Friday, October 14, 2005

Mad Season

Well, I need you now
Do you think you can cope?
You’ve figured me out.
That I’m lost and I’m hopeless.
I’m bleeding and broken,
Though I’ve never spoken.

I come undone
In this mad season.

~ Matchbox Twenty, “Mad Season”

Anniversary Trauma in Abortion-Induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Recently, I was asked how I know that the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with which I struggle was induced by my abortion. After all, I was also in a serious motor vehicle accident as a child, during the winter I turned twelve, and it is a factor. But we’ve already learned that it is not at all unusual for those who suffer from PTSD to have multiple traumas in their histories. As I understand it, we attribute the disorder to a single traumatic event by identifying when the symptoms of the disorder appear; finding the “last straw.” Consistent with the conditions as defined previously, I developed my first symptoms of PTSD a few months after my abortion. I had not suffered any ill effects stemming from previous traumas, psychological or physical up until then.

There are many other reasons why I am able to identify my abortion as the source of my PTSD/PAS. Memory loss surrounding the event is one. For example, I cannot remember the exact date of my abortion; only that I had finished the school year, and had not yet started my full-time summer job, so it was in late May or early June of 1979. I should remember the date, because my mother’s birthday falls in late May, and there must have been some kind of sarcastic remark from her about “What a gift.”

Just reading my narrative of my abortion shows plenty of personal testimony to feeling traumatized – you go ahead and read it; I can’t stand to look at it, and that’s a sign in itself. And further evidence that my abortion was personally traumatizing can be found in my medical history and journals from a specific time every year, increasing in intensity as the years have rolled along: evidence that I am suffering from anniversary trauma surrounding my abortion. From mid-May until about mid-June of every year, I enter into Mad Season.

During a typical Mad Season, I get sick – physically, emotionally, cognitively, and psychologically sick. And I do odd things – one year on May 13th, I put down a full pack of cigarettes and just said, “I’m done with that,” for the next eighteen months. I have been a smoker since – well, since I was in the womb, essentially, thanks, Mom. That year, I lost my mind for about a month, from anniversary trauma complicated by nicotine withdrawal. Everyone around me learned just how mad, and how angry, I was, although no one could have known the cause then. Near the end of June, I “awoke,” looked around, and wondered who that insane woman was. I lost my job later that year; when the time came for lay-offs, I was an easy pick. No one wants to be around an angry and confused person.

In 2003, Mad Season came along just as I was on the Doctor-Go-Round in neurology, trying to find out what was wrong with me. I was taking an anti-seizure medication called Topamax. I would love to tell you how this drug works, but even its manufacturer doesn’t know that. However, of the four mechanisms mentioned by which it might work, all are related in some way to the neurophysiology of the stress response. I stopped this medication because of its side effects. At the time, I thought all of my experiences were due to the drug, even though my neurologist denied this. I started keeping a detailed record of how I felt as I withdrew from the medication, because I was experiencing serious problems with my memory and concentration. Below are some excerpts from my journal from the time, describing what I called “episodes.” I now recognize the symptoms of panic attack, which was probably brought on by the drug because it made my heart race. [Interesting side note: The heart is also known to some neurologists as the “mini-brain.” It sends more signals to the brain than it receives. I think a racing heart can trigger the brain’s fight/flight/freeze response, and in my case, my internal pacemaker is not working correctly.] With the sole exception of the eye pain, which I later confirmed is a side effect of the medication, every other sensation described below, as I now know, is a physical symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, occurring at the same time of year when I aborted my first child.

[edits are bracketed]

Monday June 2nd [2003]

More pain. Jts. [translated, “joints”] (hip); foot cramps; back muscles.

Episode: [Triggered by] repetitive high pitched sound. It hurt. I felt the muscle in my head directly over my ear move – “hitch up.” Then I became frenzied. The base of my spine [was] burning (there was urinary urgency). My thoughts were racing – I can’t remember them now, but my emotions were intense. I walked – no, paced, from room to room, but I didn’t know why. My heart was pounding and skipping. My mouth was bone dry. My muscles were twitching (like a panic attack? Pain?) My speech was impaired. This time I “recognized” it, I think – I don’t recall, really. I came to the bedroom and lay flat. Within 5 minutes [my husband] came in and I was able to tell him. I was still having speech problems [stuttering and stammering, looking for words]. After 15 minutes or more, I felt normal. Got up to finish vacuuming. Recorded at 2:50pm.

Current – ribs hurts[sic], “dental” pain is back; back is mucho bad; feet very bad (tight arches); I’m due for 50mg Topamax tonight and I think I’m done. Tailbone burns like fire. Mood is improving and the fog of confusion is lifting. I am starting to feel more like myself. I do not know where I have been. Topamax reduced a lot of symptoms but the price was too high. Right eye is still very sore, sharp and dry feeling.

4:30pm. Both eyes hurt. I get a headache when pressure’s wrong on my seat – it’s a lot like the [spinal] tap headache. Feet really hurt. Teeth, too.

June 3, 2003

Felt feverish, temp 99.5. Some blackout rising too quickly – went to full 1mg Cardura last nite blood pressure should be low, no big deal. Get up more slowly.

June 4, 2003

Mood and personality much improved. Getting a lot of tremble in hands.

Episode: At the computer. Sat down to complete a short email form and compose a two paragraph note. Ron [my husband] was talking as I was trying to proof and re-edit. The trembling in right hand increased and I could no longer see cohesively (no gestalt?). I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading. I could see the individual words but only one at a time. I could not see colors on the monitor but sharp white “eye noise.” My head chimes. I could not comprehend what Ron was saying although I could hear his voice.

Dry mouth.
Pain at base of spine/lower back
Hostility – spoke sharp-voiced. I was in a _____. There’s no word.

He pulled me away from pc, I layed down and it slowly subsided.

June 5, 2003
Episode as it happens: woke 5:50 severe headache {& crying - bad drm writing @7:37 am I had a nightmare I woke crying with a headache as if I had an episode while sleeping. Yes the dream evoked intense anger and tension. My calves keep flexing as do my ankles}
Wrote lengthy email
- can’t stand still strange symptoms
Tears and tremor

11am wrote email lost time, 45 min. This one’s bad. Always dry mouth. Lower back pain. Xtreme urinary urgency; tears in waves; chest, heart, pressure in throat? Dry mouth even when not stipulated; laying flat to get relief? Headache.

1pm Hang in there.

In The Body Bears the Burden, (see sidebar link) Dr. Scaer tells us that anniversary trauma is a “rarely reported but well-documented example of trauma reenactment,” (Scaer, p. 92). He gives us this explanation:

“One needs to remember that all animals, the human species included, possess innate neurophysiological mechanisms sensitive to the passage of time based on seasonal light variations and even the phases of the moon…Once again, endorphin-based reward systems associated with this cyclical arousal could well provide further impetus to the repetitive reenactment on the anniversary of the trauma,” (Scaer, p. 93).

As anniversary trauma regards abortion, Dr. Theresa Burke, in Forbidden Grief (see link at sidebar), writes that “researchers have found that women are more likely to experience depression, suicidal ideation, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, abdominal pain, cramping, headaches, and increased relationship conflicts around the anniversary of the abortion or on the anticipated due date of the aborted child than at other times,” (Burke, p. 97).

In other news:

I recently added a link at the sidebar to “Life Matters,” an excellent pro-life television program with the potential to reach 30 million viewers. I was privileged to tape two episodes a couple of weeks ago at their Life Studios facility here in the Valley of the Sun. In one episode, I give my testimony, and speak to the program’s host, Sally Sisk, about my attempts at suicide because of my abortion. In this segment, I was honored by and grateful for the presence of Georgette Forney, co-foundress of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. In the second episode, Sally and I discuss the physical consequences of long-term post-traumatic stress induced by abortion: serious, potentially disabling and deadly chronic illness and pain. Sally has been working in the pro-life movement long enough to have discerned for herself the connection between abortion and chronic illness. It is our hope that this program will be helpful and informative. I am finding more and more women who are suffering from chronic illness and who are also post-abortive. If you are one of us who hurts, I would like to hear from you, too: email me at Confidentiality is guaranteed, and no, you don’t have to be religious or even regretful; abortion hurts, either way.

I will post the airtimes in a few weeks, when the schedule is announced.


At 5:00 PM, Blogger achromic said...

Well mostly entirly due to what you have written here when I go into the personal therpy that is suppose to go along with the physcial therpy part of my recovery I am detrimed to talk about my abortions and other trama's that occured in my life. I think before I would have been dismissive about my past expecially my abortions, and I'm not sure that is what is the cause of my PSTD...see what I said? Starting ... starting to think. I love the lyrics you are useing as openings, they help me read the rest of what you have to say... they are kind of like someone holding my hand while something painful is happening. I think it is more likely that the pain of the surgery trigger what happened in the abusive relationship that I endured of which an abortion was a part of. But I'm begining to think that it is definantly part of the whole problem.... your symptoms, what you talk about... it is to close of a mirror that you hold up for me to easliy dismiss. I wish... I wish I thought I was wrong and that it is all physical and not at all head baised. I mean you can fix one.... the other .... they still don't know enough about.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...


I'm so very, very glad to hear from you! How are you feeling?

Thank you for saying, "Me, too." I hope and pray you find a sympathetic ear in therapy to allow you to discuss your personal history of trauma and abuse without having to leave anything out. Our past is part of who we are, and will be part of who we become - our hope is to redefine ourselves so the trauma is no longer running things. I hope that makes sense - my thinks are running all over the map today.

Aah, music. I'm so glad to hear you also respond to the lyrics. Music is part of what gives me hope for our recovery. I'm going to write an article soon about how music (and things like it) might help by exercising the traumatized brain connections. Since I have been paying attention, I discovered my tendency to like songs that have lyrics that touch on my abortion pain. Sometimes the topics I choose to write about spring out of these songs.

Best as I can figure it, music releases my emotions and helps me to reconnect those emotions to my thoughts; so I am starting to conclude that when we relate the music to the trauma, we are exercising our damaged brains, building healthy connections between thoughts, sensory perception, emotions, and traumatic memories.

We can help each other keep hope for complete healing: physical, spiritual, and psychological. I think the physical healing is the hardest, and it will come last; but I am beginning to change my mind about whether it is out of reach.

Now I'll let you go get some much-needed rest and recovery! {{more hugs and thanks}}

At 7:42 PM, Blogger achromic said...

The pain is pretty bad but getting better. This has got to be the last time for this muscle! And then because it hurts all over down there what do I do? Dream that my cat and I are both preg.! Akkk

I donno, it seems like the healing is like one of those caps where you have to keep going around and applying equal pressure to inorder for it to seal right? So you know you got to heal a little bit in the spirt and then go over and heal a little bit in the psyc, then run over and check in on the physical.

I really think, the more I think, the more I think it is right, that the pain I felt during my first operation thru' me back into abuse. Like you said about the physcial reaction happening .... I remember after the operation and then it went bad I almost died, the doctor wanting to touch the scar and I flinched so hard before he even touched me, and he said "I'm not gonna hurt you" but I didn't believe him and it almost made me mad with fear. And now I can barely let them do ANYTHING to me that is lieing down without totally freaking out. The denist for instance for whom I had previously been fine at... totally terrified me. I wouldn't go in for like 45 min. until she finally talked me into it. AND I can feel this surgery and the pain that is happening? I can feel the fear is even worse. I'm suppose to go for a pap smear......... and I'm just sick at the thought.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

Achro, I agree with you and like the way you described it - we heal our minds, our spirits, and our bodies in little bits and pieces, perhaps by reknitting them together. It probably starts with developing an understanding of what's going on inside us, and how trauma has made us split our minds and bodies.

We are already set up to "feel" our emotions physically, so we know the mind and body communicate in this way. When we dissociate from trauma, we are splitting our emotions from our psyches, but the body may continue to express these emotions. So I think healing has to involve bringing all of the parts back into one whole, working person.

And as so often happens, your comments have guided me to my next topic; I think we need to look at dissociation in more detail, and figure out what it's doing to our mental and physical health. Then we'll hopefully figure out some ways to help ourselves become whole again.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger achromic said...

Ohh good yes I think I can use some learning about that BIG time. From my tiny bit of understanding of the disorder I think I may be doing it, abiet not in a psychotic way but in such away that I am doing myself harm... Grr why do I have to qualify with you? LOL I'm just so scared of being wrongly judged of being crazy. I know you get it... I mean your writing shows you get it... LOL silly me.

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

ROFL! I do get it, and I'm giggling like a crazy woman right now - no, wait, I'm not crazy. But that is what I'm writing here, so I guess I AM crazy....hmm......

Boy, I understand not wanting to be dismissed, too - crazy is not the same as stupid, even though this makes me feel stupid - I don't think I'm a fool, but I've done a lot of foolish things because of it - oh, heck!

A good song for this one (Matchbox Twenty again): "I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell." :)

Hugs, Achro! and thanks for the chuckles - if we're both nuts, then I am in good company!

At 10:11 PM, Blogger achromic said...

oooo hahahahaha now you're makin' me giggle to. If we are crazy and we do stupid things because of it are stupid and crazy or stupidly crazy? LOL!

Your company sure does help! {hugs}

At 4:30 AM, Blogger dark_one said...

My name is Maree Sneed and i would like to show you my personal experience with Topamax.

I am 27 years old. Have been on Topamax for 3 months now. Had severe debilitating migraines at least 2x a week. Had to stay in bed. I have a 7 year old. I was missing out on everything. Now I can get out of bed and get on with my day. I am down to maybe 1 migraine a month and it is functional not crippling.

I have experienced some of these side effects -
weight loss, no appetite, severe mood swings, emotional, yucky taste to cola, thirsty, thirsty, thirsty, extreme fatique

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Maree Sneed

Topamax Side Effects

At 6:35 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

Hello, Maree - thank you for sharing your experience with Topamax. It seems to be improving your quality of life, and that's wonderful.

The side effects can be challenging; they have to be weighed against the benefits, don't they? It is the only drug I've ever taken that absolutely killed all of my muscle pain, which is caused by chronic muscle tension. But as you can see, I was a bit insane, so the benefit didn't outweigh the cost for me.

But I know others who take it for various conditions (vertigo, for one), and it works well for them, too, although they also have the side effects. It's an odd drug, but effective for some people.

I am glad your migraines are being helped - is there a chance they will go away completely over time? I hope so. Thank you again for commenting here; I'm sure someone will be helped by this information.


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