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Showing posts with label Dr. Colleen Crary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dr. Colleen Crary. Show all posts

Friday, July 21, 2023

All In The Mind-Mackenzie Abbot reporting…

Occasionally, the boss will put a story idea on the assignment log that strikes a chord with me and I must take it.  Not through necessity, but through sheer curiosity.

When I was given the job of discovering more about Fearless Nation PTSD Centre and what it does, I jumped at the chance.  As a sufferer of PTSD myself, I was curious to find out more about what goes on at Fearless Nation and what, exactly, PTSD is.

I spoke with Dr Colleen Crary at the meeting point after she gave a lecture.

Mack:So, the first question is as part of Fearless Nation, you deal with PTSD sufferers, what is PTSD?

Dr Colleen: What is PTSD? Well, It's a complicated condition. I like to call it a condition, not an illness. It is the only mental health challenge or condition that people get that is caused by external means. For example, things like bipolar, schizophrenia. Those might be genetic. I mean, we don't know. There's so much we don't know in science. PTSD, however, can be directly linked to things like combat, being a crime victim, being abused in childhood and so on and so forth. Whereas where the abuse, or the event is external. Now people always ask me what about natural disasters, you know? Whether it's a volcano or a hurricane or a flood or something like that. What was heavily studied and observed during Hurricane Katrina down in the south part of the United States, and further studies have been done since then, is that the natural disaster is very shocking. It's horrible. You lose your house., it's terrible. It's hard, but it's what happens when there's an absence of the law. There's lawlessness and a lot of crime goes on person to person, and that tends to be what causes the PTSD.  Two things happen. First of all, the brain changes shape.  The brain completely alters its shape, six months after the traumatic event. And what happens is that a person when you are being traumatised or, you know, bullied or a crime is being committed upon you or you're in combat, what happens is your brain goes into the fight or flight mode. It's a very primitive thing. It's what protected us from Sabre tooth tigers, so to speak. And what happens is it goes into fight or flight and the memory of the trauma divides into parts of the brain that are nonverbal and verbal and because that happens after the trauma is over, trauma patients can't remember the whole thing in sequential order. You know what memories of, say, a birthday party or going to work or a work project or something like that. When one is in the fight or flight mode, that memory is spliced up and goes to different areas of the brain. And then unfortunately afterwards, that's why we have the nightmares, the hypervigilance, the startle effect, and going involuntarily into shock because the nonverbal memories have not been united with the verbal memories. But there are many, many wonderful diverse ways to reunite those memories and then process the entire trauma and grieve it. There's a lot of grief work involved. There's a lot of anger work involved, et cetera. And just one sequential memory being processed and understood, and then you come to terms with it, and you can move on with your life. But it’s easier said than done. When these memories are divided, what happens is people manifest physical ailments, the nightmares, the night terrors, panic attacks, for seemingly no reason. Or there might be a trigger that reminds them of the trauma event. And, on the other side of it, is we go numb, we go and voluntarily into shock and we find it hard to maintain intimacy. We find it hard to stay with people. You know when they're talking to us it's like sometimes, we go numb, or we dissociate. Dissociate is the clinical term. We will somebody will be talking to us and it's like I can't understand a word the person is saying because we go into shock and sometimes it cycles at the same time in our brains you can understand just how difficult it is, but there are many, many, many ways to bring these memories together. But it's not easy for the PTSD patient to do these things. It's extremely hard and it's very unfair and they're incredibly angry about it because I didn't cause this trauma. I didn't ask to be hurt or bullied or have a crime committed against me or to be in a firefight in in war, in the war theatre. Now I must do all the work, so I get a lot of that, but you must go through it to get processed and over it.

Mack: You've answered the three questions I had written down in one sentence. So that kind of threw me off a little bit.

Dr Colleen: What were questions two and three, please. I may have something to add

Mack: Well, question one was what is PTSD, what is the effect and what I was actually going to ask you is that as a PTSD sufferer myself, my psychiatrist has said on more than one occasion that PTSD is basically a filing error in the  brain, where you take an event that's happened to you and you either try and build a wall around it or you file it away somewhere. And it just reappears. You know, at random time, like you say, would you agree that is that the case?

Dr Colleen: Absolutely. As I was saying. During the traumatic event, we go into shock. It's fight or flight. And the memory of the trauma is divided into non-verbal parts of the brain like your psychiatrist was talking about, you know, a filing error. It is a filing error. That's a great term. I'm going to use that. I'm going to steal that from you! Nonverbal areas of the brain and the verbal areas of the brain. This is why, here's an example. This is why for many years police did not believe rape victims or some crime victims because the part of the trauma was in the nonverbal areas of their brain where that information is stored, and they only could see bits and pieces. I mean, imagine if you're being assaulted or raped, where is your attention when you are in fight or flight when your brain kind of shuts down. I mean, it's like oxygen doesn't reach certain parts of the brain so that you can get away from, as I said, the primitive Sabre tooth tiger analogy. You're looking at the gun, the knife, or the weapon. And you're trying to figure out how to get out of this. You might play dead and just let it happen because you just freeze, like a deer in the headlights. So that's very much true. But the going one of the more popular theories is exactly what your psychiatrist said. It's a filing error in the brain between the verbal and nonverbal areas of the brain because after the trauma is over and you're safe, then you start having all these weird symptoms. Like you know, sudden panic attacks or just going numb and winking out for a few minutes or a while. Depression, anger, grief, because it' very frustrating, very frustrating illness. Or uh condition. 

Mack: So how does your organisation help avatars who come along and say, look, I need help.

Dr Colleen: Well, the reason I think that a virtual world like second life is so great. And I thought so when I first came in in 2008 and then I left because I was freaked out and overwhelmed by it all. And then I came back in 2009, just a couple months later. January because I started thinking, wait a minute. It's got built in anonymity. You know, you can come in with an avatar name and a personhood presence and. You don't have to use voice. We're using voice right now, but there are a lot of people that their bodies have been compromised by war. My best friend here in second life was a 9/11 Ground Zero EMT or emergency medical technician and stayed at Ground Zero for a long time and prefers not to speak, so she uses everything in the chat box. This is a perfect place because people can come, and they can present the bodies that they... they're like my avatar. It looks like my best day at age 27, OK. In real life I look the same, but a little older and more tired also. We have, you know, a lot of veterans or people that have survived car crashes, you know, vehicular accidents. That were traumatic, et cetera, and they may have bodies that are compromised, or they may be ill. You may fit surprising, but people who have gotten cancer or had to have limbs amputated for one reason or another, they experienced PTSD. I mean, think about it like for a cancer patient or, you know, a deadly diagnosis. Just you're told. “Hey, you know you you're not going to make it.”  Yeah, this is it. And you go and you get your will drawn up and you get your house in order, and you make sure everything's right and you're all OK. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to die and go to heaven. And then it's like, ohh well, we got the test back and, and you're going to make it. You're fine. You're still alive. And people like flip out. I mean, because it's very traumatic to go through and especially children who get cancer or long-term degenerative illnesses. They developed PTSD as well, so I think second life is a wonderful place because you can look your best self and you can be your best self. Some people come in here and they're not their best self. They're their worst self and we've we know all about that griefers and people like that. But what a wonderful place for people to come and talk about very painful truths in their lives, abuses that they've suffered, and they can do so as they please. They don't have to battle traffic to get to a psychiatrist's office or be face to face on a screen. I guess we do more virtual stuff now with therapy, but they can come in and discuss these things and we have peer support meetings. We stopped them for the summer, but we're going to be having them again in the fall, so feel free to join us, anyone. We're open to everyone who has PTSD. But the virtual. World is perfect for PTSD treatment. I See it as a Real therapeutic edge.

Mack: Is there a procedure for helping various PTSD victims, not victims of PTSD sufferers? Is there a certain stage by stage process, or is each individual different?

Dr Colleen: Everyone is different. I mean I think with any mental health condition, you know, each of us is a unique set of variables. Nature variables and nurture variables. That's why it's so hard to get medications right for people with any sort of mental condition, and why what works for one person doesn't work for another. And one of the big problems in healthcare or mental health care is that there tends to be this one-size-fits-all sort of you know plan and, even just diagnosing things, it's with one-size-fits-all, and that's not how people are, and that's not how human beings' work

Mack: So, you're also a real-life non-profit organisation for PTSD sufferers. How would someone find you if they didn't fancy doing it in world? How would they find you?

Dr Colleen: We've had better luck in world than we have in real life. There's, like, a million nonprofits or charity organisations for mental health and for PTSD, and particularly with the pandemic. But even pre pandemic getting people to.... there's still a lot of stigma attached to having. PTSD. So, getting people to step up and come to meetings in person. I mean, I can't tell you how many gyms or uh YMCA you know rooms or community centres where I've. I've sat on a folding chair with a big circle of empty chairs around me. We get much better results in in world and that may sound strange, it seems like this PTSD meetings like Veterans groups will have them. But people don't want it to be known that they have PTSD because there's all this stigma that people with PTSD were ticking time bombs. We're going to climb the clock tower. And this is simply not true. I mean, someone might have PTSD who you know, of course, you know, here in America, we have, like, a mass shooting three times a day. But they might have PTSD. PTSD can certainly exacerbate existing homicidal tendencies. But people who kill are... they already have a form of paranoid schizophrenia. Homicidal tendencies are really the best term for it. But it's people with PTSD. The leading cause of death for us is suicide. We are far more likely to top ourselves or self-harm or commit suicide than to harm someone else. In fact, the reason why we have PTSD is because we have a conscience, and we have we feel the weight of responsibility. To those we love and to the community in general. And I don't think the public understands that. So, in real life I just I like stopped it.  Now that PTSD is being a little more accepted after the pandemic, especially with medical workers and such, I want to restart it here in my community in southern Washington state, the Pacific Northwest. But it's extremely hard to get butts on seats. Whereas here people will come because nobody knows who they really are in real life, because there's still so much stigma.

I thanked her for her time and we parted ways.  I felt I had gained an insight into my own version of PTSD and the condition in general.  We only scraped the surface of PTSD and we could have continued the conversation for a few more hours.

Maybe, it’s time YOU had that conversation?

Fearless Nation can be found here