Monday, August 11, 2014

Post-Traumatic Allergies and Landmines

I've been pondering a blog post on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for almost a year. I am finally writing it.

When people hear PTSD mentioned, it is usually referencing war experiences, rape, terrorism, natural disasters, and significant violence episodes. Those are the angles talked on and researched and beginning to reach the public consciousness. I don't need to reinvent that wheel here.

What I do want to do here is clear up some misconceptions I have seen and parallel some examples I have recognized in various stories.
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First off, some metaphors of how I could possibly have PTSD if I don't fall into the above scenarios.

Consider the phrase, "The straw the broke the camel's back."

There were times when I'd be upset, hurt, distressed over the latest incident, I'd often be rebuffed with, 'What's your problem? My family does stuff like that. It doesn't mean anything.' The event certainly didn't merit my over-reaction, from their point-of-view. It was a simple, measly straw. Nothing to get excited about. Unless you were the camel and the straws were only ever piled on and never relieved by also 'normal' things like love and appreciation and gratitude and help. When you are carrying thousands of straws, every straw adds to the barely bearable weight.

"Chinese" water-torture is also an apt parallel. A single drop of water falling on the forehead of a restrained individual doesn't sound like much, but the repetition, the inevitability, the sensitivity of the location landed, the inability to escape it are all elements of control, manipulation, and breaking a person down.

I didn't have to be beaten or raped. In fact, such actions would have propelled me to denounce the abuser because I would have known his actions were wrong. But mental abuse, emotional abuse, they leave no visible evidence. Only one experienced with the scars would recognize the cognitive/behavioral evidence in the non-psychotic victims. Could one have seen my spirit/soul, however, the image might just make one realize just how devastating such life-long abuse really is.
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It is an automatic allergic reaction. Allergies are due to 'inappropriate' responses by the body to substances the body should be able to tolerate without adverse reaction. There are allergies of various levels and various causes - sometimes superficial responses, sometimes life (psyche) threatening anaphylactic responses.

It can come from the environment (situations, sounds, sights). It can come from ingested foods (philosophies and ideologies). It can come from safe locations (accidental triggers) or from malicious sources (people who refuse to accept your reality and seek to force/prove otherwise). It can come from sources that previously had never been a problem. Maybe it starts as hay-fever where sneezes short out your attention in a rush or it gets harder to see clearly because sight is obscured or perhaps it is a rash that won't stop itching and makes you jumpy. Or perhaps you are placed in the environment/situation that directly provides the dangerous trigger and it's all you can do to get to safety where you can breathe again.

There are certain things that can help allergies. Ways to try to deprogram the traps and neutralize the mines. Some think it's an easy, perfect remedy. Whether out of good-will or simple impatience, they have trouble comprehending that what took a life-time and specific circumstances to create requires the same to un-create.

Some people imagine that, so long as the events are no longer occurring, there is no cause for current problems because of past events. Just 'move on, already'. Wow. Such thinking betrays a solid lack of understanding of the concept of actions and consequences. It's like condemning a person with an old, 'healed' injury - war wound or sports injury - because the changing pressure systems of incoming weather makes the injury hurt again. It's like saying that because wars are in the past, that any landmines left over should automatically deactivate through wishful thinking.

I knew a guy who showed me a trick he liked to pull on family members and thought to rig the church computers in the same manner. It seems there is some location where basic computer commands can be re-written to effect entirely different results. Some use this to make convenient short-cuts. He used it to tell the computer that whenever someone tried to use the internet, the whole computer would shut down. Having spent many years in written-paper heavy college courses, my dismay was automatic, and apparently unexpected to him. I've lost papers because the computer froze on me when I'd forgotten to save. The thought of doing a quick fact-check online while working on a paper and having that mean I lost all that work because some punk kid thought it would be a funny prank was not funny at all. When I presented that little scenario, he quickly restored the original settings.

PTSD is similar. It is landmines and control traps. It is a form of brain-washing. Pavlov training the dog to stimulus. It is an allergic response. And when the PTSD is from years of repeated and varied abuse, you can't just deprogram for a single function.
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I've seen that people often consider the dementors in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to be reflections of depression because they suck the happiness out of people. With my background, I see them as reflections of PTSD because they trap people by making them live their nightmares. The worse the nightmare, the stronger their hold. Harry's worst memories were far more concentrated than the average teen that fears social rejection due to acne. Therefore the dementors affect on him was far stronger than those with more docile lives. I found it appropriately telling that while Harry didn't have a 'happy memory' strong enough to combat them, he found the strength in the hope of what could be ahead of him.

The Avengers has a few spots relative to PTSD. When Tony Stark is talking to Bruce Banner about when he first hulked out, he states his belief that the anger and the hulk protected him from death - that the hulk was something positive rather than a monster. Banner could only see it as the monster that takes over, the one preventing him and others from living safe, normal lives. He tries to control the anger (supposedly by keeping it at a steady steam) to control the 'other guy'. Yet, to my view, the hulk doesn't appear because he 'gets angrier' but because Banner's life is in danger. To me, it looks like a defense mechanism. Sure, the hulk gets angry, but anger is a motivating emotion - it allows one to take actions that they might not otherwise take. In this case - fighting for his life. Once Banner sees that, he is able to accept that it happens and learn how to live with it and even use it to help others.

The other Avengers dual-parallel comes in the form of Hawkeye and Romanov. She had been raised in the spy-world (extrapolated from movie dialogue as I've never been comic-book inclined) and taught from child-hood to live for herself and her missions. Morality had nothing to do with it. At least not until Hawkeye gave her a chance, against orders, to try to fix her moral compass. She saw that event as her one chance at redemption and felt a debt beyond imagining to the man who let her future have a different story.

The Loki comes along spouting the ideal that people shouldn't have minds or wills of their own. It just makes things messy and them unhappy. And he just so happens to have a means to enable such brain-washing, mind-wiping. All of his previous functions are over-written by Loki's demands and desires. Until Romanov manages to return the favor with 'cognitive re-calibration'. But when Hawkeye is finally coming out of it, he tells her she can't understand where his head is - 'Do you have any idea,' he asks, 'what it's like to have your mind ripped out and replaced with something else?' Her response is simple and the best one can be given, 'You know I do.'
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The truth is, most haven't experienced the terror of someone who has so much control over you that you can't even remember events, motives, thoughts contrary to that someone's dictates. "So it is written, so it is done" being able to over-write who you are, why you are, and what you can and 'should' be.

I have met two people that I can think of who have any experience with this. The first was like a breath of air to my suffocating self. Like me, she had distanced herself from the abuser. She was making the best she could out of what had happened and engaging her future with determination, but she also had a deeper wisdom and understanding of the darknesses hiding within people due to her experiences. I'll tell you what, though - she was an amazing teacher, with an energy and enthusiasm that drew everyone's attention and made everyone feel pulled into a grand embrace of charity and affection.

The other made a cursory effort to 'deal' with what happened but preferred denial to recognizing the parts that led to her abusive relationship. While she might be able to relate and support a fellow rape-victim, she has yet to recognize the patterns inherent among all abuse victims and is self-absorbed enough to not notice such behaviors in the first place. Someday, perhaps she will recognize what we have in common. Someday, perhaps she will stop condemning me for refusing to deny the landmines I try to dance the clueless around for continued friendly relations.

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