The coronavirus pandemic has forced me (like far too many others) to think further about the world around me in a more precise, exact way. And, I know I am not alone in this. Every detail, all around us, has suddenly become very, very relevant to…. everyone. We have become more relevant to each other than ever before, but we are also *forced* to do so ourselves. This is weird and hard, but it is even more difficult (I would argue) when you have complex PTSD.
(Before I go further, I want to say: I don’t believe in the “pain Olympics.” I don’t believe that anyone is suffering more/less in any way right now, or certainly not in any manner that is worthy of note or discernible.
As a complex PTSD sufferer AND a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), I can say confidently that it IS entirely possible, within the broad range of the human condition, to suffer *the same level* of pain at the same time. Read that again. I can confidently say that it is entirely possible we could *all* be experiencing the same level of grief simultaneously right now. Why? Because everything that is happening is relative to each of us, on an individualistic level. And that is all that matters for many (too many) of us right now. Please remember this point, as you read my writing.)
But, when you have complex PTSD (and of course, this is only my experience), everything around you suddenly *has the potential* to become a trigger.
Here is an example.
One of my favorite shows in the world is Schitt’s Creek. (I also have a deep love for Seinfeld, and SC is THAT UP THERE- that’s serious business) I love it, for a large number of reasons (and many of them are sentimental, with my daughter). I am a bit obsessed, one could say.
But, there is a *portion* of a scene within that show that makes my heart rate spike every time I see it. It catches my breath, and there’s a part of me that goes blank for a brief moment. The whole “scene” lasts about… 10 seconds, maybe? You can easily dig up a video of this (it’s in the episode where the singles event happens), but I would like to describe it myself, for those that haven’t seen it (totally watch it, though!).
Moira and Alexis (Mother/Daughter) are essentially just bickering. It’s about fairly petty things in the scheme of things regarding an event they are putting on together (a local “Single’s Event”). Pretty typical silly bickering type stuff- no big deal. Then, there is this part where Alexis goes a teeny bit *too far* with Moira I, and Moira gets a tone in her voice that is very mocking, ridiculing. (Moira says: “I’ll tell you what I’m about to do… “ – when that line starts).
I am not looking to get into the exact details of why a mother mocking her daughter, even in jest, would be a triggering 10 seconds and cause my heart rate to spike. But, I am looking to point out the following: everything has the *potential* to become a trigger when you have complex PTSD due to the specific intricacies and detail that usually accompanies long-term, traumatic events.
But why does this matter?
The eventual effects of long-term, repeated trauma will soon be important to recognize as we are *all* going through a collective traumatic experience, particularly healthcare workers. I fear complex trauma will become a subject that we will all need to become more familiar with within the coming years.
To be clear, this doesn’t even mean that it will result in a huge uptick in C-PTSD diagnoses’ (though that is certainly possible). Rather, what is more horrifying, is that this collective trauma will have physiological and emotional consequences for even those that are “okay” enough never to receive any formal diagnosis. This vast knowledge and research of the long-term effects of trauma will soon be relevant for all of us (again, particularly health care workers/front line workers that have witnessed atrocities and months of death), like it or not.
I write this as an introduction for myself, as, ultimately, a C-PTSD sufferer that has spent the past 9-10 months (being forced to…) identify my own triggers. This has been while on medical leave from work, which occurred when my own struggles resulted in physical ailments (manifestations) of trauma in my daily life.
So, I have spent far too much time deconstructing my own triggers within a personal and academic framework, so I also write this as a professional. I aim to use my education and professional experience, in conjunction with my personal background, to inform how the science of behaviorism can be used responsibly to pull apart one’s own triggers (once identified), as this will, unfortunately, become a problem for many of us.
(Like gravity or the laws of physics, the science of behaviorism (and thus, how we interact and perceive the world around us) isn’t science that can be refuted. Not easily, anyway. However, I would like to speak to the neurodiverse community and say: I recognize that many chapters of the history of behaviorism (and the field of applied behavior analysis as a whole) do have a sordid history that should be acknowledged. I have many thoughts on this subject, but I ultimately very likely agree with your assessment. It’s why I want to help educate about the *science* of behaviorism so it can be thoroughly picked apart and humanely reconstructed within fields. (I.e., such as the deconstruction of triggers and “unpairing” them from ourselves physiologically, etc.). I hear you and want to learn from you if you’re willing (in addition to my own education efforts).