While on my temporary hiatus, I (finally!) began my PTSD treatment. Here’s how it’s going:
Part of my therapy is exercise. I have been working out on the treadmill for 45 minutes at a time. What this therapy has really been teaching me is how resilient my body is. I now warm up at the speed I was going full throttle at a month ago. I’ve noticed how much better my sore knees have gotten, because the muscles around them have become stronger. I haven’t noticed weight loss, but I have noticed a lot of muscle toning. Personally, I would rather be a sumo wrestler than a model: I’d rather have big muscles under a layer of fat than no muscles and the “perfect” body.
Because my therapist doesn’t want me to listen to music, I spend most of my time on the treadmill plotting my stories, and I’ve been getting so much work done because of it. I would recommend exercise to any creative person. The only thing is that don’t know if I’ve seen reduction in my symptoms yet.
The main part of my therapy is exposure therapy. Exposure therapy basically works by forcing you to confront aspects of the trauma that you have been avoiding. It’s a form of CBT, coginitive behaviour therapy, which means it’s addressing both distressing thoughts and avoidance behaviours. For example, I cannot consciously recall R.’s face. I can think about it right now, as I’m writing this, but all I see is a blob on top of a body. When I think about his face, I have distressing, occasionally violent thoughts. So, when I see it, I feel the need to run away. I’ve written about this before. Most people hear this and think “isn’t that a good thing, that you’re avoiding possible violence, or staying away from this clearly bad person?” Well…no. This need to avoid my feelings has caused me to miss out on my life. I’ve missed out on events, I have trouble trusting people to the point of creating difficulties in my relationships, and it clearly hasn’t been making me feel safer.
Lots of people have probably seen exposure therapy on TV when therapists try to help people with extreme phobias. There are two types of exposure therapy I’ve been doing: imaginal and in-vivo. Imaginal therapy is reliving the trauma in your mind, and in-vivo therapy is confronting safe situations that you’ve been avoiding due to trauma. What this is supposed to do is force you to think about the trauma, and as my therapist says, figure out where it belongs and make sense of it. It also teaches your brain that thinking about the traumatic event isn’t the same as it happening, which is what your brain thinks when you think about the trauma with PTSD. It also is supposed to teach you how to handle your trauma symptoms with the goal of symptom reduction.
So I’ve been remembering the first time R. sexually assaulted me over and over again. I’ve noticed that I’ve been having more nightmares since this began. I’ve also noticed a very slight increase in panic attacks. My theory is that, while my conscious brain is learning how to process the trauma, my subconscious mind is still struggling to make sense of it and is taking it out on me. My subconscious mind is a real dick like that. What’s also been happening is that I’m starting to get angry at the memory. I am angry at it for being such a problem in my life, and I’m angry that he is forcing me to do this to heal. I think that this could either force me to hunker down and power through it OR make me too mad to continue.
My in-vivo is more of a pain in the ass. It’s relatively harmless things, like listening to R.’s favourite music and looking at his Facebook profile. So far my laptop is intact, so I’ve been able to control my “punch the face” reflex. I’ve found that I enjoy some of the music R. likes, and I am a music addict so I don’t consider this a bad thing at all. However, some of the music R. likes sounds like a cat being kicked in the testicles as five year old hits a cheap drum until it breaks—and then keeps hitting it. Some days, I hate my therapist for making me listen to shitty music.
However, I still struggle with my anger through the process. One of the songs R. enjoys is about domestic violence, specifically how much the lead singer wants to kill men who treat their wives and children badly. It makes me angry because it tells me that he wasn’t just a stupid kid who had no idea what he was doing. He knew what domestic violence did to people, and he chose to be abusive anyway.
I also struggled with my anger on Facebook. It made me mad that we liked some of the same things, because I have come to associate everything that he likes with him and therefore it becomes evil and bad. It also made me mad that we have so many mutual friends on Facebook. Kevin Kantor says it better than I can:
Yeah. To be frank, it’s a real bitch.
But I’m glad that I’ve finally taken this step. Nothing worth having comes easily, not in my experience. It’s hard, but I tell myself that I survived R. I tell myself that I survived a man who sexually assaulted me, belittled me and threatened my dog. I can survive exposure therapy. I can survive anything.
Here are some more resources about exposure therapy and PTSD:
Veteran’s Health Administration is just awesome! They provide such accessible and well-researched information on their youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaW28mX6gCpTuWYJyPfWd-Q