One of the positives (maybe the only positive actually) of having an impaired memory system is that I often surprise myself. I have the ability to completely forget something my foggy brain has done.
I think everyone does this from time to time, not just PTSD sufferers, like when you search for your car keys because you don’t recall where you set them down, and find them later – in the freezer. You get a nice moment of surprise and quick little giggle at how imperfect we really are. We try to hold so many things in our working memory at once, pay attention to a zillion details, and can easily lose the little ones that slipped away, never to be transferred into long term memory.
My happy surprise was a note to myself that I found in my purse, and that I had no memory at all of writing.
I was sitting in my therapist’s waiting room, digging for a blank card from my purse, when I found one with this lovely message on it:
“Connections make you strong within your kingdom. Castles are only strong when you stay inside of them.”
Isn’t that a great surprise to myself? I can be so thoughtful, it seems, just wish I could remember that. I stared at that card in disbelief. It was my handwriting on my card in my purse. I’m no detective, but I’m pretty sure I wrote that. I wonder where I heard it?
And then I let the meaning sink in of those lovely words. And I wondered if I had previously let the meaning sink in, when I wrote it, and I was able to now have a new reaction to it. I used to live all alone, safe in my castle, but it was a haunted castle full of ghosts from my past. I’ve written many posts about it, sometimes calling it: tower, fortress, walls, prison, etc. The meaning is the same no matter what you call it and I was stuck inside, of me, and had no outside connections.
I didn’t know how to make connections to anyone outside my castle. Not even my husband knew what was going on inside of me. And so I started this blog, to figure things out, and with the strongest hope of making a connection to someone, anyone, who may understand me. My connections here, my amazing blogging friends, not only understand me, but also accept and validate me. It was through their support that I was able to find myself and continue reaching out to others.
Brains and memory retrieval are fascinating to me, and I have learned so much since my PTSD diagnosis. And my knowledge is helping me to heal. I see the brain as needing to file and organize all of the data it receives. Ordinary data is filed in ordinary places. Extraordinary or traumatic data is often filed incorrectly. If you will, the secretary in the brain responsible for putting away the memories does a great job with how much there is to process. But when something happens that does not fit, uses too many emotions, does not make sense, or is just too large, well it is left un-filed. Picture a secretary holding our memory folders, happily humming and filing each and every one, and all of a sudden the fire alarm sounds, and she must drop the folder and evacuate to save her life. That folder did not get dealt with properly during the trauma and now is out of place, and will be found later, once the crisis is over and the secretary resumes filing.
So to me, a PTSD flashback is simply a memory folder that was dropped in a time of crisis, that we now need to examine the contents and either discard if no longer needed, or deal with properly and store in the correct location of our brain. This is my own theory based on my experiences, and may not apply to anyone else. For me, once I actually examine the flashback, look at it directly, feel the depth of it, do what needs to be done with it – usually cry and grieve since I was unable to do that when the trauma happened originally – then I can toss out the extra baggage, and file the memory as a simple memory. When I recall a processed flashback, it no longer has power over me, it is no longer devastating once it is filed properly. And it stops coming up and demanding attention. It is just a memory that I can recall when I try, but it does not force itself on me any more.
So I now understand my goal. I need to find each misfiled memory and put it where it belongs. That doesn’t sound scary when I put it that way. I also think I won’t be completely ‘healed’ until every folder has been examined and relocated. And with so many traumatic events in my life, I still have a towering pile of folders strewn about. But I know I have support. I could not even open these file folders until I had made connections (and got out of my castle!) and found support and truly trusted in my husband, therapist, and even a bit in my blogging friends to help me sort it all out.
- Trauma Goes Over into PTSD (ptsdandme2006.wordpress.com)
- The Brain, Brain Chemistry, and PTSD (ptsdandme2006.wordpress.com)