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Tuesday, August 21 2018 @ 01:13 am PDT

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Candor

The PTSD DiariesI can't regret starting this blog. Too many great things have come out of it. Above all, I've been blessed with some truly amazing friends. I'm a better person because of you.

But there are days I wish that I'd never let any of my regular-world contacts know about the blog. The majority of you are just fine, but every once in a while I find out that someone I trusted has some very wrong ideas about me. And if there's a chance that they're reading the blog, it's hard to know what to say. I'm not wired to be particularly open with the general public, but I'm trying to be better at candor. But unfortunately these incidents set me back.

Should I waste my breath (or fingers) trying to explain? Is it worth laying my heart out to try to make someone understand that I've been hurt badly, that I may be cynical or fearful at times but I'm 100% grounded in reality? I know I'm not anything resembling "ordinary" but I'm pretty sure I'm okay. I was raised to be strong, and if emotions leak out sometimes, that's healthy for me. I just wish that this guy hadn't chosen to talk to everyone but me about my mental health. Friends and family set him straight in no uncertain terms, but I still feel betrayed. [Edit: Ok, now that I've cooled down, I'll admit that it wasn't "everyone." I don't know exactly how far it went. But he talked to a number of people I'm close to, so I feel undermined.]

I guess it's the cost of "doing business." So many people with unusual backgrounds just don't talk about them, and I can understand that decision. But I choose to be reasonably open in order to help others. It's worth this price if I even pull one person back from the brink.

The timing is interesting, given all the background checks I ran recently. Finding so few criminal records bolstered my confidence in the general population. I did discover a few jarring records, but even those weren't outrageous. Only one record I found (multiple DUIs) would impact my decisions in any way. But even good people do really stupid things to their friends sometimes. And I just wish they'd give me reasons to trust them instead of reasons to withdraw. It's ironic: when they're trying to evaluate how much I have to give, they end up taking some of that away.
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Rewriting Memories

The PTSD DiariesH/T Elizabeth

Stress Hormone May Help Overcome Fear of Heights

"...cortisol plays a more complicated role in learning and memory, which might explain this benefit.

They are able to recall the incident, but their body remembers the way it felt to be fearful and those physical feelings are re-experienced when thinking about the incident, explained Keith Young, vice chair for research of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and core leader for neuroimaging and genetics at the Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in Temple.

Rather, they're remembering subsequent episodes of fear, Young said.

And it's those memories that need to be overwritten and replaced with new, better ones. 'Enough of the old memory is there to remember the incident, but not enough to remember and trigger the fearful feelings,' Young said."

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Saturday Scramble

The PTSD Diaries Stress Hormone Linked to PTSD in Women

Islam's Spiritual 'Dear Abby': The Voice of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Alleged Texas Jihad Plot Underscores Threat of Lone Wolf Terrorists Inside US

Seminar: The Bullet-Proof Mind with LTC Dave Grossman

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One day at a time

The PTSD DiariesCaution: Lights at end of tunnels may be more trains.

To be blunt, last week's road incident has messed with me a fair amount. I'm not sleeping well, my blood pressure is still high, and it's taken days for me to get my heart rate down to acceptable levels. It's more than the incident itself merits.

I think that much of the reason behind the upset is because it came without the slightest warning. The thing I hit hadn't appeared to be a hazard, so one moment I was having a great day and the next I'd gotten a good jolt and had a damaged car. Insult to injury, of course, was that I'd failed to identify a threat.

I've gotten blindsided by too many things this past year. Any one or even two of them, I could probably handle without too much trouble. There are a lot of things I could say about myself, but I'm not emotionally weak. Yet this last year has been a very rough road, figuratively and now literally.

While sometimes I feel like screaming "I've had it!" to the heavens, I can't deny that I'm seeing the fruits of lessons learned. I'm reaching out to friends like never before. And despite the lack of sleep, I'm still getting things done. I've been helping to run low-voltage cable and wielding a screwdriver in a lot of places. I can see the fruits of my labors. And one of these days I'll remember again how to sleep through the night.
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Dangerous information for my male readership...

The PTSD DiariesI came across this article while doing some related research and thought it was quite interesting for any person dealing with high stress levels. And for those of you with the knowledge to actually know what this is about, yes, I'm pretty sure you can draw that conclusion. If you're interested, find yourself the whole thing, but you can see the basics in the summary:

Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress

Biological Psychiatry
Volume 54, Issue 12, 15 December 2003, Pages 1389-1398
doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(03)00465-7 * Copyright © 2003 Society of Biological Psychiatry Published by Elsevier Inc.* Markus Heinrichsa, Corresponding Author Contact Information, Thomas Baumgartnera, Clemens Kirschbaumb, c and Ulrike Ehlerta * a Department of Clinical Psychology (MH, TB, UE), University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland * b Center for Psychobiological and Psychosomatic Research (MH), University of Trier, Trier, Germany * c Institute of Experimental Psychology II (CK), University of Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany *Received 7 February 2003; * revised 16 April 2003; * accepted 17 April 2003. * Available online 15 October 2003.*

Abstract

Background

The presence of social support has been associated with decreased stress responsiveness. Recent animal studies suggest that the neuropeptide oxytocin is implicated both in prosocial behavior and in the central nervous control of neuroendocrine responses to stress. This study was designed to determine the effects of social support and oxytocin on cortisol, mood, and anxiety responses to psychosocial stress in humans.

Methods

In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 37 healthy men were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test. All participants were randomly assigned to receive intranasal oxytocin (24 IU) or placebo 50 min before stress, and either social support from their best friend during the preparation period or no social support.

Results

Salivary free cortisol levels were suppressed by social support in response to stress. Comparisons of pre- and poststress anxiety levels revealed an anxiolytic effect of oxytocin. More importantly, the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness and decreased anxiety during stress.

Conclusions

Oxytocin seems to enhance the buffering effect of social support on stress responsiveness. These results concur with data from animal research suggesting an important role of oxytocin as an underlying biological mechanism for stress-protective effects of positive social interactions.

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Touch and PTSD

The PTSD DiariesI got this from Wounded Warrior Project and it really resonated:

Taking Off the Armor

"Communication through human touch transcends anything that can be said or heard; it’s therapeutic. I considered my weakest moments in Kandahar: the losses and injuries of my good friends and colleagues; devastating violence that haunts me to this day. There was no one who held my hand then. There was no one to wrap their arms around me and bring me back to that childlike sense of trust and security. Instead, I stomached that grief into a protective wall of masculine armor and walked back into the fight with my soldiers."

Go read the article.

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Invisible wounds...

The PTSD DiariesI saw this via Blackfive: Died of Wounds

I knew it would be a story of some kind of "invisible injury" but didn't fully anticipate the author's take on what had really happened inside Fr. Rocheford's soul. I know there's a variety of faith perspectives in my readership, but when I read this, I had a strong sense that this is indeed what happened on some level:

When I heard of Father Rocheford’s passing, and finding that he’d taken his own life, my sadness could not prevent me from thinking of the character of Father Karras in the final scenes of The Exorcist, who takes the Devil into his own body in order to save the young girl. It seemed to me that Father Rocheford had performed small exorcisms on hundreds or thousands of young Marines and Sailors, releasing the demons that months and years of combat had placed in their souls. Some small part of each of those demons Father Rocheford took inside himself. There, with his own demons of death and fear and pain from combat with the enemy, they pressed a mighty weight on his soul. Unlike Hollywood, real life teaches us time and again that there are limits to what even the strongest of us can endure. On that bright Wednesday morning, September 9th, 2009, Father Rocheford reached his.

The story breaks my heart because I know many Catholics believe that suicide is a path to hell. I have to be careful here; I don't want my contradictory beliefs to lead anyone further down the path to that choice. I remember all too well a friend whose belief that suicide led to hell kept her alive. But the case of Fr. Rocheford seems less like suicide than a martyrdom. He allowed himself to be wounded for the sake of others, and those wounds eventually killed him. While some might suggest that his faith failed, I see his sacrificial love and wonder if his faith puts all of ours to shame. His choice....dare I speculate?....was perhaps to throw himself on God's mercy rather than to live in darkness. I don't know, and I don't ever want to see someone try that idea.

With the saints in heaven give rest to the soul of Your servant.....

Memory Eternal!

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Celebrating

The PTSD DiariesAlthough I'm not a Marine, I too have something to celebrate.

Sometime in the last couple weeks, I turned the corner with the PTSD.

That's not to say it's gone entirely or that I don't have some nasty memories and triggers. But I've reached the point where I seem to know what to do with my reactions. Every once in a while I notice that I'm just feeling...happy. I'm still extremely aware of my surroundings and potential threats, yet that awareness has now expanded to allow me to enjoy the beauty of those surroundings. I'm enjoying just how good I am at threat analysis and reactions.

I was talking to someone about this yesterday, and he was listing off various threat scenarios in order to make a point. Each phrase of, "knife attack," "gun," "throwing a punch," immediately triggered the mental picture of the appropriate response. And I smiled and relaxed because I now had the confidence that my preparation was already done.

I was at a bar to celebrate a friend's birthday the other night. I will admit that I looked pretty darn good, and thus I was drawing some attention from the Monday night crowd. Potential threats? Yes. And yet I was able to relax and have fun. Yes, I had an adrenaline rush when it was time to walk out (solo) to my car. And a few minutes later, I was relaxed again, no worse for wear.

There's a lot going on in my life right now, or perhaps it's best phrased as a lot of things potentially going on. I'm still torn up about my career path, and I'm going to have to make some decisions soon. Meanwhile I have to do my annual Thanksgiving dinner and thus must get the house interior painted, unpacked and cleaned, not to mention all that goes into the actual dinner planning and preparation.

I realized too that the dark hatred of my enemies is gone. Thanks be to God; that's all His work. I still hate the threat, and I hate all that evil does. There is still the call to action, but it feels different now. I had a dream last night that I encountered someone from my past and actually had a civil conversation with him. I don't want him in my life, but I don't hate him, I don't wish him harm.

There's still a ton of stress in my life. There are a lot of things that could still go wrong and break my heart.

But I'm pretty sure I'm going to be ok.
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Broken with a hint of badass...

The PTSD DiariesJust a quick note to say that I'm still here, haven't utterly snapped yet, and things are slightly improving. I actually really like my new A&P class/prof; it's just the logistics of showing up 1/3 of the way through the term that are killing me. Some assignments I'm not allowed to make up, so I'm starting off with a significant point loss off my grade.

But I will say that my reputation got a small boost. My first day of the class was the midterm. I got about an hour to review the lecture notes, then walked in and earned myself a 73%. I would hate such a grade under normal circumstances, but this time around...not so bad.

I'm still waiting for the grade from my first lab exam. That one is pretty much guaranteed to be worse but I've calculated that a 50% will squeak me by if I can do well on everything else.

More soon... some interesting things seem to be afoot.
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humility

The PTSD DiariesThis past week hasn't been what I'd call pretty.

My A&P class was kicking my tail thoroughly. The professor didn't give a damn about whether we passed or not. Some of my fellow students made it rather clear that they didn't think I belonged there. And it was being taught one level higher than what I actually needed.

I fancy myself pretty emotionally tough and pretty intelligent, so when I started borderline failing the quizzes, that was a big red flag. To make matters worse, I was blanking out on things that I easily knew.

And when I caught myself having a fleeting thought that I'd rather be hit by a car than continue the class, I knew I was in trouble.

I should also say that if I don't complete A&P this summer, I can't start paramedic training in the fall. And because of various factors, that could mean I wouldn't get a chance to become a paramedic for a long time.

So, lots of pressure. In hindsight I'm realizing that there are better ways I could have scheduled myself, and starting an intensive class the day after certification exams, and a few short weeks after losing a loved one, was asking for trouble.

Everyone has their breaking point. I think that's the biggest lesson I'm taking out of this. It's easy to talk about the warrior spirit, about never quitting, and to look down upon those who have not yet met their goals. But those who don't blink at a 20 mile march may well falter when something touches the most important people in their life. And sometimes we have to sort out what's ego and what's courage.

I had a lot of ego wrapped up in this class and my immediate future plans. I thought I was smart enough, tough enough to do what others could not. And yeah, I do hope someone sees a special spark in me. But the reality is that I've hit the point where I have to admit I'm breaking. I have to say that I don't know if I can do this. To make a long story short, the stress of the last month has taken its toll on my ability to think clearly and to memorize. I just took a long weekend with friends, which definitely helped, but most of them had their own struggles going on, and I didn't get the level of recharge I'd hoped for.

If nothing else, this serves as a reminder to not judge those who falter. That inner place is closer than we realize.

As for the class... I've talked my way into an alternate class that I hope won't be quite so crazy. It'll get me done in time, although I'll have less down time before I start paramedic, which is a big concern in light of recent events! I'm trying not to think about the what-ifs, knowing that it's entirely possible that my plans may fall apart. But I'm also trying to be responsible in acknowledging my limits, i.e. that I cannot live the life of last week. And that may mean that I have to find something else to do with my life, or at least upend my timeline.

So yes, I'm still licking some wounds right now. Hopefully once I get settled into the new class I can catch my breath, but for now, there's an exam tomorrow and laundry to be done after my weekend away. Thanks for sticking with me, and I'll try to do better updates/posts soon.
-C