The Cure for PTSD Terror: you’re soaking in it

This post may trigger PTSD sufferers.

In our search for mental health care, we once sat in a Kern County, California, mental health clinic listening to a psychologist exclaim that our patient could not have PTSD because she had never served in the army.

In fact she had been conscripted at birth as all the rest of the family had, and our sergeant major was a bat-shit crazy man, known initially as daddy and later as grandfather. His sadist attacks were so traumatizing that we dared not reveal them even had we been able to remember. So it was that the patient had been repeatedly taken back to that house of torture by her mother, the author of this blog.

(To be fair, mother could not recall that her own life had almost ended when the b-s crazy man raped her as a child. And she has spent the last 30 years since b-s crazy man died and she did remember, in profound guilt and grief. But enough of personal angst.)

Suffice to say Dad could have given the North Koreans or even the CIA lessons in torture or a 2.0 course in mind control. He himself had rather an unpleasant death, which I describe at the end of my e-memoir, Never Tell, recovered memories of a daughter of the Temple Mater.

That’s the back story as to why the patient developed suicidal impulses and then intractable insomnia. For most of her life, she was able to repress the trauma, going so far as to contend that the rest of us experienced it, but she didn’t. This was lucky, because by then we had put in years of dealing with it, worn out therapists and come to realize that terrifying as it is, the past is dead and gone.

As, by the way, were quite a few people outside the family, who encountered our very own psychopath. And, no, a million dollar police investigation, involving three police forces couldn’t prove that.

How to deal with such insomnia? Even the strongest drugs couldn’t put her to sleep for long. In one 5 day hospital stay, five other drugs were tried. The fifth one precipitated a heart attack. So we cast about for other methods.

Finally last April, I concluded she couldn’t sleep because she was afraid to dream.

At one point, she fled to Toronto and her loving mother’s arms. I would sit at her bedside until she fell asleep, sometimes for 90 minutes. It is a moving experience to sit in the dark beside someone you love as she does her best to sleep. Going to sleep for her isn’t easy, but it is easier than staying asleep. I wasn’t up to being there at 4 a.m. when she usually comes wide awake. Or 3 am or 2 am. Sometimes she doesn’t sleep at all, just lies in a semi-conscious state, which surprisingly can generate bad dreams.

While I was studying the NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine) Treating Trauma Master Series , I came across the idea that therapists don’t do their clients any favours by trying to make them feel safe. That is a technique that Grandad and hosts of his fellow abusers use. Trying to make the trauma survivor relax is an immediate trigger – they want to run a mile.

Our patient came at the idea from a totally different angle. She watched a terrifying movie, went to bed late and slept like a baby.

We reached the conclusion that, instead of avoiding fear, she (we in fact) had to soak in it – like that Palmolive dish detergent commercial years ago where the woman is in the nail salon -“You’re soaking in it”.

We are in the research phase. Our patient has spent the last several months reading about psychopathic serial killers and watching shows like The Mindhunters. The Mindhunters interview serial murders in prison in order to understand them. Patient reports that the single scariest scene so far was one in which the woman on the mindhunter team was at home in her apartment at night wearing only a long  man’s shirts and pouring herself a glass of wine at the kitchen counter. She was at the left of the shot. The right side showed the rest of the kitchen and hall, an empty floor. An absolutely terrifying space. Into which something could suddenly come. I myself found the next scene where she goes down to the building’s laundry – still dressed only in the shirt – and while the washer starts, hears a cat meowing outside the open basement window and decides to feed it her leftover tuna. I will not divulge what eventually comes through that window.

Who says recovering from PTSD can’t be fun?

I’ve always hated Hallowe’en and horror shows, but now I begin to see their value. We can’t evade our terror. It may be buried, but it’s there, so we might as well face it, embrace it as far as possible. We don’t need to defy it. We can acknowledge it and even say this is what made me who I am. We can say, ‘I have been to the edge of death more than once, but I can still permit myself to sleep’. At least six hours most nights.

And of course, we can refuse to put ourselves in real life situations with people that scare us.

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Hush-a-bye: rain on a window pane

In my childhood home, it paid to have excellent hearing, not that it would necessarily stop a blow, but it would at least lessen the shock. And so, I cultivated mine. Now I’m stuck with it.

Prospective tenants do not see the drawbacks of the duplex I live in now. They see, as I did, the light flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. They see the large main bedroom. They cannot see how insubstantial the floors are. They don’t stick around long enough to learn that every footfall above registers like an earthquake below.

So here I am with my vigilant hearing learning much more than I want to know about other tenants’, shall we say, intimate lives.

The 3 year-old next door has bedtime issues, by which I mean he is punishing his mother for bringing home a baby sister, by screaming at an octave only dogs and I can hear, between 10 p.m. and 11. The fellow downstairs goes to work at 5 a.m., a few hours after the tenant upstairs comes home from a night shift.

I have tried floral remedies, urgent pleas in pjs, music called Delta Sleep, which promised to change my brainwaves, ear plugs, running the air filter non-stop and pharmaceuticals. To little avail. But, wouldn’t you know, there’s an app for that.

The app in question cost peanuts at iTunes and is called “White Noise”. (Not “White Noise Ambience”) It gives a choice of 52 different sounds including white, blue, red, pink, grey, and purple noise, as well some rather mundane sounds such as a shower, floor fan, vacuum cleaner, dryer, projector and restaurant. It has nature sounds like ocean waves, a stream, a sandstorm, a waterfall, and my favourite, heavy rain.

I downloaded the app onto my iPhone and I set it going on my bedside table when I’m ready to go to sleep. So far, “heavy rain” seems to send me off to sleep. Rain on the window pane has always been one of my favourite sounds. I find it very soothing, especially since the app doesn’t come with the threat of flooding.

See what I mean? Hyper-vigilant.