14 September 2010

PTSD and tuning out

Note:  If you've found this article and want to pass it on, perhaps as a Livescribe smartpen example, read the whole thing first and then decide.  It might be a little graphic for some people.  You do not have my permission to cut out the graphic part. :)

Today, for some reason, the PTSD seemed especially bad in my two lectures; I had a great deal of trouble concentrating.  I caught myself tuning out quite a bit, and much of what I was tuning out to didn't make any sense.  It may have started out with me being a little hungry, maybe thinking about food... but I'd stopped between lectures and grabbed something to eat, so I wasn't starving... but anyway... I'm sitting in the second (and last) lecture of the day.   Typical lecture hall, maybe more curved than some.  I'm sitting in the middle, in the front row.

For some reason, I start thinking about the chicken in my freezer.  It's from a wholesale place, already seasoned, a bag of frozen chicken breasts.  Then I think about how they're made to all look the same, what kind of machines they use, how do they get them all shaped perfect?  Then I'm looking up at the powerpoints on the big screen wondering how the automated chicken slaughtering operation must work, how the chickens heads get lopped off, and what happens to all of the blood and such when it drains.

I don't really care what happens to the chickens.  I'm a meat eating consumer, I'm not a member or supporter of PETA, and I honestly like cooking and eating the little critters.  So why is my brain thinking about this crap when it's supposed to be learning about the science of the Earth's energy losses and energy gains?  Because that's what my brain does, and some days it looks at things a lot scarier than chicken production for food.  This is what I mean when I say I have trouble concentrating during lectures.

I am posting this true story for a number of reasons.

First, I'm trying to deal with it.  I have a theory that I've seen so much crazy shit in my life, above and beyond "just" sexual abuse and war, that my brain has a hard time processing it all.  Most things you read point to a traumatic event, like "war" or "Iraq" or "childhood", and anything past the timeline points back to that event.  I don't think that's necessarily true.  I think that because of the traumatic event(s), you make decisions and take actions, and things just happen, that are extra layers of trauma added to the original.  Then it all gets mixed up in your head.

Second, I'm sure I'm not the only one dealing with this.  The movie in your head might be different, but it's probably just as whack as what I'm seeing and possibly worse.  You and I might be crazy, but at least we're not alone in our craziness and it's not our fault we have to deal with this.

Finally, if you don't have PTSD and are trying to deal with someone who does, or when someone who has PTSD explains that they have trouble concentrating, this is why.  This is also why when you see us doing the thousand yard stare and you ask us what we're thinking about, we seldom tell you.  We lie and say "nothing" because we don't want you to see the effed up crap we're seeing in our heads.  We know you won't know how to process it, because we don't know how to process it well enough to admit to you that we're seeing it.

Now, if you do have PTSD and you're experiencing this stuff, this is where adaptive technology such as a Livescribe smartpen comes in.  During the same lecture I talked about above, my smartpen was recording the audio of the lecture while my brain was off in never never land.  I did take some notes during all the fun, and although I'm sure I missed something, I can go back and listen to the audio from what I do have and fill in the blanks in my notes.

The smartpen doesn't make the PTSD go away, and it doesn't take notes for you.  I will have to spend the afternoon in the library going over those two lectures, filling in blanks.  What it does is cover you for those moments you miss, the seconds or minutes when you're not processing what's coming in from the lecture. 

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