The Other Side of Reason – Time to be free
Involved in a bus accident that took the lives of six people, David Gibson has been battling through PTSD
for over three years. In an effort to better understand himself and to communicate with others, he turned to writing.
His first book was The Other Side of Reason: A Journal on PTSD, available now via petrabooks.ca.
This column continues that text.
[Time to be free]
I’m floating into the night.
Like a second, a race against time.
Lost in the moment with your fingers laced with mine.
Like they were meant to be another part of me.
The words that have yet been spoken, the things I need to say.
To voice what's within my head. I just can't seem to find a way.
A moment to embrace while tears streak down your beautiful face.
Held in arms that you know will never let you go.
To find some peace.
To finally be set free.
Trauma, once experienced, seems to never want to let go. It can burrow into your psyche, invading your thoughts, and unleashing mood swings, anger, depression and an exhausting sense of hypervigilance.
As you experience something really traumatic such as a physical attack, burglary, being a first responder, or being involved in a car accident, your body shuts down some bodily functions and suspends ‘normal operations’ such as the memory processing function.
Essentially, your brain thinks processing and understanding what is going on right now is not important. Getting your legs ready to run, your heart rate up, and your arms ready to fight this danger is what’s important right now. You can become permanently primed for danger.
When your brain eventually goes back to process the trauma and the mind presents the memory for filing it can be very distressing. The brain is unable to recognize this as a ‘memory’ as it hasn’t been processed as one, so the facts of what happened, the emotions associated with the trauma and the sensations of touch, taste, sound, vision, movement, and smell can be presented by the mind in the form of nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive unwanted memories.
These re-experiences and flashbacks are a result of the mind trying to file away the distressing memory, but understandably can be very unpleasant and frightening because they repeatedly expose the sufferer to the original trauma in ‘real time’.
I believe for my family, dealing with my experience has been incredibly challenging and frustrating at times because in some ways they have no idea what PTSD is doing to me. They can only empathize with how I am feeling. I think my family would agree that they don’t know what it’s like to wake up feeling numb for no reason, or to wake up feeling incredibly agitated for no reason.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can make somebody hard to be with. I willingly admit to this fact and constantly apologize for being the way I am. Living with someone who is easily startled, has nightmares and often avoids social situations can also take a toll on the most caring family however empathetic and patient they might be.
Often there's a spillover effect, impacting anyone personally involved with this disorder — spouses, parents, and even children. For PTSD couples, and family members, resolving these issues starts with the realization that life will never be quite the same.
The old 'normal,' that's gone now. Many couple and families will have to start working on a new normal. In the words of Charles Bukowski, “What matters most is how well we walk through the fire together”.
Some families will have spent years living with the nightmares, depression and anger of a loved one's PTSD, while desperately trying to find ways to cope.
Others are just getting started.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can take a heavy toll on friends and family members, and relationship difficulties are common. It can be hard to understand your loved one’s behavior—why he or she is less affectionate and more volatile. You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells or living with a stranger. You may even be afraid of the person. The symptoms of PTSD can also result in job loss, substance misuse, and other stressful problems that affect the whole family.
For family members, self-care becomes a crucial component of insulating against secondary trauma. What that means is that the spouses, partners, and family members of people with PTSD can develop their own symptoms. This can happen from listening to trauma stories or being exposed to scary symptoms like flashbacks. The more depleted and overwhelmed you feel, the greater the risk that you yourself as a family member may become traumatized.
It’s hard not to take the symptoms of PTSD personally. When someone you love is distant, anxious, or angry all the time, your relationship suffers. But it’s important to remember that the person may not always have control over his or her behavior. Anger, irritability, depression, apathy, mistrust, and negativity are common PTSD symptoms that your loved one can’t simply choose to turn off.
PTSD is the effect.
With time and treatment, people living with PTSD, like me, will get to the better `self“ (however we can define this), but it’s a gradual, adaptive process, not a linear nor predictable one, and this is what makes living with PTSD so difficult to deal with.
Until next time.