Trauma is very much part of living. It’s not hard to imagine what people young and old may find traumatic: a horrific accident, a major natural disaster, sexual or other abuse of our person, tormenting or extended medical procedures, the separation and divorce of parents.
As I mentioned in my previous post, 70% of us experience at least one traumatic event, but only about 20% of this number will be significantly affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In other words, our response to trauma varies greatly.
The reality of PTSD is a fairly recent discovery. Those four letters never came to my ears until some 20 years ago, despite a lifelong interest in psychology and spiritual pastoral care. During most of my life it was known that many soldiers on active service returned home with “shell shock”, thought to be caused by the heavy percussion of explosives affecting their nervous system! Sexual abuse was an unmentionable, and any such deeply distressing experiences were regarded simply as events people needed to “get over” and “put behind them”.
The incidence of medical trauma has surely fallen greatly during my lifetime, but violence and breakdown in home and family have greatly increased. I believe this is because Western society advocates selfishness and insatiable materialism and devalues the social values and capital of our culture’s Christian ethos. Is it any wonder that the number of anxious, depressed, hyperactive and withdrawn children is so great?
I have fought lifelong although relatively mild PTSD caused by my infant pyloric stenosis and surgery, and my parents’ struggle to manage this for themselves and in helping me. So my main interest in the symptoms of PTSD is related to the way it affects those whose somatic (body) memory has been affected.
Now read this Comment (actually a “cry”) in response to a video posted on YouTube of Dr Peter Levine speaking about somatic experiencing and PTSD; it touches me deeply:
I had a surgery called pyloric stenosis (opening small intestine to stomach) when I was 6 weeks old back in 1973 but back then anesthetic could not be given to small children and infants so I was fully conscious but I can’t remember a thing about it even though I realize that it does not really matter that I do! I have lived like a kind of ghost for 38 years and have no “real” life – I have no sense of what it is like to not be traumatized (no before to compare). Incessant thoughts ruin my life!!
Although I and others have urged the writer of this Comment to seek help, I recognise that good help is often hard to receive: apart from having to find a suitable therapist, distance and costs may be prohibitive. The person who wrote this post also confessed, I guess I have adapted to life like this. It feels like 10 life times sometimes but I don’t know any other way – I don’t and never have known what “normal/un-traumatized” is. I am and have tried to rectify it for many years but I have nothing to compare “real life” to.
Dr Louis Tinnin identifies this vague but ongoing sadness and anxiety (depression) as a key indication of PTSD. As I can identify with this, I can also assume that there are many who are somewhat paralysed and almost comfortable in their depression and anxiety, ashamed or embarrassed to change as this would involve going public and spending time and money on a secret pain.
Anger and self-hatred that are quite public can be symptoms of depression and may take the form of abuse of or addiction to cigarettes, alcohol, and/or other drugs. Or the addiction may be hidden, such as self-harming (more common among women) and sexual self-gratification which may be common with (at least) men.
Anxiety and depression perhaps including suicidal episodes are common signs of PTSD. My anxiety has been evident in the lack of self-confidence, the shame and embarrassment, and other symptoms with which I have battled, but which I did not understand for far too long.
Jolene Philo manages a blogsite aiming to be “a gathering place for parents of special needs children”. She reports that
“Linda Gantt, who spoke at the 2010 Linking PTSD and Medical Trauma national conference, said the risks of developing PTSD increase according to this general principle: The more unexpected the procedure, the younger the patient, the more numerous the previous traumas, and the more urgent the need for the procedure, the greater the possibility that there will be psychological effects.”
This information, together with my recognition of my parents as stable, loving and Christian, and sensible people has helped me to understand why my PTSD has not been as severe as others have experienced – although very real just the same.
I am so thankful for the strong family and faith values which have probably been responsible for keeping me from the struggles others have or have had with alcohol, drugs, deep depression and inadequate medical “treatment”. But I was certainly “self-medicating”: my inner turmoil, lack of self-confidence, self-harming, and sexual struggles are clearly common ground with the PTSD after infant surgery suffered by others I know.
Our opening up these pages of our lives is healing for us, in whatever way we choose to do it. I want to invite you to respond to blogs such as this, possibly doing so regularly. Several of us affected by PTSD from infant surgery are also interacting by email, and you are welcome to join this off-line forum.
I am sure this painful but therapeutic exercise will help open the eyes and minds of many others, even if they are not (yet) able to self-disclose and write.