Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity

Content Warning: Talk of triggers, trauma and abuse.

This week I was triggered, badly. It happened at work, which was kind of embarrassing. I’m always a little embarrassed when it happens, but at least if I’m just with my husband, he knows my history and understands what’s happening and can wait it out with me. At work, I try to put forward my confident, professional self, and the illusion is kind of shattered when you end up curled up on the floor shaking and crying (not an over-exaggeration).

This episode was a particularly bad one too. I have talked about my triggers and trauma responses before.  I had a tactile flashback in March that I shared here. This time it was more emotional than sensational. Even though I knew I wasn’t in any actual danger, I was completely overcome with the absolute terror that I used to live with daily. I don’t know how to properly explain this kind of fear to someone who’s never felt it. Physically, my body shook, I began to sweat, my heartbeat went through the roof, I couldn’t stop crying. Emotionally, I didn’t feel safe. No, it’s more extreme than that. I felt as though someone could burst through the door and end my life in a fit of rage and there was nothing I can do to stop it. This is the reality I lived with for a year; afraid to sleep because he might smother me, afraid to shower because he might drown me, afraid to blink or look away because he was a constant threat on my life, while simultaneously feeling as though I couldn’t live without him.

That was the emotion that I experienced with this trigger, I was petrified. But, because I wasn’t reliving a particular event, I was still mentally present. I was aware that I was at work and that I had been triggered and that I need to find a way to make myself feel safe. I removed myself from the situation and locked myself in the bathroom for while to get over the initial shock. When I felt a little better, I left the bathroom to return to work. My manager met me in the corridor and asked if I was okay, evidentally, I was not. Every time I thought I was okay, another wave crashed down on top of me. I ended up in the staff room, sitting on the floor between a sofa and coffee table, shaking and crying down the phone to my husband. I like small, compact spaces, close to the ground, where I can see the door. I’m sure I looked crazed, but I know what I need to do to look after myself, and I did it. I called my husband because he is grounding for me, he makes me feel safe. Ideally, I’d have him hold me tight until I calmed down, but in this situation talking to him on the phone was the best I could get. It helped a lot though and I returned to work not long after that.

My colleagues were all very kind and supportive, and respectful of my process, asking what I needed from them and then doing as I asked. I was very appreciative of that. Although I am embarrassed that they’ve seen me like that, I am sure they’re not judging me for it, they are good people.

So anyway, the episode took its toll physically and mentally. It is exhausting to feel that kind of intense emotion, even if it’s only briefly (I do have theories that my trauma contributed to my M.E, but more on that another time). As per usual, I began thinking of ways that I could improve myself. In terms of counselling, talking therapies, CBT etc., I think I have done as much as I can. The trauma occurred 6/7 years ago and I feel as though I have processed it as much as I am able. I am conscious and aware when I am triggered, my response is purely physical. It’s kind of like playing a horror game in VR, you know it can’t actually hurt you, you know it’s just a game, but it’s still scary as hell. The trauma lasted for 2 years and I was barely human by the time it was over, so I think it’s fair to assume that my brain was injured by it (MRI testing has proved that PTSD physically changes the structure of the brain). If this is the case, then I need a different kind of treatment that focuses not on my emotional responses, but on helping my brain to process the traumatic memories that it’s holding onto.

EMDR. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The process of reliving your trauma (with a trained professional) while being bilaterally stimulated. This can be done by watching a moving finger, metronome, lights, or anything else. No one is exactly sure why it works, but they’ve been using it in PTSD patients since 1988 and many find it very helpful. The theory goes that during a traumatic event, you brain is incapable of storing memories properly. So when you are triggered by something relating to the trauma memory, your brain gets confused about when it happened and reacts as if it’s happening in the present. By stimulating both sides of the brain while recalling the trauma, you are able to keep one foot in the present moment and one foot in the past, allowing the brain to reorganise itself and file the memories away correctly. A study done in 2020 has shown that this kind of therapy increases connections in parts of the brain involved in multisensory integration, executive control, emotional processing, salience and memory.

I’ve been aware of EMDR for a while but am naturally skeptical of treatments that don’t have scientifically demonstrated, repeatable results. All of the evidence that this works, is anecdotal. But at this point, what do I have to lose? I texted an old counsellor of mine (who said to text any time if I needed help after our formal sessions ended) and asked if she knew someone or somewhere she could refer me to. As it turns out, the faction that she works for (who I have used several times in the past) do use this kind therapy. She said I may have to do some trauma counselling first, I guess to prove that I have PTSD and that I’ve exhausted other treatment options, but I’m okay with that. From my experience they’ve always been quite receptive when I’ve told them “this is what’s wrong with me, this is what I’ve tried, these treatments work, these ones don’t, this is what I’d like from you”. I’m sure it’s easier than trying to figure out how to help those who don’t know what’s wrong with them or what to do about it.

I’m going to call on Friday and see what they can do. I booked the day off work so I could have a ‘health’ day and I reckon this falls into that category. I’m excited, I like to work on my mental health and the idea of being free from flashbacks and nightmares is exilerating. He’s taken enough from me already, time to let it go.

No Offense but…

No Offense but…

Everybody is offended nowadays. And that’s fine, you have a right to feel your feelings. You even have to right to express your feelings to others. But the way that you do that is important.

When I was younger I was impetuous and opinionated. I was judgmental and loved to point out peoples flaws and tell them how to fix themselves. I knew that people hated me for this and I didn’t care because I was “telling it like it is” and “they just can’t handle the truth.”

As I grew up (physically and emotionally), I realised that I did care whether people liked me or not, and I had enough flaws of my own that I should not start throwing rocks. I still had a lot of the same opinions but I started to keep them to myself.

As the world became a more horrendous place, and I became more self-aware, it became increasingly difficult to keep my thoughts inside. So I began to pick and choose my battles. I would speak out against things that directly effected me, and I ignored things that would cause me more hassle than they were worth. A selfish way to live, maybe, but energy efficient. I also changed the way that I expressed myself so I sounded less combative and it was less likely to become an argument. It didn’t always work, but I tried.

And then Covid happened. Fear and anxiety are at an all time high. People are less distracted and worn out by their monotonous jobs. Politics is the topic on everybody’s lips, and things are getting heated. More and more people are publicly and aggressively stating their beliefs and, in doing so, inviting others to publicly and aggressively disagree with them.

I am not exempt from this. With everything that has been going on, ‘bandwagons’ are being created so that people can push their particular agendas, and it is demanded that everybody either jump on the bandwagon or be crushed beneath the wheels. I do my best, where I can, to give a different opinion, another option, an alternative perspective, and more often than not, I am immediately vilified and the rowdy rabble begin sharpening their pitchforks hungrily.

And so we arrive at the crux of my argument. As much as you have the right to be offended, and express your hurt feelings, I have the right to express my opinions. Of course, there will be some occasions where a person is being deliberately offensive, or combative, or discriminatory, and that should definitely be addressed, but even under those circumstances, there is an effective way to do it. Have you ever been told not to lose your temper at a bully, because then they know they’ve won? If you calmly, and logically discuss their opinions, you’ll very quickly be able to tell if they are just trying to irritate you or not. This approach also prevents you from becoming a bully yourself by attacking someone who you assumed was being deliberately offensive, when really they are just confused, or looking to understand, or in some cases, just have a different opinion to you.

And you know, it’s okay for people to have different opinions. There is no unilateral ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. People are shaped by their life experiences, by society, by propaganda, by religion, by culture etc. etc. They will form different opinions based on these things and that is okay. The way we will evolve as a species is by being open to listen to different opinions and try to understand them. Even if you eventually decide that you still disagree, that is okay too.

The best way to avoid being combative or aggressive when expressing opinions, is put things in terms of your own perspective. I.e, In stead of saying “X is good, Y is bad, and anybody who thinks Y is good, is a bad person”, say “I think X is good, I believe Y is bad and I don’t understand those who think otherwise”. Obviously you can use your own vernacular, but using phrases like “I think”, “I believe”, “In my opinion”, “If you ask me”, etc., shows that you understand that not everyone will have the same opinion as you and you accept that. It shows emotional maturity and might even open up an interesting conversation with points of view that you hadn’t considered before.

Some people may still be offended, and this is also okay. You might find that you are still offended by others opinions, especially if they have directly addressed you in their disagreement. If you are a person who is quick to anger, then it is good practice to walk away from your computer or phone for a few minutes to calm down before responding. We have all said things in the heat of the moment that we didn’t mean, and the internet is a ruthless place. Don’t put yourself in that position, it will only make things worse.

Once you have calmed down, reread the comment to make sure you haven’t misread, misunderstood, or misinterpreted. Often people will read between the lines and make assumptions and draw conclusions that were not intended by the original poster. Read the words they are actually saying and take them at face value then, if you still don’t understand, ask for clarification. If you think they have misunderstood what you said, then go ahead and clarify for them. All of this should be done in a calm and clear way, and use the same personal perspective as before. In stead of “You’re wrong”, “You’ve misunderstood”, “You’re talking nonsense” etc., say things like “That doesn’t seem right to me”, “Let me explain differently”, “I don’t understand”. The most important part of all of this is not to force them to change their mind or bully them into submission, but to try and understand their opinion.

Also, there is a time and a place for profanity. When somebody starts overusing swear words (especially when they are specifically directed towards another person), it denotes a lack of emotional intelligence and inability to form rational thought. It destroys any credibility they have and basically nullifies their opinion since they don’t seem to know themselves why they believe it. It usually happens because someone is unable to control their emotions and they feel vulnerable because of that. The only way they can regain control of the situation, is to make you more angry and upset than them. Don’t be one of these people, and don’t waste your energy arguing with them, they have lost their reasoning skills. If they are actually smart people, they will return when they’ve calmed down and talk to you properly.

Finally, I leave you with the most important lesson:

You cannot control other people, only yourself and your own reactions. If you are offended by something, it is not the fault or the responsibility of the other person, it is for you to understand why.

If we continue the ‘bandwagon’ culture of “join us or be destroyed”, then we will end up in a tyrannical censorship-society where the people who really are being oppressed or discriminated against will be unable to speak out.

So, one more time for the people who are offended by this blog post; all opinions are valid.

Cold Feet?

Cold Feet?

I am engaged. My partner asked me to marry him and I said yes. We have begun planning our wedding.

On day one, I was excited and so happy that I couldn’t stop smiling. On day two, the anxiety began setting in.

I love this man and have wanted to be his wife since our first 6 months together. He will be an amazing husband and father and I would spend the rest of my life with him without thinking twice, but then he asked me if I would spend the rest of my life with him.

The proposal didn’t come as a great surprise, we’d talked about it a lot before and I even knew that he’d bought me a ring and was having trouble with getting it delivered during a pandemic, so I knew it was coming and never worried about it. I have looked forward to being his wife for years and never felt anything but happy and confident about it, so why am I feeling like this now that I’ve said yes?

I keep asking myself, as is my practice, what is this feeling and why am I feeling it. The first thought I had, in it’s rawest form was, if I swear on all that I believe in to be with him for the rest of my life, then I actually have to do that. I only make promises I intend to keep, I will only consider divorce in the most extreme of circumstances. So then the questions follow; do I not want to be with him for the rest of my life? Do I imagine us splitting up? Is there someone else I’d rather be with? Or would I rather be alone? But as I already said, I do want to be with him and only him until I die. I’ve wanted that with surety and steadiness for a long time. So it’s not that.

I delved in a little further and found a fear that I would lose my independence. Every decision I made in life would have to include or consider him. I wouldn’t be free to do whatever I wanted without first considering the impact that it would have on him. But I already live like that, and have done for the past two years. I don’t want to do anything that would impact him negatively, and everything I do want are things he wants too. So that’s not it.

Perhaps it’s the idea of the ceremony. I am religious and he is not, nor are either of our families, but if I’m going to make these solemn promises to him then I want it to be in my tradition and with blessings that mean something to me. He is more than happy for us to do that and is helping me to plan that kind of event, but it still feels self-indulgent. To stand up in front of our friends and family and say “this is who I am and what I want so this is how we’re going to do it” makes me feel uncomfortable. But then again, the wedding is about my partner and I making promises and commitments to each other, not about putting on a show for our guests, and as I said before, I would want to make those promises in a way that is meaningful to me, otherwise they won’t mean anything. So I guess it’s not that.

I have always feared change in my life and getting married seems like a big one. Except it’s not really. My name will change and some other legal formalities (nothing major, nor detrimental) will occur, but other than that, we will still live in the same house, with the same cat and the same jobs and hobbies, we’ll just be married, that’s all. So it’s not that either.

Currently, I believe that what I’m feeling is a generalised anxiety that comes with making any large decision in your life without having certainty of the future. We cannot foresee what may happen in our lives and making a commitment so big on faith is a scary thing to do. I have experienced similar anxieties when choosing a university to go to, or buying a car. The difference with those things is that the commitment was short term and reversible, this one is not. Therefore it is not completely unreasonable to expect a higher level of anxiety.

The fear of loss and hurt is strong in me too. Maybe he’ll leave me, betray me, lie to me, and even if he doesn’t, eventually he’ll die, and I don’t know if I can handle a loss like that. There have been many times in my life where I wanted to avoid investing emotion so I would not experience such pain, but I was convinced by well meaning people to ignore my instincts and take the risk (“Life is risky”, “What if everything goes right?”, “If you don’t take that chance you might miss out on something great”). Then my fears would come true, and I’d be destroyed again. Every time I have trusted someone not to hurt me, they have hurt me, usually very badly.

It’s also worth considering that I have never seen a marriage that I coveted or admired. I was never a girl who dreamed about her wedding day and never saw marriage as wonderful thing to aspire to.

So there are no real reasons for me to feel so anxious, and yet many reasons why I am. I will try to meditate on these things and hope that I am consoled by the idea that these fears come from nothing substantial. I have to assure myself that the potential gains outweigh the potential losses and then take the leap of faith.

You Don’t Have to do Anything

You Don’t Have to do Anything

In this Covid-19 pandemic that we are all currently living in, there seems to have arisen a new social pressure to be productive and achieve. There’s a lot of emphasis of what new skills you will have acquired once the lockdown is lifted. What renovations you will have made to your life and your home. I have seen and heard many people say something similar to “You finally have the time to do all of those things you always said you never had the time for”, and while this may be essentially true, there is no reason why you should now be obligated to do those things.

The thing that these people are overlooking, is that this situation is unprecedented for most of us, and that what we are actually living through a massive shared trauma. For these people, their go-to coping mechanism is to keep busy so that they don’t have to sit with, and acknowledge their feelings about what is going on around them. These people will likely find that eventually they will run out of things to keep themselves busy, or that their thoughts will overpower their actions so that their ‘keeping busy’ tasks are no longer able to distract them. These people are often in denial about their true feelings, and their underlying insecurity requires them to validate their avoidance coping mechanism by shaming others into doing the same things as them.

A common feeling that is shared by many of us right now, is one of helplessness or uselessness. There is nothing we can do and nothing that can be done for us. We have no control over the virus or how our governments choose to react to it. Sometimes, these feelings can bleed into our other activities and soon we find ourselves thinking, what’s the point in doing anything if there’s nothing we can do. This apathy can quickly spiral into depression where we find ourselves wanting to do something but feeling too miserable and down-trodden to act on it. This then circles back to our original feelings of helplessness and uselessness.

Anybody who has suffered with depression before will recognise this kind of cycle, and if you’ve been lucky enough to get help, you’ll have your own coping mechanisms to dig your way out or to manage your feelings. But for a lot of people, this will be a new sensation.

For people who have never had to deal with this kind of depression and isolation, it can be terrifying not knowing what to do. Desperate to connect with people and know that they are not alone, these people go to social media where they are bombarded with all of the things that the “productive” people are accomplishing. They are asked “What have you been up to?” “What have you done?” and suddenly they feel like they have to justify themselves and defend their lack of activity. This will send them down one of two paths. Either they will force themselves to be productive, even though their heart isn’t in it, or the feelings of shame will confirm for them that there is something wrong with them and that they are lazy, useless and wasting precious time etc.

The first outcome will lead to frustration, exhaustion, possibly anger, and no task attempted will be given full attention or dedication and so won’t live up to the standards that the person is now expecting of themselves. This will eventually lead them to thoughts such as “I can’t do anything right even when I try” and a return to depression. The second option reduces self-worth and increases anxiety and depression as well as isolating them further by making them believe that they are the only people feeling this way. These feelings could easily lead to self-neglect or self-harm very quickly.

Depression is not an easy thing to overcome, especially if it’s your first time fighting with the beast, and I’m not going to pretend that I have an answer for you on how to break out of the cycle I described earlier. Honestly, the reason I’m talking about it in the first place is because I am stuck in it myself. But from my experience and knowledge I can present to you these thoughts and observations. I hope that when you read them, you believe them and that they can bring you at least a little relief if not show you the path out.

  • Processing trauma takes time and energy and is a different process for all of us.
  • This is something that has never happened to us before so there is no correct or incorrect way of dealing with it.
  • Just because a lot of people are doing something, does not mean that you should be doing it too or that it is the right thing to do.
  •  Acknowledging your feelings is the first step to accepting them.
  • You are the authority on yourself. Trust yourself, believe in yourself, focus on yourself. Don’t worry about anyone else. Their opinions can’t hurt you.
I am a know-it-all

I am a know-it-all

I am a know-it-all and no-one likes a know-it-all. I am the one who says “Actually” and “Technically” and “I think you’ll find that” and I know that people don’t want to hear it and hate being corrected, I see their eyes roll and their mocking tones and jeering points but I can’t help myself. I have to be right, I have to know and I need people to know that I know. I hate to fail, to be wrong, to make a mistake, and it does happen because I am human. What makes it worse is that the people who are there to see me fail, to prove me wrong, to witness my mistakes, they take such glee in it and point it out and rub it in, because I am a know-it-all and no-one likes a know-it-all.

Universal Energies

Universal Energies

Do you ever have those days when it feels like the universe is against you and everything that can go wrong, does? Well my day today was the opposite of that.

Science hasn’t yet nailed down the ins and outs of the energy or frequencies that radiate in all things. They are working on it and one day it will be considered fact and taught in physics class in schools, but until then people will find their own way of explaining this phenomenon depending on their culture, religion or personal experiences. Personally, I am a Wiccan (as well as a Buddhist) and we believe in the Rule of Three; all energy that you put out into the universe will return to you threefold. It is also called Law of Attraction, the Power of Thought, Summoning by Visualisation, you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around, Karma and other such things.

I have done a lot of terrible things in my youth and had a lot of terrible things happen to me but at a certain point in my life, I decided to change this pattern and try my best to be a good, kind, human being. Then worse things happened to me. I couldn’t understand why I was being punished when I was trying so hard to be good. I knew I wasn’t perfect but I thought that trying meant more than the actual accomplishment. I also tried to reason that if I was suffering there must be a reason for it and a lesson to be learned. To be fair, I did learn from those events and they have made me a better person but I am sure that the same effects could have been achieved with far less trauma.

What I didn’t realise then, but do now, is that your inner thoughts and feelings matter just as much, if not more, than your activity. If you ask someone if they are okay and they say they’re fine, you can tell if they’re being truthful or not. Similarly, if someone says that they are happy to do a thing that they’re really not, you can feel their discontent. Doing a thing or saying a thing does not make that thing a true reflection of yourself. Your inner thoughts and feelings are sensed by those around you and absorbed by the universe.

A person who wants a new job may send out CV’s, dress smart, go to interviews and attend job fairs, but if they have the inner belief that they won’t be good at anything else and maybe it’s best if they stay in the job they have then they are unlikely to get a new job despite all of the legwork they do. In another scenario someone may long for a good lasting relationship and sign up to dating sites, join clubs, socialise and go out on dates but if they believe that they are not worthy of love and no one will ever love them, then they won’t find the love they seek.

This is a concept that I’ve always been aware of but never actualised. Partly because I always thought I had little control over my thoughts and feelings (another self fulfilling prophecy) and partly because I believed in the mantra “fake it ’til you make it”. I thought if I behaved as the person I wanted to be then eventually I would become that person. Now I realise it is the other way around, you must make the change inside first, then it will shine through you effortlessly.

Since listening to “Letting Go: The Pathway to Surrender” I have made a conscious effort to watch my thoughts and feelings and adjust them when they go astray. In today’s example I had the thought “What idiot would park in such a stupid place?” I observed the thought and reflected. Perhaps the person didn’t know this was a bus route. Maybe there was an emergency or they are only stopping for a short time and didn’t realise they would cause an obstruction. I myself have done similar things without knowing I was being a hindrance. In fact, I have quite a talent for accidentally getting in people’s way. When you reflect like this you remember the human-ness of us all, the anger dissipates and you forgive them knowing that if it were you, you would want to be forgiven.

Negative thoughts like this come up several times a day but when you take the time and make the effort to observe them, experience them and reflect on them, then you become a happier, calmer person. And when you become a happier, calmer person it radiates from you and people around you become infected with it. Suddenly everyone is polite and friendly and considerate and the world seems to be working in your favour. Everything goes right for you, even the things that normally would ruin your day seem to be fortuitous and even comical.

I had a good day today and I plan to have many more.