So far my blog posts have been focused around my accident or my recovery. But last week something happened that I felt compelled to share, especially as it was unexpectedly but inextricably linked to the work I am doing in the mental health space.
Last Thursday afternoon, I was walking to the post office. It was broad daylight with a hint of a blue sky after the preceding rain storm had passed. There were plenty of people around, going about their day. It is a road I have walked many times without a care. The bottom half of the road is mainly residential, with a park on one side, which then turns into a busy high street with shops and restaurants.
Whilst I was chatting away to my sister on the phone, I noticed a tall, slightly unkempt man walking towards me. He then stopped in front of me, made a lewd gesture and tried to touch my arm. I quickly, scowled at him and said “don’t touch me” before pushing past and rapidly walking away. I could feel my heart pounding and I told my sister to stay on the phone until I had reach the parade of shops. I looked back and he was gone.
At the time I didn’t think anything of it. I am sure women experience much worse on a daily basis from low level harassment to more serious incidents. But after what happened when I went to sleep, I realised that anything like this (low level or not) trips a fuse in the brain that left unattended, can fester into something much deeper.
I never have any trouble sleeping. It’s my super power. Any time, anywhere I can fall asleep. Once, my sister woke me up after I had fallen asleep on a dining room chair, upright! When I was seeing a psychiatrist for my PTSD, over time as I was getting better, he told me that my often vivid dreams were my brains’ way of processing the stress of the day and this was helping me cope better.
So that night, as usual, I feel asleep quickly. But this time, almost immediately, I started to dream. I was scared in my dream that someone was going to rob me. I was wearing the coat I had on during that day. It has lots of pockets and in my dream the pockets were full of my stuff. Suddenly there were people all around me. They were all wearing the same sand colour as the guy who came up to me in the street. There was a bus and more people got off the bus. My mind had recorded subconscious markers from the day. The colour of the clothes the guy was wearing and when the guy approached, a bus had gone past at the same time. In my dream as these people got off the bus they started grabbing at me and shouting. I was trying to defend myself but I couldn’t open my eyes, I couldn’t move, they were taking everything from me. Ransacking my pockets, ripping off my headphones, violating my space. And then I woke up with a jolt.
My husband also woke up as I was shouting in my sleep. My heart was pounding, my breathing was heavy and I was now wide awake. And I was scared. This seemingly small passing event during my day had disturbed something in my subconscious. Something that needed to be reset.
After any type of trauma, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the brain and body change. Every cell records memories and every embedded, trauma-related neuropathway has the opportunity to repeatedly reactivate. Sometimes the alterations these imprints create are fleeting, the small glitch of disruptive dreams and moods that subside in a few weeks. In other situations the changes evolve into readily apparent symptoms that impair function and present in ways that interfere with jobs, friendships and relationships. But there is a way of resetting these patterns to help them become healthy again. To deal with the emotional response our brain is having. This emotional response can manifest in anger, tears, a basic inability to control our reactions, amongst others. And it happens quicker than our “thinking” response.
And this leads me onto my work. Using the principles of Neurofeedback and sound frequencies we can break the unhealthy patterns the brain has developed as a result of stress, anxiety, trauma or PTSD and reset the neuropathways to function in a way that doesn’t have a disruptive impact. We have the opportunity with our work to prevent trauma embedding itself or healthy neuropathways misfiring. It’s exciting and groundbreaking and even my small incident proved to me how important it is. Emotions can overtake anyone, at anytime. After our reflex reaction our emotional reaction is the next quickest response. Lastly, comes our thinking response. The phrase “sleep on it” is based on how our brain functions. By taking time to let the emotional reaction subside or reset we can allow thought to decide the next step. But if whatever reason the brain is stuck in a negative emotional loop that won’t go away, it will have an impact on the brain’s ability to think logically and rationally.
No one should feel that their emotional reaction to a situation is invalid, the incident not serious enough or that it will just go away. It’s time to stop using the phrase you are being “over emotional”. Our brain can’t always override this by itself, especially when an external event has had an impact. Everyone has the right to good mental health and their own journey should be respected and supported. It’s not the same for everyone. And achieving good mental health doesn’t always mean there is a problem. People take vitamin C to prevent a cold in winter. For every other aspect of our health we take preventative measures to ensure we stay healthy, without thinking twice. And our mind, the most important organ in our body, should be first in line.
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