Many people who experience a trauma learn to store it away to minimize the damage. For some, the trauma is stored in the sensory portion of the brain and can be retrieved unexpectantly by a similar sensory experience. For example, certain smells or sounds can make one revisit a memory.
Most people with Lyme disease, PANDAS or another chronic illness have stories about when they were effected or when their lives were turned upside down by the disease. For many, this time is anchored by a sensory memory. And unfortunately is retrieved similarly.
I saw a teenage girl a few years ago who required a January hospitalization for her suicidal thoughts. The hospital staff did not understand Lyme/PANDAS and this experience unfortunatly created its own set of traumas for her. Now, anytime the snow begins to fall, she panics. She panics not because of winter, but because her brain reminds her that this was the time of year she was hospitalized. This was when her world was turned upside down.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that is reserved for danger. It is responsible for our "fight or flight" responses. Unfortunately, this part of our brain is unorganized. It recognizes danger, but does not recognize time, people, places, etc. It picks up on signals, memories, similarities and then sets off an alarm so we become on high alert and do not get hurt again. But often times, we are no longer in danger. When this happens, when our brain sets off an unnecessary alarm, it needs to be taught how NOT to do this.
The therapists at FTC are trained to recognize and access sensory memories in children and adults. We are trained to help the amygdala settle and know how to dismantle the alarms. This can be helpful with sensory memories but also with any type of trauma that the brain stores.
Recognizing triggers and mentioning them to your therapist can be very helpful in treatment. Talk with your therapist to see if trauma based response interventions may be right for you.
As parents of chronically ill children, we watch our kiddos cycle. They struggle intensely, and then months later, succeed. Different aspects of treatment target troublesome areas of infection with often devastating results and behaviors. When a family is living during a calm non-inflammatory time, parents often let their guard down and begin to exhale. However, whenever signs of the troublesome out of control symptoms begin to flair, it is easy to get into the "I can't do it" fight/flight or even freeze mode. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very relevant in parents with chronically ill children. Going back into the darkness when you have already been in the light, can be painful...truly devastating. Alert you support system. Let them in to what it is like in your world. Getting triggered at this level is neither fun nor easy.
Whether it is your child experiencing trauma responses to chronic illness, or you yourself, understand it for what it is and help those around you understand this important piece as well. Please! Feel feel to comment. Your ideas and responses are welcomed freely.
Unless specified, Gabrielle Anderson, lmft is the author of these posts. Gabrielle is a Therapist and the Director at FTC. She is a married mother of 2 and has experienced chronic infection in the practice, herself and in her family.
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