The Primitive Brain

In basic terms, Post-Traumatic_Stress Disorder or PTSD is the brain’s normal reaction to extreme trauma. I’ve had some tell me in the past to not listen to my demons. Those voices that sometimes sound very tempting to follow. See, those demons were often the only ones comforting me when no one else was around. As I got older I began to see the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of these voices. These demons helped me to abandon myself when I couldn’t take things any longer. They were like those screwed up friends that had your back when you needed them. I found to be dependent on them in some form or another. So much so that I never fully realized that these demons were also hurting me as well. So why can’t I just stop listening to the demons? Why can’t I just be perceived as “normal?” What is normal?

The brain is a bit more complicated to fix. I can begin to train my brain’s cortex. The cerebral cortex is where much of the information is processed in your brain. It’s where we do much of our thinking and understanding. I can understand the psychology of my brain and put as much info as I can into my cerebral cortex. That’s the easy part. I can tell my brain that I’m in a different situation, different location, different time in my life. I can tell it that I’m safe and there is no need to be in fight or flight mode. I can tell it that I don’t need to dissociate or be paranoid.

Thing is, we aren’t dealing with the cerebral cortex of the brain. Which explains why even doctors and psychologists can have anxieties and other mental illnesses. The brain stem, your primitive brain. The part of your brain that comes from years and years of ancestors and instincts. This part of the brain simultaneously receives information at the same time as the cerebral cortex does. Problem is, this part of the brain relies on instinct and survival. This part of the brain doesn’t understand geography, doesn’t get that I’m in a different situation, doesn’t see that I’m in another time, nor does it see that I am safe. The primitive part of your brain works much faster than the cortex, thus reacts faster than the cortex. It does not need to think because it relies on instinct. This is where all our automatic responses come from. This is a hyper-aware, stressed out part of our brain.

As years of “stuff” happens, this part of the brain is being trained to instinctually react to certain things. Much like a computer program. No matter how much I want to overcome this way of reacting, I still react in ways that I wish my brain or body wouldn’t react.

Now, the question I usually get and what my therapist and I try to figure out is: What caused this? Many believe that if I can pinpoint the cause, I can “cure” myself. When in actuality I need to retrain my instincts. My furthest memory that I can remember was being around 5, my mom was screaming, my dad was overseas (the Navy), and somehow I was ‘watching’ myself standing at the foot of the stairs watching my mom. It was a very weird experience. I was physically there, but I was mentally elsewhere. I have had too many of these dissociation experiences to count. Not many know when I have dissociated. I just need to be in an uncomfortable situation for it to happen and many times I cannot control when it happens.

My retraining of instincts starts with my conscious brain recognizing triggers. Doesn’t help that I do have quite a few of them. My PTSD doesn’t end with dissociation. It doesn’t end with me screaming, or running away, or hiding. My relationship with my mom is, well, perplexing. I guess that will be the nice way of saying it. I do feel sad that my mom and I aren’t close. Even though I know I can’t be around her much, I do feel sad about it. I have spent much of my life trying to understand her. Understand why she acts the way she does, what triggers her. Stuff like that. Most people are pretty predictable in the way they react to things, the way they do things and even with their quirks that one can read into what will happen next. My mom isn’t like that. She predictably unpredictable. One day she will be ok with something, the next she won’t be. One day she may be laughing and wanting to go out on an adventure or try a new restaurant. The next day she is throwing out all the food in the house because she saw a minuscule crumb on the kitchen counter. One day she will be telling me that I need to go outside cause she doesn’t want me in the house, the next day she will tell me that I’m cold and distant and I don’t care about her. One day she will say something nice to me, the next day she will call me a slut, cunt, a bitch or something less nice. She wasn’t always, difficult. Some days she seemed perfectly normal. Would joke around and have normal conversations. Food will be on the table, bills paid and just being calm. Things were easier when my dad was home. Mostly because I didn’t need to make sure there was food on the table, bills paid and trying to keep my mom calm. My dad was in the Navy. My medical conditions as a kid kept us from moving around. Although it didn’t stop the military from sending my dad away for months at a time. When he was home I was a kid. When he wasn’t home I was an acting adult when my mom couldn’t be.

Things seemed to get worse as she got older, as I got older. Trying to understand her was getting harder. Her insults and criticisms became more and more unbelievable and harsh. I couldn’t understand her thinking and actions much of the time. Things were my fault that I had no control over. At first, I thought she may have some form of bipolar disorder. With her extreme mood swings and narcissism. My therapist says she may have Borderline Personality Disorder from all that I have told her. I cannot say if there is something up, something that can be done. For what I do know, she does not want help. Nor does she believe she needs help. My entire childhood has been about being on my toes. Knowing where I needed to be, what I needed to do. Knowing when my mom was going to have an outburst. Recognizing her highs and lows. Going places with her when my dad wasn’t home so I can apologize to anyone that she was unfairly rude or mean to. I rarely invited friends over. I never wanted to have to explain anything if my mom suddenly lost it. When my dad retired from the Navy, some things got easier. I didn’t need to worry about food, bills, utilities. Of course, that also meant that my dad knew when report cards came and had more involvement in my life. It was my dad who had a long talk with me where I did confess to sexual harassment and molestation (not done by my mom). It was easier actually, to talk to him about those things than it was to talk about my relationship with my mother.

I could never talk to him that much about my mom. He did know some things and he was the first to come to my rescue when I couldn’t handle her. The reason being for not being able to talk to him that much about my mom was that it made me feel guilty. She was my mom. I didn’t feel I had much of a right to talk bad about her. Even now I still have trouble with admitting that she was verbally and emotionally abusive. In addition to sometimes being physically abusive. I also didn’t want to stress out my dad. I didn’t want him to worry. I had this, I can take care of myself and my mom when he was gone.

Time went on and I married and moved away. It was easier being far away. My mom seemed “normal” and I was less stressed from not having a daily dealing with her. Although this does not have a happy ending. She wanted to be in control so badly. I came back home with my almost-three-year-old little Karissa in tow and pregnant while Kevin was shipped off to Iraq. The first thing my mom did was take my car keys away and hide them. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t drive my own car. Even after I had my baby. Alexis was born prematurely and was in the NICU for a month and a half. I had to wait to have one of my parents drive me to the hospital so I can visit her and give her the bottles of my breastmilk. Even my dad didn’t understand, but he didn’t want to stress about it. He was getting older and his health was fading a bit. My dad was 9 years older than my mom and he was beginning to develop some severe anxiety and panic attacks. When Kevin came home, things with my mom was still getting worse. We finally had to get an apartment while we were waiting for escrow to close on a place. Living with my mom was becoming too much for me. Sadly, Kevin passed away a week after we moved into the apartment and I, with my two young girls, was back at my parent’s house. I only lived there for six months, not having Kevin around made it unbearable to have to deal with my mom’s behaviors. I moved to an apartment and then to a townhouse. Two years after Kevin passed, my dad passed away.

I was too focused on the fact that I was losing my dad that I did not think how this would affect my relationship with my mom. I did get a taste of it during my dad’s burial. After the funeral, she gave me the wrong time for the burial. My friends were witnesses to the time she told me. I was anxious the day of the burial and wanted to be there extra early. Good thing I was early because the burial was actually an hour earlier than she told me. The look on her face when I arrived “on time” told me that this was done on purpose. My good friend who went with me was beyond shocked and couldn’t believe that my mom would do that to me. I, on the other hand, was not surprised at all.

I was also so focused on the fact that I was losing my dad that I did not see the next chapter of my PTSD coming. For this post is getting long and I would like to read for a bit, I’m going to close this and continue my PTSD post on Sunday or Monday. Tomorrow is Alexis’s birthday. She will be 15. I can’t believe that she is already 15 years old.