Saturday, January 5, 2019

Update 10

Trauma & Therapy

Snake Oil, Miracles, & Silver Bullets
Compiled & Narrated 
by Anthony Servante


There are no shortcuts to overcome trauma. No epiphanies, miracles, or silver bullets.  Time does not heal, but it takes a lifetime to learn to live with the memories of the events that caused the mental disturbance, the social anxiety, and the nightmares that invade sound sleep. And learning is a day-to-day duty roster. The chores of daily activities, such as getting up, remembering to eat, taking one's meds, dental and physical hygiene, making important calls, and keeping one's appointments, take a toll when you have to deal with the schedule on your own. That's why we need to trust in someone to help us get through each day. Each week. Each month. Each year.

I always recommend psychiatrists, professional therapists, and trauma counselors to help patients deal with their trauma and its symptoms. Do not be tempted to find cures for your suffering. It takes time to learn to live with trauma. Anyone who promises to rid you of all trauma is trying to scam you. Beware of "trauma cleanses" and other "snake oil" remedies. Sellers of these "cures" often refer to traditional medicine as unreliable or unproductive as a means to make their own products sound superior. Words like "shortcuts" and "miracles" are used as bait for trauma sufferers and victims.

Speaking for myself now. I found peace in solitude. I entertained myself with Television, music, comics, books, movies, and train rides. I also blogged about my experiences in my entertainment and reached out to friends in social media to share my woes and welcomed fellow trauma victims to share theirs. By opening myself online to discussing my experience with blackouts, amnesia, and nightmares, I found a fellowship with others who have been going through similar experiences. 

That is when I started my column on "Trauma & Therapy". When others told me and my readers about their "pain event", its after-symptoms, and the treatment they sought to adjust to the change in their life, I, too, decided to seek out treatment. I often jest about my "Shrink", but my doctor, a psychiatrist specializing in trauma, has helped me to return my life to a day to day existence. You see, one of the symptoms I suffered after my first blackouts was cleaning the house incessantly, washing my hands over and over, drinking coffee to excess, and avoiding talking to people in person. When people did approach me in public, even with a smile and a "good morning", I'd berate them or mock them. And I never met eyes with them. I always felt bad afterward, but I kept on doing it. I still do. 

Another symptom was the nightmares. I was living in an alternate universe in my dreams, one where I could escape my life by oversleeping. But the reality of my dream life was more comfortable and safe, a place where I didn't have to deal with the public. I was in control. Most of the time. Sometimes the dreams went places that I didn't want to be. But there in these dark places were little beams of light, memories that gave me peeks into what my waking mind helped me to forget with blackouts and amnesia. I wanted to go deeper into these dark realms with the rays of light seeping through the cracks in the rocky caves and hills, but I'd always wake up. And once I awoke, I went straight for the coffee maker. If I had to be awake, it'd be at my comfort level: Wired on Expresso or French Roast. 

When I shared all this with my Shrink for the first time, she did little more than prescribe anti-anxiety drugs and set weekly meetings. But as time went by, and the drugs began to do their work on my nerves, the doctor then began to talk to me about my dreams, my daily schedule, my antisocial behavior, and my reluctance to see a psychiatrist (I was hoping for a Psychologist or Therapy Counselor). But she said that "trauma" could be treated by dialog alone with counselors or with a drug regimen and what she called "free-flow conversation" as opposed to controlled dialog. With a medical doctor (Shrinks can prescribe drugs) compared to a counselor (a doctor who can't prescribe drugs), the former has extra tools the therapist lacks--that is, happy pills. 

If I remember correctly, I've been taking Xanax for over half a year now. As needed. Strange, but between the coffee nerves and the social anxiety combination and the anti-anxiety pills, I've found a balance that helps me to maintain my daily schedule. Man, I didn't even see it happening. First, I set the routine but didn't keep it. Second, I did half the routine. Now, I'm doing 90% of my schedule daily: exercise, diet, TV, reading, a set time to go to bed, and a set time to wake up. The dreams don't dictate my waking patterns anymore. When it's time to wake up, I get up. Sometimes I do miss visiting those lucid nightmares in the cave with the light beams, for that's the trauma trying to reveal itself to me in a safe place (the Shrink says, anyway), but with caffeine and happy pills, my mind is clear enough to remember the edges of that traumatic event in a drug induced comfort zone. I get the same results from drugs that I do by facing my nightmares--I get closer to remembering the specifics of my trauma. 

I feel like I'm getting better, though I do realize that I'm just adjusting to living my life in a new way that is conducive with my condition. I still don't recall the particulars of the "pain-event", but I'm not afraid to remember anymore--even if it's only bit by bit. The Shrink says that I should not recall the event full-on. Ever. And that if I do, take two Xanax, and to call her office immediately. No, that's not a comforting instruction. I'd like to think that I can chip away at the big boulder till it's in small rocks that I can examine. I'd hate for that boulder to land on my head like a cartoon anvil. I carry the Shrink's phone number with me at all times.

I am quitting social media, namely, Facebook. Of course, I plan on exchanging email addresses with the friends I've made over the years. I told my Shrink about the decision, and she seemed slightly indifferent. I asked her if she was on social media, and she said her grandchildren were, almost dismissively. I asked her if she didn't know what writer's block was and her patient was a writer, shouldn't she know what "writer's block" is? After all, isn't it the source of her patients' writing problem? She said no, that I didn't understand the goals of therapy. I told her she was just another untraumatized counselor treating the traumatized. She laughed and said that it's the first time in months that I've been humorous. That that was good. I told her, "That's convenient; she taking credit for my jokes." Then she said she was reducing my meds 75%. That it was time to taper off the meds and return to a normal functional state. Three to four months ought to do it. I asked her if she was talking about withdrawal. She said no. It was about a manageable tapering off of dependence. I told her that I could go cold turkey. She responded, 75% reduction, 50%, 25%, and then see where we stand. Didn't she give me the meds? Now she's taking them away because I cracked a joke? What was I when I first started coming to see her? Unfunny? No, I remember. I was angry, because she wasn't a counselor and she didn't talk, only prescribed drugs. How things have changed over the months. 

But let me be clear. I still don't like being in public, I still like my solitude, and I still suffer nightmares on a regular basis. I still notice the oddities in my community, like the stupid parrot infestation, the regularity of deaths (weekly), and the strange weather changes. And most of the time I can't tell the difference between what's in my head and what's outside my head, like the weather. Even with all my meds and my new happier routine, the oddities continue, and just this past week, another person was killed, about four blocks from where I live (the Petting Zoo deaths was less than two blocks from my home). But with my new frame of mental reference and anxiety-free confidence, I know this trouble is all out there in "reality", and I can distinguish it from what's in here in my head buried under the suppressed memory of that awful pain-event. Yet, somehow, my Xanax-clouded mind thinks the outside and the inside are all connected. Somehow. And in those beams of dream-light I'm sure there are some answers to the questions that I don't even remember.

Anyway, I thought I should recap the series so far.

I. The Recap

In the first nine updates of the Trauma & Therapy series, we covered the various types of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from military, law enforcement, child abuse, spousal violence, to crime victimization, and accidents. We then published testimonials from trauma survivors who shared their "pain-events". Thereafter, we discussed the various symptoms of PTSD that these survivors were suffering, from social anxiety to nightmares. While discussing nightmares, we delve a bit deeper into the subject of the subconscious mind regarding dreams an a potential healing component of the brain, while we also considered that nightmares were more destructive than constructive. 

We then focused on the fragile mind that cannot separate dreams from reality by deconstructing the working of the senses in regards to illusions and other tricks of the eye and the dubious translations of visual objects by a traumatized mind. This research led us to discuss the possibility that what we in fact "see" in our traumatic state is possibly real, rather than illusion. We posed the question, If it is not illusion, what is it? Three essays were then published discussing the possibility that these tricks of the eye were in fact "ghosts" from our past, echoes of the trauma in supernatural form. 

We transitioned to forms of therapy for PTSD. We discussed paint therapy, dream analysis, drug therapy, and counseling, as well as others. Volunteers shared their dreams, and an analyst gave constructive possible meanings to the dream imagery. Paintings were sent in, and we published them here. Although there are many forms of therapy, I tried to restrict myself to the forms that were used by the volunteers who shared their trauma experiences with our readers. 

II. Here is a list of the contributors and Volunteers who have helped with the Trauma & Therapy series so far (real names respectfully have been replaced by job titles to provide some privacy). 

1. Barista.    
Trauma: Witness to bloody aftermath.  
Symptoms: Workaholic, fatigue.    
Therapy: N/A.

2. Instructor.
Trauma: Locked in a meat freezer; doesn't remember how
 Symptoms: Cynicism; loss of faith, agoraphobia
Therapy: None

3. Driver.      
Trauma: Trapped in darkness
Symptoms: Homeless, shoplifting, multiple arrests
Therapy: None            

4. Public Service Clerk
Trauma: Deprived of sleep during childhood
Symptoms: Manic-depressive, mood swings, works in file room away from people
Therapy: Work Sponsored Counseling

5. Self-employed Gardener
Trauma: Trapped with broken bones in basement while employer was on vacation
Symptoms: Afraid to be alone, overtly outgoing, stands close to people
Therapy: Born Again Christian, Church Counseling

6. Newspaper Writer
Trauma: Trapped in burning car, third degree burns over two thirds of body.                        
Symptoms: Loner, defensive, paranoia
Therapy: Physical Rehabilitation, Skin Grafts, and Psychiatric Outpatient Care

7. Maintenance
Trauma: 80% loss of sight due to undiagnosed diabetes
Symptoms: Alcoholic, divorced, regret, shame, guilt
Therapy: Alcoholic Anonymous (AA)

8. Law Enforcement
Trauma: Severe burns on arms
Symptoms: Schizophrenic onset, homeless when off medication, conspiracist
Therapy: Family, At-home Nurse, Outpatient Psychiatric Care

9. Blogger
Trauma: Unknown
Symptoms: Amnesia, agoraphobia, chronic denial, conspiracist
Therapy: Psychiatric outpatient

III. New Trauma Volunteers*

*Student 1 supplied the following information, which I researched before deciding to include with our more recent group. I talked with Priest, from the Temple, and he confirmed the hostage situation from 2016 and 2017. I recall talking to him before, in 2017. But some of the names on the following list I just could not confirm, so I've placed a "?" by their name. I will continue to research the "pain events" of these new names that I do not know, or, at least, do not remember. 

10. Student 1
Thank you, Mr. Servante, for your blessed blog and for your dedicated work. Those of us who suffered in the past need a place and person to direct our words, words that we keep to ourselves. But thanks to you, I have shared your blog with my mother who has sought the proper therapy for me, and I've shared your updates with my friends and their families who continue to endure the nightmares I still endure.

I am (Name omitted by me--editor). I am a Middle-schooler.

Trauma: A stranger took me and my two girlfriends. We were not raped. Let me be clear. Our bodies were not raped. Our minds were assaulted. My mother often told me not to talk to strangers, that in our culture, there are gangs that sell young girls into slavery and prostitution. My stepfather always drives me to school, but then he goes to work. He tried his best to protect me from any dangers. I caught the bus home from school. That's when it happened. I don't remember too much. I remember emotions, not events. I felt like I was sleeping, dreaming that everything was happening. My school counselor told me it was "shock". Not like electric shock. A kind of dreaminess that protects your mind from the trauma. I don't know what exactly "trauma" means. But everyone tells me I have it. Only when I try to remember how I was taken, that's when the dreaminess takes over. I can hear the ocean waves and the seagulls, but all the other sounds go mute like on the TV remote control. When I was taken, I still had my backpack and my books. I used to write notes and poems in the blank pages of the books till they were all filled. Then I began to write over the textbook words sideways so that I could understand my own writing. This helped me to stay unafraid till help came. I knew help would come. I wrote poems about it.

Symptoms: As I mentioned, I have bad nightmares. They take place by the ocean, just like in my dreaminess moments of "shock". I hear seagulls and other birds. Lots of birds. No people. No ocean waves. No wind or tree branches bending in the wind. But I feel the wind. And sometimes the bird screeches turn into screams. I turn to look at the screamers, but that's when I wake up. I need to see the screamers, my counselor says. 

Therapy: I am in Paint Therapy. I draw what I remember from my dreams. Now that I go to temple with (Student 2). We also do Craft Therapy. I created these Manga characters called Plvmage Punks. We make pajamas made from the birds based on my Plvmage Punk designs. They're like the Tokidoki Cactus Kids & Cactus Pets. The Cactus costumes protect the kids and pets from death and evil in the Tokidoki world. In my world, the Plvmage Punk pajamas protect us from the screamers.

11. Student 2 (As told by Student 1).
(Name omitted by me--editor) endured the hostage situation by keeping her eyes close for the whole time we were there. Sometimes, after she slept, she'd open her eyes thinking she was still in a dream. When she saw where she was, she shut her eyes again. I tried to talk to her, but my words were babbles, like baby talk. I could hear her praying. She'd bow her head and press her hands together. Sometimes she'd laugh or cry. Then she'd catch herself and jump back to praying, as if she'd lost her place in a book she was reading and picked up where she left off. She has a shrine in her bedroom and burns incense day and night to ward off evil spirits. (P.S. That was a good Update about the ghosts. Ghosts are very big in our culture. I'm glad you covered it). The priest at our temple says that evil spirits were behind our kidnapping. My father paid the ransom, but he never came back after we were released. I dream of him all the time. (Student 2) says she dreams of him too. That's what our Plvmage Punk pajamas do: They protect us while we sleep. Our religion protects us while we're awake. Even though I'm two years older now, I still feel like I'm 12 years old. My mother warns me not to get stuck at 12 [referring to "arrested development", AC], that I must grow up like a normal girl. I'm trying. She says that it's okay to wear the pajamas for a while, but we will soon have to outgrow them. I mean, it's not like they're Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny. It's therapy, right? I wish you'd explain that to her, Mr. Servante. The priest kinda agrees with my mother so he tries not to take sides, but she'd listen to you. I'm sure of it. Let me know if you can talk with her, please. I'd appreciate it.
[I spoke to the Priest who also said he enjoyed the articles I published on religion, ghosts, and demons. He sent me a few dozen of (Student 1)'s emails and suggested that I read them before contacting the girl's mother.]

12. Student 3
She is in a coma. No, not coma. I have to look it up. Wait. I found it. "Catatonic". Her mother feeds her soft food. And she used to love cheeseburgers. Her family is traditional Chinese, but (Student 3) gobbled up all American customs, music, TV, and dance. She was outgoing. She was first in everything. She fought back the hardest the day they took her. I remember they made her pay for that. I try not to think of it, but the nightmares keep reminding me. The family has two Buddhist Midwives who come in everyday to pray and chant for her. These old women lift from the bed, put her in a wheelchair, and roll her to the back yard where they chant for the "rupas" from (Student 3)'s old life as a little girl. Rupas are the things that meant the most to her when she was growing up, like a favorite blanket, toys, hair pins, and flowers. She loved flowers. But rupas can also be dreams and memories. The chants emphasize the good things and the good memories. Sometimes they show her old photos, but she doesn't look at them. The old women say that still she does see them. The main job of the chants is to separate the good rupas from the bad rupas. When the bad rupas are pushed away, then she will wake up from her dream. They don't believe in catatonia. They say she's in a dream that she can't wake up from. She's so skinny now.

It makes me so sad. I feel so responsible.

I have more information on the people who were involved with helping mine, (Student 2 and 3)'s families during our absence, from some teachers from our school, to others. I've been making a list for you. I think it will help all of us to share as much information as possible. Just like all the trauma volunteers who have been helping you for your blog. I'll tell you about the others next time. After you've talked with my mother.

Thank you for everything, Mr. Servante. But it's not over yet.