Thursday, October 16, 2014

'Nam flashbacks, neuroplasticity, and getting right back up on that horse.

I was in a pretty traumatic car crash about two weeks ago. Physically I'm perfectly fine. The car was totaled, but the safety systems did their job perfectly. It was 7:58 a.m., and I was turning onto the road where I work. I don't know if it was the sun in my eyes, or just carelessness, but I didn't see him. I turned directly into the path of an oncoming car. My vehicle, which was my dad's car because I had loaned mine to my boyfriend, was spun 180 degrees.  

When I close my eyes I still feel the weightless sensation of being whipped around, held in place by the thin seat belt and the explosion of dust in the air from the airbags.

This was my second car totaled while I was driving in four months. The first one wasn't my fault, but still it was traumatizing.

The whole experience gave me quite a few panic attacks and a mini-midlife crisis. I still have almost paralyzing anxiety about pulling out onto the highway. I'm positive that there will be a car there that I don't see. I'm struggling to find peace with it, release the guilt and shame of it, and to find a balance of doing what I want when I want (like driving to see CA) and not taking undue risks.

Anyway, so despite what my friends have started referring to as my "'Nam flashbacks" while I have been driving I have still been heading to work. One day I happened across an article in some magazine about PTSD and rewiring the brain through imagination. I found it VERY motivational.

In other words, imagining all of the ways that I was going to wreck a car was actually making my trauma worse. Go figure.  I can't find the exact article in the minefield of my father's desk, but the same point is made on in their article about neuroplasticity and PTSD.  "Hebb’s entire theory argued that experience can change neuronal structure. What does that mean to you? It means that while trauma can alter your brain – and hence, the repetitive brain processes of PTSD – the basis for this change is experience. Following that philosophy and Hebb’s suggestion, the idea that emerges is that the brain can change again, due to new experience." How awesome is that?

Healing my trauma boils down to wanting to change that experience in my own mind. Talk about getting right back up on the horse that threw you. Obviously it makes sense that the faster that you have a different outcome from your negative one the easier it is to rewire your brain. That was part of the original article that piqued my interest in the subject. Negative pathways haven't had as long to become ingrained behaviors or reactions, so since it has only been two weeks I still have a relatively easy path. This stuff seems common sense, but oh my gosh the implications! Car wrecks, horse bites, bad relationship habits. I'm going to start rewiring myself using positive imagining by golly!

In other news, that is harder than it sounds. Our brains WANT to make new connections, but our minds/souls/egos whatever that voice in our head is called doesn't like to let go and redefine itself nearly so easily. I'm really struggling with letting go of the idea that I am a bad driver. But even though I am right back up on that ol' car that threw me; it's a hard fight. I can barely imagine how hard changing some of my more ingrained bad habits/reactions/thought processes is going to be. My mini mid-life crisis has given me a lot of them to consider and try to heal. Do you have any bad thought processes that you need to break? I encourage you to join me on this particular crazy adventure!

Along this journey I also had another though, there must be more to those old sayings than what I had ever imagined. Getting right back up on the horse that throws you would limit the amount of time that your brain had to make negative connections. It completely supports Hebb's theory! How cool is that? *Sorry had to nerd out there. So, in addition to getting right back up on that horse that threw me, I'm going to have to start paying attention to not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or maybe even learn to not eat the cake that I have. Though I still don't understand the concept of having cake and not eating it too. I really think that saying needs to be modified to be something like, "you can't possibly eat all the food on the super buffet", or "you can't eat your cake and stay under your daily calorie limit."  Maybe, "you can have your cake, but if you eat it you won't fit in your skinny jeans." I dunno. Some other analogy about decision making would have to be clearer.

Who in the hell wouldn't eat the damn cake? Seriously.

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