Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Glimpse in the Window....

...of my brain.  

As I have stated several times in the past, I deal on a daily basis with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).


WHAT IS C-PTSD?

From the website Out of the Fog:
"Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of: 
  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull,splitting or alternating raging & hoovering behaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions."
In learning how Trauma affects the brain, first we need to learn how a "normal", untraumatized brain develops.   Dr. J. Douglas Bremner writes:
Although the bulk of brain development occurs in utero, the brain continues to develop after birth. In the first 5 years of life there is an overall expansion of brain volume related to development of both gray matter and white matter structures; however, from 7 to 17 years of age there is a progressive increase in white matter (felt to be related to ongoing myelination) and decrease in gray matter (felt to be related to neuronal pruning) while overall brain size stays the same.  Gray matter areas that undergo the greatest increases throughout this latter developmental epoch include frontal cortex and parietal cortex. Basal ganglia decrease in size, while corpus callosum, hippocampus, and amygdala appear to increase in size during childhood, although there may be developmental sex-laterality effects for some of these structures. Overall brain size is 10% larger in boys than girls during childhood. (Source: Traumatic Stress:  effects on the brain)
So, we know that children's brains continue to grow and develop all the way through about age 17.  There are a LOT of changes that happen during this time, which will affect the child for the rest of their life.  During this time, for every person, there WILL be stresses, and it is important to note how the brain is supposed to respond to stress.

A good explanation is available on the Harvard Health website:

The stress response begins in the brain. When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.  When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.
For our purposes, we are going to stop there, with the technical explanation of what happens in a normal stress response.  Just remember the parts of the brain mentioned...the amygdala and hypothalamus...and one that was not mentioned: the hippocampus.  These parts of the brain are important pieces of what happens with a traumatized person.

What we know already is that stress is hard on our bodies.  An accumulation of too much stress leads to health problems.  Doctors will tell people to reduce their stress in order to get healthy or to stay healthy.  A Harvard Health website says this about stress:
Stress is unpleasant, even when it is transient. A stressful situation — whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.
This is a NORMAL, non-traumatized person's response to stress.   And the results can be disastrous. From the same website:
 Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body’s energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat.

So, long-term stress responses make us tired, built fatty tissue, and cause weight gain, as well as increased blood pressure, damage to blood vessels and arteries, and a raised risk of heart attack and stroke.


WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT A TRAUMATIZED PERSON?

A traumatized person has experienced trauma of some sort, either short- or long-term assault on their safety and well-being, physical, and/or emotional.  What happens inside the brain of someone who has been traumatized?

Christy Matta, a counselor, explains:
The body’s response to acute stress is a preparation for emergency.  Adrenaline and other hormones are released.  The body shuts down processes associated with long-term care.  When under immediate threat, digestion, reproduction, cell repair and other body tasks related to long-term functioning are unimportant.
Of immediate importance is survival.  Increased blood sugar can provide extra energy for muscles. Increases in cortisol counter pain and inflammation. Blood pressure increases. Blood is diverted from our extremities to our major muscles to provide us with extra strength. Increased endorphins can help us ignore physical pain.
You can see the effects of these changes to the body in many of the symptoms of stress, such as racing heart, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking, feeling hot and flushed, and sweating. (Source: How Trauma Can Effect Your Body & Mind)

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