In the spirit of my intention to write about my emotions since healing my traumatic memories, recovering the ability to feel is the part of my brain injury recovery I’ve barely touched, I write today’s post on new mines in my PTSD minefield.
Before my brain injury I had this empathic ability to experience what others did and that allowed others to tell me things they would tell no one else. I became aware of the first part of this ability when I was 9 years old, the second part when I was 10.
The first time a person suddenly began telling me what was hidden inside them, I became still and listened and felt like a great trust had been placed upon me. I knew without a doubt that I could tell no one what this person was confiding in me, that they had responded unconsciously to something in me and had spilled what they otherwise would not have. (I had not thought of their confidences as their deepest secrets until my neurodoc used that phrase; it rather brings home to me the responsibility I took on when I sat and listened.) And I knew that I had to keep my mouth shut. That became my standard operating procedure because it happened a lot, with strangers or people I knew well. Although I had a photographic memory and didn’t forget what was told to me, it was easy for me to keep their confidences, to not speak a word of it to anyone else, not to a parent, not best friend, not husband.
I didn’t know it then, but this intuitive ability was the sole way I got to know people. It happened instantly upon meeting a person.
This ability or sense was as natural to me as breathing, and I never considered it dangerous, although I realize now that taking on others experiences as my own before I learnt to separate myself when I was 9 years old, was not a good thing.
And then along came my brain injury. For the Trekkers among you, I felt like Troi in The Loss. It took me years to stop feeling like one half of me had been lopped off. I had to learn how to read people the normal way, although with brain injury deficits, that too is a bit of a problem. My old empathic ability or sense was gone so long, I got to the point where I didn’t want it back. And in any case, I was convinced it was forever destroyed. My psychologist in the early years begged to differ. Not gone: buried. It will return, he insisted.
He was right.
It began to return last year in fits and starts; when my emotions are on, is when it works, not when I’m disconnected. It’s like a flame that’s barely being fed, weak, almost off, then flaring to life, only to weaken again. But month after month, the flame is flaring stronger. And that might be why what happened last week happened.
I was talking to my neurodoc about a person I hadn’t told him about before that he could remember. I had talked about this person to others, just routine story telling, without incident. And then all of a sudden at the end of my session last week, I didn’t feel well. I didn’t know why I felt like an alien was in my chest, trying to force its way out. I usually can tell the reason for my discomfort. Not this time.
I thought about it for days. Monday I was able to tell my neurodoc two theories. When my heart began racing as I was telling him theory #2, he said that’s it. I can’t disagree. The person I was telling him about last week is the first one who confided in me when I was 10. That was theory #2, that he confided and he was the first. I hadn’t told my neurodoc about that part until Monday, only some unrelated things. But I guess a part of me went sideways and connected the person to that memory, felt the raw emotions in my unconscious, and freaked, making me feel like an alien was in my chest. Ah, the joys of brain injury and PTSD.
So basically, when people were telling me their deepest secrets, I must have had an innate ability to contain my emotions and to simultaneously feel their emotions while protecting myself from them. Just as the brain injury probably destroyed all my defence mechanisms that protected me from my own traumas, it also destroyed this innate protective ability. Like riding piggyback on my returning empathic sense, all those emotions are returning as well but sans the old protective layer between me and them.
Fun. Wheeeee. Sigh.
My neurodoc kept telling me I didn’t need to be frightened; now that you know what this new mine is, he said, do not be frightened. I didn’t think I was. But by Tuesday, I had to admit that I was. My body expressed my fear long before my conscious mind understood that that was what I was feeling. But knowledge and understanding is power, isn’t it?
My neurodoc predicts more of these mines will rise up because a lot of people confided in me and there are a lot of secrets swimming around in my head with their attendant emotions. Like eels that masquerade as inert rocks, they unwind and wriggle under my consciousness, zig zagging down and around, to come at me sideways before diving deep to drive upwards into me and explode their contents into my emotions. Lovely.
How does one rebuild an innate protective layer? One of my therapists thinks that like my empathic sense, it’s buried and will return. My neurodoc believes the way to healing and neutralizing the mines is to process the emotions. The big question for me is how?!!! Thank God I have him and my therapist to help me, for this is totally beyond current brain knowledge and beyond my ken. And thank God, I called up Dr. Lynda Thompson in 2012 and began gamma brainwave biofeedback because without its de-stressing and cognition-strengthening effects, I’d be a basketcase. On the other hand, perhaps working on bringing my gamma brainwaves back is what led to this empathy resuscitation. In any case, if you see some strange woman standing in the middle of the road screaming imprecations at the universe, that’ll be me.