Update: You can buy the PTSD Sourcebook: Amazon Paperback • Kindle Store • Google Books Preview and Buy Links
I got this book. (Thank you Matt Staggs.) Fortunately it was also available on the Kindle, so I could download it and read it right away in the middle of despair over the weekend.
Anyways, it did help answer my question of “why did I get so suicidal only minutes after my first appointment with my psychologist, whence I described everything that happened in my life thus far, seeing as I have discussed such things before and they have not had such a horrible effect on me for years.”
(And before more people ask, this was two days before finding about Mammoth Book of TOC Fail. They are not related events, and in fact, the Mammoth Book incident did nothing to alter the course of depression either downwards or upwards or faster or slower, because that would be like trying to alter the flow of the Amazon river.)
Here’s a layman’s view of how PTSD memories work, pieced together after reading the first part of the book and talking to my psychologist.
Take normal memories. Normal, boring memories; or happy fun memories; or shameful memories; in other words, any memory that is not horribly traumatic like murder, war, rape, torture, terrorism, or abuse.
We integrate these normal, non-traumatic memories into a long term memory store, kind of like you put clothes in a dresser. Connections are made, memories are organized and smoothed out. Sometimes it’s troublesome how you fold the bras or jockstraps, or which navy socks match with which other slightly differently colored navy socks, but they all get in there. You push the dresser drawers closed, and when you need such and such clothing, you open drawers (sometimes it make take a few) and take the needed clothing out (sometimes it gets lost or you have to rummage around a bit).
The point is, these normal memories are in a nice dresser, and you don’t really see your clothing in the dresser.
Now, traumatic memories are way different. For one thing, your brain looks at these memories in all their gross, debilitating, shocking, fear-generating, nightmare fuel glory, and says immediately: DO NOT WANT. But you can’t just forget the memories, sadly. And you don’t want these icky things anywhere near your nice clothes. So you put them somewhere else that’s not with your nice clothes.
Like the top of the dresser.
Only problem is that these memories are now very visible all the time, unlike your nicer memories. As a result, even your best memories are less accessible to you than your horrific memories.
Okay, so you cover the bad memories on top of the dresser with a sheet. But the lump is still there, and you know it, and you tend to try to get used to the idea that it’s there, or to ignore it, or whatever.
And yet you can’t build an impregnable barrier around the ugly icky things. So when something happens in life that would evoke memories—sounds, smells, sights, even touch and taste—has a greater chance of uncovering the icky thing so available on top of the dresser than the stuff in the drawers. The analogy does break down here, though—with a real-life dresser, you have a conscious choice, but with this analagous dresser, often your subconscious/unconscious goes for the first found first remembered strategy.
These icky things are not folded up nicely either. So these memories act differently from the other, nicely folded/integrated memories. These memories are much more immediate, to the point that they feel like they’re happening now.
It’s not always full-fledged flashbacks. Sometimes it’s a “minor” aspect of the bad memories, like a suicidal feeling you haven’t experienced in several years. Or maybe the feeling of being hunted, of not being safe. Emotional stuff crops up all the time, because what makes traumatic memories is the trauma. It’s not always at full strength, but it is very easy for things to get very bad very quickly, given the right stimulus (like scrolling out your entire life to a stranger).
When the aspects that are brought to life start to involve visual and audio, is when you get the more infamous flashbacks.
The worrying thing is that because the traumatic memories are so immediate, and thus feel so immediate, and are not integrated with the longer-term memory store, you can end up reacting in ways that would apparently indicate you think the trauma is occurring right now. This is a dissociative state, since it’s not cozignant with what’s actually happening right now. Literally part of you is dealing with a past that feels present, and if you’re lucky some other part of you is still in the present. What percentage of you is where can slip and slide depending on what’s triggering you at the moment.
As a result, the worrying thing that can happen is that you are not fully conscious when you do some of the actions you once did, externally or internally, to try to protect yourself physically/mentally. This isn’t just the full-fledged soldier flashback to the jungle complete with attacking people thing that you see so often in the media. That is still Truth in Television, but it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that this kind of flashback thing can also just be suddenly yelling and screaming at somebody (as Josh Lyman did in The West Wing‘s “Noel” episode).
And that, in a nutshell, is why I don’t spend time with people.
Obviously the path to healing lies in integrating the horrific, traumatic, icky memories with your regular memories.
That path in itself is traumatic.
So. You know.
I’m not exactly looking forward to the healing path. But on the other hand, where I am has the potential to hurt both myself and other people, and the only solution to that is to remain alone forever, and that really, really doesn’t work.