick around for half an hour I am so drenched with sweat, stinking sweat laden with the foul stink of fear in every single drop, sweating to the point that my hair is actually sopping wet and I have to take a shower- and I don’t know why.  I can’t think of any reason for this to be a problem.  It hasn’t always been an issue, and I can’t think of anything particularly traumatic associated with it.

And that is this week’s therapy homework.  Try this every day for just a few minutes, and spend time trying to figure out why it does what it does to me.  I am looking at the week ahead and thinking that I have been asked to try water-boarding myself for fifteen minutes a day and while being waterboarded, I am to contemplate what it is about waterboarding that causes such an extreme physiological reaction.  Except the waterboarding is all in my head.

Lots of things are in my head, because that’s where the brain is, and research is pretty clear that abuse in childhood often leaves a measurable mark on the brain, and terror hijacks the brain.


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  1. Lori in Wheaton
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Not being able to figure out why a particular thing is a trigger reminds me of a book I’m reading, “Surviving Survival” by Gonzales. He examines people who have survived all kinds of crazy, life-threatening things, and figured out how they learned to “live a normal life” again afterward. All of them had crazy triggers, like sunny, quiet fall afternoons, blue shirts, things like that. He actually explains the physiology behind all that. I believe it’s Chapter 2. I wouldn’t suggest making yourself read the book, as it will likely be horrifying and trigger-setting-off… unless you can take that sort of thing. But that chapter is valuable for that piece of information.

  2. abba12
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry therapy is so hard for you at the moment. Every time I’ve prepared to try again with a therapist I’ve had to warn my husband to remember it will get worse before it gets better. We have to open things up before we can address them… but damn opening it up is unpleasant, which is why I won’t be trying with a therapist again until my family is ready for me to take a sharp turn south for awhile.

    I hope you can figure out the cause of your trigger, I have a couple of triggers I still can’t figure out. There’s an obvious explanation for one being a trigger, except that said obvious explanation doesn’t apply to me, which leaves me scratching my head. At this point I’ve put them down to a lost memory that is popping up subconsciously.

    You’ll be in my prayers as you waterboard yourself! I remember about 2 years ago hearing a song come up randomly on itunes that had me, literally, screaming and on my knees. I couldn’t remember why, I just knew it was causing me incredible pain and terror. But I had a compulsion to listen to it. So I listened to it every day. To start out with I could only manage 30 seconds, but eventually I got the whole thing, then when I could listen to it with a vague sense of calmness (by which I mean I was sobbing on the floor instead of screaming) I was able to figure out why it was a trigger, and that gave me some power to control it. It’s still a trigger, but my reaction is much less severe these days. I’ll be praying you can take the same sort of control over your triggers too, one by one. Some are easier than others.

    Btw, we can’t buy melatonin here in Australia without a perscription, but I’ve not heard of Valerian root before, so I might just look into that. I’ve done St Johns Wort but I didn’t find much of an effect emotionally myself (I was using it for another purpose) however, I hope it gives you some relief. It definitely has less side effects than it’s prescription counterparts.

  3. C C
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    As an abuse victim, I also had PTSD and have had to travel this type of path. I suspect that some might not realise that some of these things can hurt you as much as the original acts did. You build walls, triple lock and bolt doors and put in the odd drawbridge to protect yourself and it is all totally crushed the minute you get help.
    And as I am relatively free now, I don’t think of myself as either a victim OR a survivor – I also know how much it hurt to go through each stage.
    I offer up the thought that those who did not do their homework will be stuck doing this for so much longer, and share that anger management can be quite fun!
    One serious comment is that I found a course called Freedom in Christ helpful.

  4. celina boulanger
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    (((hugs))) streams of consciousness would be the only way i could vocalize anything at all..
    and sort through it later at a “calmer” time..

    i have issues that pop up…and i get so angry that something as simple and benign as answering the phone or making a phone call to a LOVED one paralyzes me….

    i hope you get through this week…with only a few “scrapes and bruises”

    and it is your blog…blog about whatever the heck you want….people always have a choice to take or leave it…and you know you must be helping someone else by sharing….just like someone mentioned ptsd to you….

  5. Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I showed your pictures to my husband and he said, “Those aren’t triggers. They’re the whole gun. And there’s only *one* trigger on each page.”

    I think his OCD wins over the PTSD . . .

  6. Posted July 15, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Just sending love as you live this week.

  7. Donna
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    So proud of you for facing this and walking through it. You are an amazing woman! I’m praying for you daily. May God comfort you and give you peace in the storm.

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