In my last post, I discussed the potential effectiveness of the beta-blocker medication Propranolol. However, not all approaches to PTSD are medication-based.
One such approach is called Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT for short.
The following is a quote taken from the book Treatment of Complex Trauma by Christine A. Courtois and Julian D. Ford:
CPT…involves the client recalling and describing one or more specific trauma memories in writing…The client writes a narrative of traumatic events in as much detail as possible. The narrative becomes owned by the client as her or his ‘real life story,’ no longer an incident too terrifying to recall but a terrible or tragic story that is ‘in black and white’ and can be read about and narrated. It can then be closed like a chapter in a book that has been read and published.
This is only one facet of CPT, but a very powerful one. The act of writing contains immense healing potential when done diligently.
It must be approached gently and delicately, with reminders to self that healing is a gradual, step-by-step process.
Dr. Frank Lawlis, in The PTSD Breakthrough, writes:
Adjusting your mind to tragic circumstances is hard, and it takes time for things to get sorted out. To rush it is to create dangerous shortcuts. It is always better to allow for the healing process to occur naturally. For that reason, journaling can be very helpful.
Write as much, or as little, as you are comfortable with. But write something. Anything. Every day.
Slowly, bit by bit, open yourself to the act of healing expression. Let the words flow. If they are words of anger, rage, despair, sadness, or anything else, no matter–write them down anyway.
Initially, this may happen a lot, as your wounds surface and you grapple with them all over again.
Over time, however, you’ll find your words softening, becoming more gentle. The pain will subside. A slow unfolding of deep, meaningful inner peace will take place.
Words truly are that powerful.
For many PTSD survivors, the memories are terrifying.
Nightmares jolt you awake in the middle of the night. You sweat profusely, your heart races, your chest tightens.
Can you make the memories go away?
Believe it or not, the answer may be yes…sort of.
Recently, several promising studies have been done on the beta-blocker medication Propranolol. It has a calming effect and is frequently prescribed to people with severe anxiety, hypertension, and tremors. Some public speakers and musicians take it before a performance to slow down their heart rate and ease their fear.
As it turns out, it may also be an extremely valuable ally in the fight against PTSD.
An article in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, dated May 2008, is titled, “Effect of post-retrieval propranolol on psychophysiologic responding during subsequent script-driven traumatic imagery in post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The abstract reads as follows:
The β-adrenergic blocker propranolol given within hours of a psychologically traumatic event reduces physiologic responses during subsequent mental imagery of the event. Here we tested the effect of propranolol given after the retrieval of memories of past traumatic events. Subjects with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder described their traumatic event during a script preparation session and then received a one-day dose of propranolol (n = 9) or placebo (n = 10), randomized and double-blind. A week later, they engaged in script-driven mental imagery of their traumatic event while heart rate, skin conductance, and left corrugator electromyogram were measured. Physiologic responses were significantly smaller in the subjects who had received post-reactivation propranolol a week earlier. Propranolol given after reactivation of the memory of a past traumatic event reduces physiologic responding during subsequent mental imagery of the event in a similar manner to propranolol given shortly after the occurrence of a traumatic event.
To interpret it in layman’s terms: PTSD survivors were asked to recall their traumatic events. Then, they were given a one-day dose of Propranolol, whereas others were given a placebo. When asked to recount their triggering event a week later, the subjects who were given Propranolol showed significantly fewer stress indicators.
[In the interests of brevity, I have not cited other studies, but they are quite numerous. A quick search should reveal plenty of them.]
Final verdict: Propranolol won’t erase your traumatic memories. But, if the studies are accurate, it can make the memories more manageable and less terrifying. Ask a qualified doctor–if they deem it wise, you may try a Propranolol regimen and see if it works for you. Together with therapy and other means of recovery, it may prove extremely beneficial.
If you’re like me and have experienced PTSD, you know just how terrifying and crippling it is.
You wonder if you’re losing your mind. Others can’t possibly understand what you’re going through.
Luckily, that’s not true.
You’re not losing your mind. And others do understand.
Many, many people have gone through it. War veterans. Rape and sexual abuse victims. Survivors of extremely traumatic events.
Look for a support group for PTSD survivors. There, you will meet people who know exactly how you feel.
Then talk, talk, talk about it. Let it out. Scream if you have to. Cry if you feel like it. No one will judge or make fun. They will embrace and support you, and will do their utmost to help you get through it.
Even better: you will have a chance to help others.
As the old maxim goes: when you help others, you help yourself. It has a wonderfully healing effect and allows you to gain a strong sense of self-worth. Many who struggle with mental health issues learn to feel worthless, of no use to anyone.
And that’s absolutely not true.
You need not go through this alone. Join other like-minded individuals in your recovery, and you will find yourself regaining your inner peace and tranquility, day by day, step by baby step.
Remember: you deserve to feel joy. You deserve peace of mind. You deserve to feel happy about yourself. You deserve to feel strong.
Of course, you already are strong. You survived. That takes tremendous courage.
Walk the journey slowly but steadily, with determination and resolve. You will get there. And when you do, you will feel happier and stronger than ever before.
What follows is largely taken from a forthcoming book about my PTSD experience.
In 2007, I was diagnosed with PTSD–Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
First, a little background.
On April 5, 2007, I was aboard the cruise ship Sea Diamond. We were on tour of the Greek islands. If you’ve never been there, make it one of the destinations you must visit in life.
I was standing on the top deck as we pulled into the giant caldera of Santorini. It is one of the most stunning places in the world. Giant, sheer cliffs jut upward hundreds of feet. They are colorful and imposing, threatening and beautiful and intimidating.
Then, I heard a hollow scraping noise.
The ship had run aground.
There was chaos as everyone rushed to the top decks. People were ripping lifejackets out of the hands of the stunned crewmen.
Eventually, after four hours of haphazard and chaotic rescue efforts, we were finally ferried ashore. Later in the night, we were put aboard another ship and returned to Piraeus, where our journey had begun.
There, we were told that two people–a Frenchman and his daughter–had perished.
We were stunned. Some around me were crying.
Upon returning to my hotel, I turned on the TV–and witnessed the last moments of the Sea Diamond. It lay upside down, with only the tip of its hull above water. Slowly, it sank to the depths. Only several rubber lifeboats hovered above, a sort of floating burial site.
What followed were the most hellish weeks of my life.
It didn’t start immediately. At first, all I felt was annoyance at having had lost my luggage. Otherwise, I felt ok–a bit rattled, but nothing serious.
Or so I thought.
A week passed. Suddenly, I began to feel…wrong.
Something was off.
I would be feeling fine. Then, all of a sudden, my heart would speed up like crazy. I would be drenched in sweat all over. My entire body shook uncontrollably. My head would spin, the ground suddenly unsteady.
I felt like passing out.
At first, these episodes were infrequent. I would pause, take a few deep breaths, and the sensations would vanish.
Days later, it began to get worse.
I had no idea what was happening. My mind raced as blood rushed through it. My heart beat with the desperation of an escaping prisoner, trying to jackhammer its way through my chest. My entire body shook with uncontrollable spasms. I felt dizzy, like gravity had suddenly shifted beneath me.
Completely crippled by this point, I retreated to my apartment.
There, the hell I was in had only just begun.
Now, these attacks were constant. No reprieve. No moments of calm. Only a constant sense that I was about to lose my mind.
Was I on the verge of insanity?
For the next week, I lay in bed. And drank. A lot.
The alcohol was the only thing that drowned my terror. Even when drunk, I could still feel it, deep underneath the booze-induced haze.
A few bags of Doritos were my only food during that time.
On the last day, I remember standing on my 14th floor balcony, lighting a Lucky Strike with a trembling hand. I truly felt the end was near. My thoughts raced uncontrollably, my heart beating with the fury of a raging animal.
Either this stops–or I die.
I looked down off the balcony. The distance was…inviting.
Somehow, some deep, innermost part of me chose life.
With my head spinning and my entire body reeling, I dragged myself to a doctor. He was not a psychiatrist, but knew a little about panic attacks.
Panic attacks? Is that what that was? I had no idea.
He prescribed me a sedative and sent me on my way.
Once back home, I took a pill. Within half an hour, I felt much better. My heart had slowed down; my breath became even. The trembling stopped. For the first time, I could lay back and truly relax.
The struggle didn’t completely end then. Periodic panic attacks–some so intense that I felt about to lose consciousness–would plague me for years afterwards. I still struggle with them.
But I survived.
I have no secret remedies to offer. I am not a doctor or a therapist. Just a survivor.
But I do know this: no matter how horrible you feel, no matter how badly you feel your mind slipping and your entire world crashing and burning around you, choose life.
It gets better.
Ground yourself. Find balance.
Find a trusted therapist in whose reassuring presence you can talk and scream and vent your terror. A good friend whose shoulder you can lean on.
Walk outside. Look at the trees. Sit by a lake, or on the seashore. Water always has a calming effect.
Take up yoga. Meditate. Find that space deep inside yourself, vast and luminous, where only joy and peace and love exist. Dwell there as much as possible.
Slowly, that inner space will expand.
It won’t happen overnight. I wish it were otherwise. If I could take away all your pain and make it my own, believe me–I would.
But I can’t do that. Only you can.
It will be a struggle, and a long journey. But if you take small steps each day, eventually you will reach a point where the panic isn’t there anymore. A point of deep contentment. A day when you can look all around you, breathe in deeply–and smile.
You will get there. I promise. By surviving your ordeal, you showed the world that you are strong beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.
Stay strong, and keep going.
And, above all, breathe.