Saturday, January 1, 2011

PTSD - The unnatural natural reponse

People hear the acronym 'PTSD' and normally think of war veterans, at least that's what I always used to associate it with.  It was only when I began my healing process that I learned what it really meant.  PTSD stands for post traumatic stress disorder.  Wikipedia defines it as:

Severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma.  This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual's ability to cope. As an effect of psychological trauma, PTSD is less frequent and more enduring than the more commonly seen acute stress response.

Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal – such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hyper-vigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria  require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Yes, that sounds about right.  I don't wish to get into the details of how this impacted me, how it still impacts me, how it will always impact me.  Just know that through years of psychological work, I am able to better manage the stress to 'normal' level.  But 50% of it is a conscious effort every single day.

What is really behind my interest in this is that elephants (among other animals) can experience PTSD too.  The most prominent evidence is through the rocking or swaying motion that results in being confined, which becomes a self soothing process, a gentle rhythm of comforting self distraction.  And guess what?  I do this too.  And the more stressed my state of mind is, the more I sway.  I equate the comfort of the rocking to that of a baby being rocked in his mother's arms.  This article, presented through the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee (TES), is heartbreaking but worth the read:  I am especially drawn to this segment:  Memory doesn't reside only in the brain. But the body's memory is different from that of the mind.  It is memory that persists without distortion.   And it speaks of what it's experienced in a language every bit as painfully eloquent as the spoken or written words of a trauma survivor.

TES also distributed another article that I find enlightening:   "How PTSD manifests has long been a puzzle, but researchers today have a better idea as to why the effects of violence persist so long after the event. Studies on animals and human [trauma] survivors indicate that trauma early in life has lasting psychophysiological effects on brain and behavior."

I don't need to reiterate everything the article says,  but simply that neurological science has demonstrated that all mammals share a natural developmental attachment process as well as common stress-regulating mechanisms.  These "human-animal studies and the experiences of human victims of violence are available to help elephants and other species survive."