Brain Injury Awareness Month: Trauma, PTSD and TBI
When we hear the word trauma, or think of a traumatic experience, we often think of the term PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Not a day goes by that you don’t see various forms of trauma in the media such as school shootings, natural disasters such as hurricanes or the devastating fires in California, or the recent 131-car pileup in Wisconsin. Each month of the year highlights a specific disability to bring awareness to it, and March is brain injury awareness month.
Every copy of the book Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury purchased during the month of March will see a portion of the proceeds donated to the BIAA (Brain Injury Awareness Association) to support their mission to advance awareness, research, treatment, and education and to improve the quality of life for all people affected by brain injury.
My Experience with Brain Injury
On March 5th, 1990, I had a cerebral bleed from a growth in my brain and passed out at the wheel while driving and had a head on collision with another vehicle. Five months after my accident I had brain surgery, and four years later I was told I had permanent brain damage and would never walk or talk again.
This trauma, along with others you can read more about here, changed my life. With brain injury awareness month now here, I wanted to share my knowledge of what I’ve gone through, as well as my extensive training as a trauma specialist of over 40 years.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is something out of the ordinary for you. Everyone experiences trauma differently, and something that may be traumatic for you, may be normal everyday life for someone else. For example, if you work in a meat slaughter house and need to break the neck of a chicken, your reaction to seeing this would be extremely different to someone who has never seen this before. I distinctly remember my sister-in-law breaking the neck of a chicken in her barn. I totally freaked out, while she looked confused and asked what I was so upset about.
Seeing a surgical procedure freaks me out, but I’m very thankful my brain surgeon remained calm and composed as he performed surgery on my brain. The key factor of trauma is if the event is common in your everyday life. If not, your brain triggers a sensor called the Amygdala in the middle of your brain, also called the Limbic System.
What Happens to Your Brain During a Traumatic Event?
When your Amygdala is triggered, your brain activates a fight-or-flight survival response. Now something that is normal to another, is now a life or death scenario to you. This reaction, which is all emotional, sends a message to your adrenal gland to send cortisol to get you out of danger, which activates your autonomic nervous system. Your mouth will suddenly get dry, your heart will start racing, your stomach will be upset, and you’ll feel like you are going to pass out. You may even feel the need to rush to the bathroom to urinate or defecate.
In addition to your Limbic System, this same message also gets sent to your frontal lobe, which is where you think and have rational thoughts. The frontal lobe is your reactive “brakes”, and lets you know that you are safe, and all those symptoms of fight-or-flight survival gradually disappear. However, the memory of this experience is recorded as “Flashbulb Memory”.
Anyone over the age of 50 distinctly remembers where they were at the time President John F. Kennedy got shot. This is also true for people who recall the spaceship “Challenger” blowing up in the sky, or when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers during 911. This “Flashbulb Memory” can bring back intellectual thoughts and visuals of the event, which is called a traumatic experience.
What is PTSD? (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
The main difference between a traumatic experience and PTSD is that your frontal lobe gets hijacked by the trauma, activating the autonomic system and causing a loss of control over your feelings. Symptoms of PTSD can include but are not limited to:
- Feeling anxious
- Stomach Issues
- Sleep Issues
One example of PTSD would be seeing a fire and suddenly reliving a traumatic event such as your house burning down as if it were occurring presently. PTSD causes a loss of all concepts of time and rational flight, causing your body to react as if this were a life or death situation.
Notable Authors in the Field of Trauma
There are many notable authors who specialize in trauma, and I’ve been blessed during my training to either have trained with them, worked with them, or have been able to share their knowledge with your in previous and forthcoming book reviews. To name just a few, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. – The Body Keeps the Score, Babette Rothschild – The Body Remembers, and Deb Shapiro – Your Body Speaks your Mind. Each of these books have in-depth explanations of how your body has reacted to trauma and offers great suggestions on how to help.
- EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy
Founded by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1990
- Energy Psychology – TFT (Thought Field Therapy) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy)
Founded by Roger Callahan
For additional treatment methods included Neurofeedback, please visit our PTSD and Trauma Treatments page.
Trauma Won’t Go Away, But There is Help and Hope
As mentioned above, traumatic events form a flashbulb memory that will stay with you for life. However, working with the various methods suggested above, you can retrain or rewire the frontal lobe to help you respond, rather than react. While I wish I could say that these treatments work every time, recently the spontaneous explosions around North Andover from the gas line leakage had me remembering flash backs to my car exploding in my carport and burning down half my house in 1982. Although I was frightened, I called my brother and told him of my experience, and he was my “frontal lobe”, reminding me that my house was fine and that I was too.
This Brain Injury Awareness Month remember that no matter how traumatic your experience was, there is Help and Hope. That’s why I co-authored the book Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Inside you’ll find methods and solutions for every symptom of Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS), Trauma, and PTSD. Every book purchased during the month of March will see a portion of the proceeds donated to the BIAA (Brain Injury Awareness Association) to support their mission to advance awareness, research, treatment, and education and to improve the quality of life for all people affected by brain injury.