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Newly Wired or The PTSD Moment I Didn't Have

I’ve changed. My brain has changed!  It’s true. I overrode my automatic Post-traumatic Stress response last night. There I was lying in bed, enjoying an Esther and Jerry Hicks video, when I noticed the LED light behind me reflected onto my computer screen. Freak out!  That round, bright light hovering over me (the computer was on my belly and the screen tipped toward and above me) captured my gaze and sent alarm bells clanging. I was caught in a PTSD moment……..momentarily.

A part of me came to the rescue.  What’s going on, I asked myself. OK, the light is mimicking one of those surgery lamps that I saw as a baby.  I put the computer aside, thinking that I’d have to ride out the freeze response in which my body goes into paralysis mode. But then I heard myself say, No, I’m not doing that. I want to watch my video. I sat up so that the  reflection was gone and snap, just like that, I was back watching the video where a woman was saying that she cured herself from cancer without chemo or radiation. Amazing!

Afterward, I realized the magnitude of my achievement–I’d sidestepped Post-traumatic Stress! A few months back, I’d written a poem about my major PTSD moment with the heating lamp (myincision July 15, 2012). Last night, instead of going into “deer in the headlights mode,” I basically told myself, Been there, done that and went on with my life. Sound simple?  It was and it wasn’t. In the moment, it was rather easy but I’ve been working on this stuff for years. Now I’m finally harvesting the fruit.

Here’s what I think happened in the words of Dr. Daniel J. Siegel* from his seminal book Mindsight, The New Science of Personal Transformation“Traumatic experiences, in particular, can sensitize limbic [area deep within brain that helps us evaluate ‘feeling states’]** reactivity, so that even minor stresses can cause cortisol [stress hormone] to spike, making daily life more challenging for the traumatized person . . . Finding a way to soothe excessively reactive limbic firing is crucial to rebalancing emotions and diminishing the harmful effects of chronic stress” (18). In other words, post-traumatic stress can be soothed. How?  According to Siegel, by using a different part of our brain to “override” the agitation.

Here’s how Dr. Siegel puts it: “The middle prefrontal region [of the cortex] has direct connections that pass down into the limbic area and make it possible to inhibit and modulate the firing of the fear-creating amygdala [a cluster of neurons important in the fear response].  Studies have demonstrated that we can consciously harness this connection to overcome fear–we can use the “override” of our cortex to calm our lower limbic agitation” (28). In other words, we can soothe our fear when our limbic area gets triggered if we are aware and react consciously to agitation.

I’m feeling pretty damn proud of myself right now. I’ve come full circle on this surgery lamp thing. I have other PTS triggers too, but this is the first time I’ve been able to override a PTS fear in seconds and stay focused on what I was doing before the freak out hit. Dr. Siegel states, “As neurons fire together, they wire together” (40). So I can say with confidence, my brain changed. I’m newly wired!

*clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and executive director of the Mindsight Institute.

**words in brackets [  ] are mine

12 Responses to Newly Wired or The PTSD Moment I Didn't Have

  1. Congrats, Wendy, I’m so pleased with this example of how you’re succeeding in rewiring your brain, making decisions to override your PTS responses, and enjoying little victories.
    This is what I’ve also been working at, and looking back over the years I can say too, “It works!” Not that the old pathways disappear altogether, but new, intentional and happier ones are being laid down and I’m keeping them clear of the encroaching undergrowth that comes from any neglecting them.
    Enjoy your rewired rooms and keep working at the remaining ones!

  2. Congrats, Wendy, I’m so pleased with this example of how you’re succeeding in rewiring your brain, making decisions to override your PTS responses, and enjoying little victories.
    This is what I’ve also been working at, and looking back over the years I can say too, “It works!” Not that the old pathways disappear altogether, but new, intentional and happier ones are being laid down and I’m keeping them clear of the encroaching undergrowth that comes from any neglecting them.
    Enjoy your rewired rooms and keep working at the remaining ones!

  3. I like thinking of us as having rewired our rooms! I am also excited thinking about the new rooms I’ll discover. It’s great to have come this far. Thanks for your essential companionship on the journey.

  4. I like thinking of us as having rewired our rooms! I am also excited thinking about the new rooms I’ll discover. It’s great to have come this far. Thanks for your essential companionship on the journey.

  5. This is brilliant! And as I read it, I realise that I too have been just recently, doing this also. I notice that by bringing my attention into my body upon immediate trigger, and realising that it is my reaction often that causes the trigger to continue to rise up – you know, in the anticipation of what is to come once you have been triggered. This helped me loads. To be able to acknowledge that what you have seen, read, heard, or thought of has triggered, yes, but to then acknowledge that you are in fact okay, and to take a deep breath. It has really helped me soften the physical and emotional reactions. But I had not properly connected with this development until reading this, so thank you! Hope it continues xo

    • I’m so glad that my post has helped you. And it’s so great to hear from someone else who can relate. Sometimes I can feel very alone with these issues. And thank you for your wishes that my success with coping continue. And may you, too continue to move toward wholeness.

  6. This is brilliant! And as I read it, I realise that I too have been just recently, doing this also. I notice that by bringing my attention into my body upon immediate trigger, and realising that it is my reaction often that causes the trigger to continue to rise up – you know, in the anticipation of what is to come once you have been triggered. This helped me loads. To be able to acknowledge that what you have seen, read, heard, or thought of has triggered, yes, but to then acknowledge that you are in fact okay, and to take a deep breath. It has really helped me soften the physical and emotional reactions. But I had not properly connected with this development until reading this, so thank you! Hope it continues xo

    • I’m so glad that my post has helped you. And it’s so great to hear from someone else who can relate. Sometimes I can feel very alone with these issues. And thank you for your wishes that my success with coping continue. And may you, too continue to move toward wholeness.

  7. Hi wendy …have you found a book or experienced some imformation that validates if or if not hypnotism can help a childhood ptsd sufferer to move ahead with an operation that they need …and are phobic-ally frightened about surgeons or any surgerical procedure for that matter..and even more so now that I have discovered the root cause of the fear and overreaction to the pain of surgery after discovering that I was one of the lucky ones who were traumatized by childhood no anesthesia surgery? I am in need of a surgery and it may help or it could make it worse , and the terror is quite intense. Anything along those lines? Ps I’ve tried to email you a couple of times to no success. Is there some secret to getting emails through to you . Thanks ..deon

  8. Hi wendy …have you found a book or experienced some imformation that validates if or if not hypnotism can help a childhood ptsd sufferer to move ahead with an operation that they need …and are phobic-ally frightened about surgeons or any surgerical procedure for that matter..and even more so now that I have discovered the root cause of the fear and overreaction to the pain of surgery after discovering that I was one of the lucky ones who were traumatized by childhood no anesthesia surgery? I am in need of a surgery and it may help or it could make it worse , and the terror is quite intense. Anything along those lines? Ps I’ve tried to email you a couple of times to no success. Is there some secret to getting emails through to you . Thanks ..deon

  9. I have not come across material discussing the use of hypnosis in helping someone overcome fears of surgery. I have not used hypnosis myself. I looked in a couple of books that discuss coping with PTSD but couldn’t find anything. Your terror sure makes complete sense given what you lived through as a baby. Have you heard of somatic re-experience therapy, the type that Dr. Peter Levine began, the author of Waking the Tiger? I think there are practitioners in most major metropolitan areas. They help a client recover from the freeze (and other responses) that resulted from the terror of being in a life and death situation without the ability to escape. Dr. Robert Scaer talks about this type of healing, on The New Traumatology interview on Vimeo Online, in terms of completing “procedural memory.” Somatic re-experiencing would help one complete the escape, so-to-speak. It helps someone, in my understanding, release the aborted attempt and know once and for all that the trauma is over and the danger is past. It releases a person into the present. If you want to know more, email me. Hope you find some info somewhere that helps.

  10. I have not come across material discussing the use of hypnosis in helping someone overcome fears of surgery. I have not used hypnosis myself. I looked in a couple of books that discuss coping with PTSD but couldn’t find anything. Your terror sure makes complete sense given what you lived through as a baby. Have you heard of somatic re-experience therapy, the type that Dr. Peter Levine began, the author of Waking the Tiger? I think there are practitioners in most major metropolitan areas. They help a client recover from the freeze (and other responses) that resulted from the terror of being in a life and death situation without the ability to escape. Dr. Robert Scaer talks about this type of healing, on The New Traumatology interview on Vimeo Online, in terms of completing “procedural memory.” Somatic re-experiencing would help one complete the escape, so-to-speak. It helps someone, in my understanding, release the aborted attempt and know once and for all that the trauma is over and the danger is past. It releases a person into the present. If you want to know more, email me. Hope you find some info somewhere that helps.

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