Life is hard and we have had to endure trauma and pain. Many of us have had too much trauma and it has caused illness in our brains. The brain has different parts to it that are supposed to work in a coordinated way.
When the brain is functioning properly, the chemicals are balanced and the proper signals are sent to our bodies at the proper times. The parts of the brain that are supposed to light up (they light up in an MRI scan) do their job and light up at the proper times and turn off at the proper times.
When we have been through extended periods of time of severe threat and when we have been forced to endure severe trauma to the brain, the normal functioning of the brain becomes altered. Our bodies and our brains are supposed to protect us. The natural mechanisms are set up to keep us safe from being injured both physically and mentally.
Sometimes , in cases of severe situations , when our brains or bodies are under threat , the natural mechanisms for protection overreact or do not know when to shut off. I am going to give a personal example of a physical trauma I experienced in which my own body almost killed me, in its attempt to protect me.
I am doing this in order to compare what happens when the body goes too far trying to protect itself with when the mind goes too far trying to protect itself.
I was pregnant for the second time. My first daughter was about 4 years old. I got through to 5 months of the pregnancy. I had already set up the baby room and hung up the baby clothes and folded the little blankets and played with the little booties. I was very excited and happy to have another baby.
Yeah, here it comes…sorry …Trigger Warning … If you have past trauma (as I do ) from a miscarriage, please don’t keep reading. You already know what it to come because you have been there. No need to read on, you already can make the comparison from the body going too far to protect you and the mind going too far to protect you.
The bleeding started with a few spots. They were bright red, which is not what you want to see at 5 months of pregnancy. Then it got a little worse. I was seen by the ER and the obstetrician at the hospital said the miscarriage was imminent.
I will not describe all of my emotions and all of the situation surrounding why I still have post traumatic stress from this. That is for another post. I am just going to talk about the physical part.
The Dr told me to come back to the ER if the bleeding reached a certain level, which she told me how to know. She said if could just be ok to have the miscarriage at home but I might have to come back to be treated.
Well it did get worse and worse and worse and worse. Very quickly I was hemorrhaging buckets of blood. My husband drove me to the hospital as I I felt the blood pouring out.
The doctor at the ER said that my body was trying to clean itself of an unwanted substance, The brain knew that the pregnancy was compromised and that anything there had to be flushed out. She said she hoped the bleeding would stop on its own, once the body was satisfied that everything was cleaned out.
But it did not stop. It poured and poured and … I lost so much blood that my face turned white and I was light headed. In fact had anemia for 3 months after this and was very very sick, because the doctor waited too long to start calling the OR and setting up the surgery.
So the body was trying to help me but it was killing me quickly. When I had to sign all the paperwork (yeah..they dumped paperwork on top of me on the bed and described all the things that could go wrong with the surgery to terrify me even more)
I asked her what would happen if I did not sign it. It seemed like they were giving me a choice between surgery and no surgery because they were asking me if I would agree to the disclaimers and dangers of the surgery.
She had no bedside manners at all. Some day I will tell you all the rest of this story. There is even more horror that I am describing here but I can’t get into it because it is too traumatizing for me.
She answered my question about what would happen if i did not sign the paperwork. She said “You have lost over a liter of blood. That is over a third of all the blood in your body. You have about 45 minutes at best before your body sends all the rest of your blood out.”
So I signed the paperwork and I am here to tell you the horrifying story.
As my brain and my body were coordinating together to protect my body from a foreign substance or invasion of sorts, it was washing me clean with my own blood. My life was being flushed onto the bed and onto the floor. It is horrible.
Our brains do the very same thing. When we experience a severe trauma to the mind. One that the mind cannot tolerate. One that the mind wants to protect us from, it over does it.
The brain goes on Red Alert. There is a threat. There is danger. It goes into a hyper alert state and turns on the amygdala, which is the fear center in the brain.
It turns the fear center on so hard and for so long that it is not safe for us. The brain is not designed to have the amygdala on super alert, overload for more than a few minutes. When the brain forces those parts of the brain to light up for extended periods of time, we become sick. Just like I was very sick for months after the miscarriage.
I could hardly get our of bed. I had debilitating headaches. I became disabled to work or even help myself around the house for months.
Our brain becomes sick. It was in terror and trauma for way too long. It could not recover and just go back to normal.
Sometimes people go into a catatonic state from trauma. This is another way that the brain tried to protect itself but causes a dangerous situation for itself, in the process.
In the wild, animals go into the fight or flight mode when threatened by a predator. They either fight to the death or they run fast to escape. The amygdala sets all systems of the body into a state ready to fight strong or run fast. This is not a sustainable state for the brain to endure for more than a few minutes. Humans are the same.
Post traumatic stress disorder is invisible to others. They think we are just too emotional and we should have been able to get over it by now. But we are no more able to “just fix” the broken brain and go on with our business as usual than I was able to function after losing almost half of the blood in my body (by the time the Operating Room and the anesthesiologists were ready and the time it took to do the surgery) .
We have a broken brain. The brain tried to protect us but in the process it broke itself. It happens and that is just how it is. We did not do it on purpose and we cannot just make it fix itself right away , anymore than I could pour new blood into my body when I did not have enough blood for 3 months.
It takes years to heal post traumatic stress and for many of us, it lingers more than a few years. I know this was a horrifying post but it does put post traumatic stress into a new perspective in order for people to understand. If you have a loved one that does not understand why you are not “Better” yet, feel free to let them read this.
Sometimes people need an analogy of a physical thing in order to understand a mental thing. Unfortunately I had to choose a horrifying physical thing to compare PTSD to, because it is the only way for someone to see how horrifying PTSD is.
I had nightmares about the experience and I ended up with PTSD from it n top of the physical sickness. I have to say that between the physical sickness and the mental torture of the fear and the nightmares I had for 6 months or more, the mental torture was worse.
I still have post traumatic stress lingering from this experience. As I said before. there were more horrors surrounding the situation that I did not choose to torture you with.
If you have PTSD I hope this post will help you to be able to explain it to someone that you need to understand you.