One of the most difficult things to share with people who don’t have PTSD is just how terribly undermined my sense of confidence is regarding any state of being. For example, I can be walking down the street, and suddenly, without any reasonable explanation, I can be struck with panic or fear. This is more than just a flash back or trigger. Envision walking down the street looking through a camera lens, and that at any moment a lens can be put on to the camera without your volition. The sound of a car, a colour, a sound, a person walking by – it can be anything.
Moreover the lens may appear and then disappear, and any sense of emotional dysregulation or stress can exacerbate things in an instant. Sometimes I can have perfect dual awareness that I am triggered and feel it, and have a ‘wise-mind’ guide me through it. Other times it’s sheer horror. Still other times I can barely tell if I’m truly safe or under attack, and slide into a dissociative state to downward regulate my anxiety and fear.
Christine Courtois, PhD speaks of the despair and hopelessness – and ultimate the existential challenges that trauma causes. What do we do when we can’t trust our own perceptions? What do we do when we feel like we can’t trust what our senses tell us at any given point?
The image below is a collage built on about ten different images. The windows represent the eyes of the photo, looking out to the landscape. The visual complexity is the caused by the overlay of the tree and barn, which are tied to part of my trauma story. The trauma in effect, fills in the empty and occupied spaces, and as it is for my experience with PTSD, it’s difficult to determine which part of the trees are really there and which are simply perceptual interference from the trauma. It’s not a cognitive process that needs to be worked through, it’s the bundled of sensed experiences that overwhelm what my eyes can see. It reminds me that friends and family say that can see me wince as if I am dodging something being thrown at me when I’m struggling with flashbacks and body memory. The solid lines at the bottom of the graphic represent how I seem to intellectualize my experience in favour of trying to find my focus in the confusion.
Courtois, C. A., & Ford, J. D. (2009). Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders: An Evidence-Based GuideTreating complex traumatic stress disorders : An evidence-based guide. New York: Guilford Press.
Courtois, C. A. (1999). Recollections of Sexual Abuse: Treatment Principles and Guidelines (Norton Professional Books)Recollections of sexual abuse : Treatment principles and guidelines. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
You can learn more about this photo collage at PostTraumaticArts.comChristine Courtois, Fear, Fight, Guilford Press, PTSD