How Trauma Stands Apart
In 2008, while interning at Marymount Hospital's Behavioral Health Trudell Center, I encountered many individuals who were impacted by the symptoms of their mental health diagnosis. This experience ranged from complications of grief and loss to seeing individuals internally stimulated via audio and visual hallucinations. I was so intrigued!
Post College, I realized it was one thing to read about the diagnosis on paper, but to witness it manifested in person caused me to be even more enamored with the human mind; in particular, the biology of synapse connections, genetics, various brain receptors, etc which attribute to a diagnosis such as Schizophrenia and/or Bipolar disorder.
I can recall in undergrad having taken Biological Psychology to better understand how the systems structure of the brain determine not only bodily functions, but also cognitive and emotional functions. I can say that out of my entire collegiate career that this was my favorite class. Having learned that the brain from infancy (comprised from many parts) is learning and growing. We all have a functioning brain/mind, yet not everyone has a genetically attributed mental health diagnosis. But, there is one diagnosis where we are all in our humanness can be subjected to; a seemingly inorganic diagnosis, and yet it alters the mind and how it processes the world. It is one diagnosis I feel which stands out from the rest and that is Trauma and/or PTSD.
Trauma is the outcome of an overly stressful event/situation which alters the brain structure; in particular the synapse connections. As a result, it creates symptoms which impact one's ability to successfully function in every day life. Symptoms can range from having dreams to physically reliving the event.
I say that we are all have a disposition to receive the diagnosis of Trauma/PTSD is that we all have a brain, and our body's innate structure/function is to protect us from danger.
When we are born our brains wire themselves (synapse structured) as a learned brain configuration. It helps to shape our personalities and responses to certain situations. Yet! When we experience a traumatic event the brain is in the process of learning again, but with the purpose of protection.
When we enter what our body perceives to be an unsafe situation, our amygdala is activated and our left brain (rational mind) ceases to function and our right brain (emotional mind) enter into a flight, fight, freeze state of being. It is in this state that the brain is developing new synaptic connections learning how to protect the individual based on what is being seen, smelled, heard, touched or tasted during this time; ultimately to assist with survival.
What usually happens after the stressful event, if the body encounters a situation that the brain perceives as a threat based on the trauma event, the new synapse connection will be auto activated and send the body into a state of protection causing the individual to relive the event in that moment as an attempt to protect and increase survival.
Even though we all have to capacity to experience trauma, everyone does not have the same level of stress tolerance. So, one situation which may trigger a trauma/PTSD response for one, may not for another.
If an individual has experienced a traumatic event, with proper trauma support and processing, the brain has the capacity to relearn/restructure synapses so that when triggered the level brain can function and rationalize that the body is safe, what they are experiencing is a memory, and they are no longer in danger.
Most of the time, the barrier is the fear of revisiting the traumatic event which evolves into a more complex trauma.
But that will be for another day