Dr. Dee carries on in answer to your comments. BONNIE
I’d like to start off today by sending out a big “thank you” to everyone who has contributed to the discussion. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself. And you know, taking to myself… Worse yet, laughing at my own corny jokes… that would just be bad for business. 🙂
Your comments also answer my question: what do you guys actually want to talk about?
So – today, I’d like to follow up on Randall’s comments to my last post (thanks Randall, for bringing up a great topic!) 🙂
Randall wrote, in part: “yesterday I could not dial the phone despite knowing that there was no immediate threat in doing so”.
So, what I’d like to explain is, “How is it that I can understand that there’s no real threat, but still end up acting like there’s a threat?”
Simple – well, sort of. Okay, there’s going to be a brain biology lesson involved. But I’ll keep it simple. Promise.
As we’ve discussed before, PTSD is based on the fight-or-flight reflex, which is a built-in response to threat. In PTSD, this reflex goes into overdrive and gets triggered whenever you’re reminded of a threat.
Here’s a cartoon that gives you the gist of fight-or-flight:
(I know – you can’t fix PTSD by imagining your triggers in polka-dot underpants… Hey, it was the best link I could find that wasn’t totally boring. And don’t you love the caveman’s cute little dress? Or am I the only one who would totally wear that?)
So – to help me explain it, think of your brain as an orange.
(Hey – it’s either the orange, or I start throwing around Latin words that are harder to pronounce than my last name…)
Orange it is 🙂
The peel of the orange is the “gray matter”. It’s got all your smarts – this is where you analyze, make decisions, set priorities, and so on. You’re conscious only of the stuff that the gray matter does: the other parts of your brain do their thing behind the scenes, as reflex.
The fruit part of the orange is the “white matter”. It’s a messenger – it sends ideas back and forth and makes your brain work quickly to translate a thought into an action.
You know how sometimes, you buy a cheap orange, and it’s got some seeds in it? Yeah, so the brain is basically a bargain-brand orange, with seeds in it.
One of these seeds is a little thing called the amygdala – it’s responsible for our reaction to threat.
(I know, I promised no Latin words – but this is the only one, I swear… And it’s totally easy to pronounce: uh-MIG-duh-luh. See? You can totally say that. Maybe even five times fast)
The amygdala sets off your fight-or-flight reaction, in response to anything that reminds it of a threat. It’s a reflex, so it doesn’t ask your permission before it goes off.
So – to bring it all back to Randall’s comment – how is it that you can realize that there’s no threat, and still react like there is one?
Simple – the realizing that there’s no threat is coming from the peel of your orange. But, at the same time, one of the seeds in your orange (your amygdala) is reminded of a threat, so it’s reacting as if you were in danger. Two different parts of your brain are doing two different things, at the same time.
So, you say, that’s all well and good, but how do you control it?
By reminding yourself that your fear is a reflex, and reflex is not a choice.
I know – I repeat that line a LOT. I really want you to start repeating it to yourself.
Here’s what you’re probably doing instead: your inside voice is probably saying: “It’s a (bleeping) phone call. What the (bleep) is (bleeping) wrong with me?”
Ya know what happens when you talk to yourself this way? You make yourself nervous. The more you make yourself nervous, the more your amygdala feels there’s a threat – so you’re feeding the fight-or-flight monster by putting yourself down.
Instead, try starving the monster, by doing something that helps you relax – use your grounding skills. Help bring the anxiety down, and it’ll be easier to get going again.
What do you think, guys? Does that answer the question? Are you impressed that I taught you how the brain works by using a bargain-brand orange?
As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.
REFERENCE:Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
- Ptsd (integratedenergyworks.com)
- Women Veterans, PTSD and Invisible Scars: Brutish Betrayal Again (salem-news.com)
- Trauma Goes Over into PTSD (ptsdandme2006.wordpress.com)
- Sharing PTSD Thoughts (layedbacklife.wordpress.com)