Luka has been checking in, lately, talking about being (mis)diagnosed with C-PTSD (there’s a new PTSD in town, and it’s called “complex”). He’s also being told — in so many words — that he’s on the autistic spectrum, with Asperger’s or some other “location” on the spectrum.
This sounds eerily familiar to me. I’ve been thinking about the connections between these all for a number of years — since 2009 when I first started to really get a handle on my TBI issues. You can find a partial list of the pieces I’ve written about PTSD and how it connects with TBI here: https://brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com/?s=ptsd
I started out with great intentions, and I wrote a lot about it, at the time. But then I ran out of steam and did not finish the work I was intending to complete. I got “a fur piece down the road”, but the work remains incomplete. I’ll have to do something about that.
Anyway, PTSD is a popular focus of psychotherapy. And Autism/Asperger’s seem to be favorite subjects, perhaps because it gets so much press and folks on the autistic spectrum are literally underdogs in life — and we Americans have a special place in our hearts for underdogs.
This is NOT to make light of them — sometimes my words come across as flippant or dismissive, when I’m just trying to be factual.
I, myself, have frequently been considered someone who has PTSD and/or is on the Autistic spectrum. I’ve been catered to by psychotherapist friends, treated with kid gloves, because of what they believed were/are deep-seated buried memories of horrible things that were done to me, which I’m not (yet) strong enough to face. They were fond of making veiled (and obvious) references to past trauma, talking about “other” people and speaking in general about buried memories and how courageous it is to face up to childhood abuse, whilst casting sideways glances at me… were they fishing for a response? Now, I’m not always that sharp to pick up on subtle clues, but when people say the same sort of things and behave the same sort of way for months – even years – on end, even I start to catch on.
Part of the problem with the timing of my TBI recognition and rehab work, is that it commenced around the time in my life (early 40s) when full-grown adults typically start to come to terms with childhood abuse of some kind. In your early 40s, you’re liable to be stable in your life, have a home and a job and a concrete sense of self to fall back on. Lots of people can’t even begin to approach the terrible things that happened to them till they get to that point.
I, on the other hand, have been dealing with the fallout of abuse for over 20 years. I know full well that I was treated like crap, knocked around as a kid, passed from the care of one stranger to another, verbally abused by both parents, and generally treated like sh*t by people who didn’t even know me, and I spent most of my 20s coming to terms with it. I’ve done it. I’ve also been well aware that one of my uncles is a creep and likes to engage in inappropriate behavior with his nieces and nephews. He’s a creep. I’ve known about that for a long, long time. And he probably messed with both his kids — which is probably why they don’t live anywhere near him, it took them a number of tries to find marriages that work for them, and they both have a distant, harried look on their faces. So, the whole sexual abuse thing is not something I can’t bear to face up to. If anyone in my family had messed with me, I’d be very public about it and take no prisoners.
But for some reason, the well-meaning psychotherapist friends I used to have (I don’t spend any time with them, anymore) were oh-so-convinced that I had deep-seated emotional trauma issues. And they genuinely wanted to help me.
I don’t doubt that. The thing is, they were specially trained in dealing with trauma, as well as PTSD, and they wanted to use the tools they had — and were comfortable with. PTSD was like their “pet” therapy, and they loved to wield that tool like a scalpel.
The only problem was, they were bound and determined to use that metaphorical scalpel to operate on my metaphorical rotator cuff, when my real problem was a kind of “referred pain” in my metaphorical shoulder from my metaphorical gall bladder.
Make sense? I hope so. I was starting to confuse myself…
Anyway, someone once said, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” And that’s pretty much how things were/are for me with folks who specialize in PTSD, complex trauma, Autistic spectrum issues, Asperger’s, etc. They’re relatively new approaches to very real problems that a lot of people need help with. And they’ve been so misunderstood and generally under-served for so long, that people who specialize in them have to be advocates and educators and keep looking for them and talking about them.
I’ve been encouraged to read about high-functioning autistic folks like Temple Grandin. I’ve had people hit around — or come right out and say — that I’m “on the spectrum”. And to tell the truth, I do feel very comfortable around autistic folks, perhaps because they don’t play fancy games and make up all kinds of dramas to play around with. There are members of my family who walk, talk, and act like “Aspies”, so who knows? Maybe there’s some of that in the mix.
But that’s not the main thing with me.
Main thing is my TBIs — even the mild ones have screwed me up terribly. Cumulative. Hidden. Pain in my ass.
The thing that I think really hides our TBIs from therapists, is the trauma element. And the thing that prevents our recovery, is that element which goes unaddressed because it’s directly related to TBI, rather than other kinds of trauma.
Dealing with TBI on a daily basis is traumatic on a daily basis. The trauma does NOT stop with the injury. That’s just the start. Every waking moment we are dealing with a lost sense of self, along with all the other surprises of living life with another person’s brain (the original one is nowhere to be found), we are undergoing trauma. Just because other people can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
It is internally traumatic, painful, confusing, frustrating, and at times terrifying, to work your way back from TBI — especially a “mild” one. And the regular parade of upsets builds up a critical mass of stress in our systems that keeps us marinating in the biochemical soup that produces PTSD.
Yes, PTSD is a problem after mild TBI (especially mild TBI), but that trauma comes from daily life, not something that happened in the distant, hidden past.
This is where psychotherapy falls down terribly and fails miserably in its noble potential. Therapists can be so focused on what once happened, looking for dramatic disruptions, that they completely miss the daily, everyday, constant barrage of non-dramatic intrusions and pains and stresses that — if not addressed with practical approaches — contribute to and sustain PTSD.
I wish to heaven that more therapists got this, and that they could see past their own individual needs to be right and to fix the wrongs that they themselves endured, and actually help people with TBI.
But I don’t think the field is quite there yet.
And who am I to listen to? I’m just an undereducated civilian without any letters after my name, without an academic pedigree or credentials to make anyone listen to a word I say.
I am nobody.
But I know a thing or two.
And the therapists of the world who genuinely seek to help others, would do well to listen to people like me and adjust their approach.
Augh! It is so frustrating. And I’ve got to go to work. I need to finish my works on restoring a sense-of-self, as well as TBI and PTSD. Since I’m narrowing the field on what I’m working on, these days, it would do me (and my workload) a world of good, to get those completed and send them out into the world.
With any luck, someone just might listen.
But the day is waiting. I have a full day ahead — and a phone interview this afternoon for a permanent job with a company I’ve been watching for a few years. We shall see how it goes.