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Category: blog

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Trauma, PTSD, Panic attacks

It all seems to happen quickly, unexpectedly, you zone out as if in a dream, a short movie of an unpleasant event you’d rather forget runs quickly in your head.
You can once again see everything in this dreamlike place, remember what was said, even smell the place. This is not happening you try to remember to stop it, but it’s too late.
Now you are back in that moment, your mood changes to anger/anxiety, you notice that you are getting hot, your heart is racing, your breathing quickens, you need to get out of the room. You feel out of control, dizzy. Slowly the world you are really in returns and the feelings subside.
This is a panic attack, an emotional hijack, unexpected, unpleasant, possibly made worse by the people who are trying to help you.
This account, based on my own felt experience, is an attempt to map out what happens when PTSD or panic is triggered. Of course, the severity and nuances are different for every individual. Occasionally it invades our dreamscape as well.
I would describe it as Anxiety to the max.
The physical response, raised heartbeat, shortness of breath, feeling hot and sweaty is the result of your body being flooded with adrenaline.
The “fight or flight” response, located deep within our basic survival mechanisms has its uses. If someone shouts ‘fire’, this, without thinking will help you get out of a building quickly.
However, these effects can be triggered (before you can even realise what is happening to you) by small details that unbeknownst to your conscious mind have now become unconscious warnings of an imminent threat.
I do not make light of this, whether it be trauma or as I say Trauma, our conditioned response can make our everyday life fearful and, in many ways, harder to bear.
I took this on as a research subject, looking at the differing ways other countries have treated this common reaction. From the USA and its post-Vietnam experience, to civil war refugees living abroad, and of course the less dramatic accidents, or being involved in larger and unusual dramatic events.
My approach
I have developed my way of working with these problems. My main philosophy is that it is possible to learn that you control it, it does not control you.
It means that this issue needs to be examined safely, so that it does not trigger the response by talking about it, however if I have helped you in my useful way to resolve it, you will back in control of your life.
Over the years I have been practicing I have helped people in many ways from overcoming their fears of flying to working with a community in the aftermath of a terror attack in London.
I will work with you to be back in control of your ‘emotionally-hijacked’ responses.

Ecopsycholgy. our relationship with nature

pets
dogs are everywhere

Ecopsychology
Myself and other animals. The wild Psyche.
Some initial musings
I have often wondered about the importance of the natural world in my own life. I need some exposure to the world of nature, to keep, well, happy, content even. Nature has a powerful calming and restorative effect. I feel good when some random dog decides to make a brief acquaintance on a walk, or a cat, looking for pavement affection, purrs contentedly when I scratch its ears. The busyness of the birds, insects and squirrels as the year comes to life still captivates me as a profound connection to the Earth.
I started on my journey to psychotherapy, at first from my interest in philosophy, and then I studied Zoology at university. I selected evolution, ecology and behaviour as my distinct research interests, with a cross over to the Psychology department to have a background in Neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. I dissented a lot from the scientific model of objectivity, the pretence that I was not involved in some way with the animals I was observing.
I remember being in a Marine Biology laboratory and the chief researcher introduced me to his favourite octopus.
In retrospect I should asked a question, how does one develop a relationship(favouritism) with a Cephalopod?
What was the link between this man and a vastly different alien being (related closely to snails and slugs)?
Others that spring to mind are Dianne Fosse and Jane Goodall, their initial studies of gorillas and chimpanzees, instead of being carried out with scientific objective rigour, became a personal almost family endeavour. No relational distance there, it was personal.
I also studied primates (in captivity) for a while, way back when, in a team. By the end they all had names and personalities.
Psychotherapy, a place I arrived on my journey 20 years later, in many ways looked like I had simply swapped species. Now I was interested in the relational world, not how anymore, the question had become why? What did this mean.
cat
best cat ever

Families and other animals.
I think we all, at least in the UK, understand the familiar role that domestic pets play in our lives. (Farm animals are mostly cute in the fields, or wrapped prepared in the supermarket reduced to pieces of meat)
Pets though, now that is quite different. Different cultures, even across a vast timescape have relationships with pets. They are buried with solemnity and remembered as a tiny person, connecting seamlessly with our emotional lives.
I will attempt brief rather cartoonised version of this journey with pets and the wild.
Firstly, let us start with settled couples. In preparing for the large step into the move from coupledom to family, a dog or cat mostly will be introduced into the household. This is preparatory responsibility and caring. A test of nurturing (kittens and puppies, not older rescue animals) and a shared task. The intricacies of how a couple will interact with a needy, helpless in many ways third, are played out here. On occasion this practice run turns into something far more serious, the pet/baby/parent interaction gets played for real. There is extraordinarily little difference between the practice and the reality of parenting children.
Next, with younger children, rather curiously short-lived pets become introduced into the family home. I have heard it suggested that this is the first introduction to death, and the solemn rituals of burial and even the emotional pain of loss. A primitive rite of passage, inbuilt into our collective unconscious. A dead goldfish is a manageable situation, but still, dead is dead.
As we move through our life stages, children become firstly taught about the outside world, friendly and cute creatures are in story books, dinosaurs( very commonly) exist as the old mythic monsters, backed up by ‘science’, exhibitions, television documentaries and fiction.
To be scared by the mythic monster is another rite of passage in the world. Some story books, fairy tales, myths even cartoons hold our fascination with the dark shadow uncontrollable wildness of our fellow creature travellers.
Anima and animus and childhood.
We let this wildness into our homes, domesticated and playful of course. The curious bond between dogs and boys and cats and horses with girls suggest, a difference of relational expectations, even at this early age.
This is an over generalisation, I realise, but it still holds true, represented in story books, movies and parental biases. Bowing to pet pressure there remains a gendered choice, that has stood firm despite fashion changes over the years.
Cats are given female (or anima) characteristics, dogs male qualities (animus).
Horses and ponies have a different quality. Equine therapy is now widely used around SEN, and curiously dependency recovery treatment. This is because you need to build an essential, trust-based relationship with horses, you cannot force them. This relational aspect again is much more a part of our own anima tendencies, the relational self.
When we interact with non-humans, we are revealing some parts of ourselves, often hidden from others, due to the constraints of our own gendered consciousness.
And so, it goes.
We carry this code into our adult lives, sometimes expanding to care about the plight of the non-domesticated wild world, over the last few decades the ethical or non-ethical treatment of our farmed animals has risen to become a new ethical battlefront.
In short, we care about our fellow creatures, and respond emotionally when they are mistreated.
Ecopsychology

Picture of woodland in Sussex
we live next to nature

I know the above is very general, I have also passed over how we enjoy plants and tending to gardens or wildflower patches. The connection we have with nature, even though our techno savvy 21st century eyes are blinkered, our relational based psyche responds in a way that suggests a deeper bond with our planet and life in general.
Our mental well being is part of this life ecology. We enjoy the outside, freed from brick and metal boxes, the fresh air, and horizon clears our mind, whilst we remain enthralled by the ecological world that surrounds us.
Relationships. Easy and complicated?
Over many years in practice, I have seen clients who have ‘better’ relationships with their companion animals than with other people. This is a rather curious phenomenon.
The most obvious answer (well they don’t answer back) is not actually the case. Our favourite animal companions are (dogs, cats, ferrets, birds and horses) are remarkably good at responding to our presence, voice and moods. They also do not pretend with false reactions.
The muted nature of this response may make life a little easier, however it opens up a relationship side of our ‘selves’, which no longer needs to be hidden. An American psychotherapist suggests that when two people first meet, there is only one task that needs to be performed. Initially we Promote ourselves to and Protect ourselves from the ‘gaze’ of the other. If this persona is not needed, we can reveal our relationship needs and fears. Companion animals let us do this without comment, or critique.
The nurturing side (and its corresponding shadow, bullying control) is given full rein here.
This sounds a bit too simple to me. Other factors now come into play. In some process we identify with these creatures. How many clients have I encountered, will tell me about their adverse childhood experience?
Lots.
And I have seen them find some solace in rescuing an animal, the smallest, perhaps injured animal at the adoption centre. This supports the proposal that when we care for the needs of others, we also are taking care of our own (unmet?) needs emotionally.
Animals allow us to care for our hurt childhood selves, the relationship is real and constructive.
This is the reason that we will grieve their loss. They area apart of us for the short while they are here.
*Recently it has struck me as interesting that whilst, under Covid lockdown, some relationships have struggled (it has been a huge ask to live with another 24/7/90 days ++) that we do not mind having a similar relationship with our pets, who can be a constant companion. This may be to do with the asymmetrical power dynamic of course.
Lastly, our psyche has parts that we are ‘ashamed’ of, anger, fear, lust, etc. (these are considered part of our shadow psyche, the necessary duality of opposites (C. Jung).
On occasion, we cannot contain them within ourselves and either judge others or find a way to hide them in plain sight. (if you have worked in an office, I am sure you will understand)
Once again there is the curious case of our companion animals. We translate them into language, (much as we do with babies)
In many cases this is unbalanced, we see what we want to see in their ‘personality’.
Their character traits (see how the language changes) have become ‘humanised’.
I have met snarly yapping dogs, described by their owner(carer) as “really sweet natured”!
Or alternatively I have seen clients with anger issues describe their dog (always dogs) as vicious and then later show me a photo of a rather dopey looking mutt.
Our pets contain our own emotional map, projected onto them. The vehicle for this projection is the invisible glue of relationship.
Epilogue
I wrote this to examine our relationships through a different prism. If I am asked about the purpose of therapy, I have found the best answer to be just one word. Relationship. Here we find ourselves and we find others. We can see them in us and ourselves in them. It could be other people; it could be a pet cat.
The other thing, which does bother me, is the curious belief that if we destroy our home, there is some sci fi future on dead rocks in space. I suggest that this planet Earth is our only real home, we have evolved here and are part of a whole. The narcissistic desire to explore space is a phantasm, our mental wellbeing depends on all sorts of interactions, we are ‘wired’ that way.
Take care
Peace and good fortune
Marius Paul

Corona Virus. The New Normal

Corona virus, emergency and trauma

This current situation, ongoing for as long as it will take, has come with a much-overlooked side effect.

This, unfortunately, unless looked at in the open will exacerbate the situation, long after whatever green light freedom has been announced and this period recedes into the distance.

It feels at this moment like it will never end, and that the aftermath will lead to great changes, however, this may not be the case.

If you can remember the  London Olympics a joyful month in the near past, where every day we in the UK participated in a world event, or on the horrific side, various horrendous terrorist bombings in London, Manchester and Paris and not forgetting  more recently Grenfell, now marked on our calendar with anniversaries, there is the marked lack of anything feeling really different in our day to day lives.

We licked our wounds, attended to the survivors and moved on.

On a surface level this may appear true; however, there is something fundamental that changed. This change will remain on the back burner threatening to return if the circumstances change again. In psychology we term this as trauma our psyche. Our imagined world can no longer be considered safe; The illusion of safety has been shattered, then slowly forgotten as we have returned to the world of appearances once again.

Emergency Psyche.

Human beings are remarkably resilient. Historically we can survive wars, revolutions, natural disasters, economic downturns etc. Yet for the majority they do not fall apart( some do of course), they have adapted and survived , as indeed our ancestors learnt to do over the last few millennia.

We have an evolved mechanism, like being hardwired for such eventualities, that is there for the’ just in case’ emergencies.

The problem is that once we have usefully encountered it and used this unsophisticated emergency thinking to

survive, it cannot easily be switched off. All things/events will now have to be weighed up in the balance of what type of new emergency this is?

 

The problem is the notion of the invisible virus enemy, somehow constantly there in the background, This can make every person, surface, journey outside seem dangerous, or at least high risk.

We have collectively lost our trust in the world as a safe enough place; everyday things become a throw of the dice, in an unacknowledged game of chance, played for high stakes.

The big risk is that we become attenuated to the threat, bored even, playing a seemingly endless game with no clear-cut rules. The parameters change constantly, fuelled by over excited media and the quest to feel better than useless in the face of this disease.

The danger here is that we start to test the riskiness of the situation, it is easy to forget and self-sabotage as the days drag on. Like a child told that the lake is dangerous to swim in, we stare into the waters and try dangling our toes in for a while, to see whether this is true or not.

Our fascination with danger, our reluctance to just be an obedient child is stirred into action.

The emergency brain has now made us into our own worst enemy, as we swing between extreme caution and bold adventures. There are only black and white areas. No happy middle.

This thinking is a reboot of our preverbal child mind, when we don’t know what is going on we fill in the gaps, and the world is either hope for the best (happy child, it will get better) or extreme distress (the bawling, crying infant) . Without words that can accurately grab the moment we have become emotionally hijacked, and so the see saw swing comes into action.

After all, this duality was useful once, it worked too keep us safe when we were at our most vulnerable.  It is a useful tool, but not the only one (if we are armed with only a hammer all our problems begin to look like nails!)

The world outside has emptied

The end game

We escaped from this state of uselessness, reacting to everything that did not quite make sense once before.  We have all moved from this state of infantile reckoning to the calmer waters of adulthood.

On this journey we have learnt in the most part, how to tolerate not knowing ( the playful side of this ‘emergency’ thinking is in watching live sports, such pleasure in the tension of not really knowing how it will turn out)  we have learnt that our experience is the worthwhile reality test to dispel the imagined demons or indeed the belief that we are invulnerable and need  to be strong always.

When we have better, more informed knowledge we will once again be able to make wise choices.

We can learn to trust the world again, to be safe enough and this experience (which is not over yet, I write this on day 55 of the UK lockdown) will be absorbed into our collective knowledge, mediated by movies, novels, songs and art as a memento of these times.

We will emerge from this wiser, perhaps more wary of threat (global warming and the Anthropocene spring to mind) and our communities will move on. I don’t know where to, but the journey of our lives will continue.

Stay safe. Remember, this too will end.

Peace and Good fortune
Marius Paul