Tag Archives: memory

Are dementia, Alzheimer’s, and trauma reactions related?

So, something that kinda connected in my head, but may not actually be connected in reality, were memory-related disorders of the elderly, and memory-related disorders connected to trauma.

Dr C often described dissociated trauma memories as “bubbles” of memory and understanding. I happened to be describing dementia in that way to a friend, and suddenly they both made sense in the same way: nothing else exists in the moment of a flashback, only that moment. Often times, the same is true for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients; they exist in the moment of the time they remember, but nothing outside of that. They forget loved ones, major life events, aging… the same is true for flashbacks, only flashbacks seem somewhat easier to ground from. Age-related memory issues seem to make it a more permanent state of being.

I’ll have to look into whether or not there’s research on any potential connections between age-related memory issues, and trauma-related memory problems…

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more stupid triggers

I had a neoropsych assessment last week in hopes that it help point us in a direction for this weird physical stuff I’m experiencing.

During the assessment, the psychologist was flipping pages in a booklet, showing me pictures of stuff I needed to try to remember. At one point, I stated losing track of what the pictures were, and started focusing on her hand turning the pages, and what the paper sounded like. It wasn’t really a conscious thing, just my attention switching. The sound of the pages turning became the loudest thing in my head, and I couldn’t see anything but her hand. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to trigger something. I started feeling body stuff in the middle of this test that shouldn’t be triggering or disturbing… She caught on that something was up, and I told her that her turning the pages were triggering for some reason I couldn’t pinpoint (and still really can’t). She continued with the testing, but let me turn the pages from then on.

It’s seriously the stupidest little things that hit me out of nowhere… wtf??

Some days I want to scream at the memories to leave me alone and let me continue on with my life.

Oh, so the preliminary results (mostly just from her knowing the general average results, without any real scoring yet) have my verbal memory functioning at “seriously impaired”. She suggested that it’s likely due to the medical marijuana, but since it’s the only real thing that helps the ptsd, to keep taking it. Overall, the verbal memory impairment is less problematic than the impairment from the symptoms it treats… this might be the one time I agree with the phrase “the benefits outweigh the side effects”.


It’s all they see

Went to a doctor’s appointment today. I normally really like this doctor. she’s normally really cool, but today I felt like all she could see was my m.i. diagnosis… I’m trying to tell myself it probably has more to do with my anxiety and being one of her last patients for the day (the one after me was probably due to deliver this week from the part of the conversation I overheard while checking out) than it does with me as a person. I’m still having trouble feeling the validity of that though.

I felt like she rushed me and didn’t give me a chance to explain why I was there… again, likely due to the time of my appointment, and the nature of the appointment after me.

Whatever. I’m going to keep reminding myself that she is generally an awesome doctor.

On a slightly related note, I want to talk to L more about what is going on for me lately, but I don’t know how to do it. I doubt the validity of my memories too much to be able to talk to her about them. She kinda guessed about it tonight, but I couldn’t bring myself to confirm it. How do you tell someone about something you are not even sure is real? I mean, it certainly impacts our relationship significantly, so I owe it to her to talk about it… but I don’t know how to do that when I can’t even say for sure they are real memories. I keep faltering and being convinced I made them up for some weird reason. I go through periods of questioning everything I remember. I think it’s all a lie. I think I just need the attention having that history brings me. I don’t know how to come to terms with some other disturbing stuff, so I weave stories around it to allow it to make sense. It’s all a lie…

And then I can physically feel it again. The sensations of it play on or in my body and I know it’s real, but only while I can feel it happening. Once the sensations quiet, I doubt it all over again.

Why didn’t I remember it till now?
What if I’m just putting the wrong face to the body?
What if I’m talking about the wrong person?
What if it’s just all something I saw on TV and somehow translated into a “memory”?

Memory is a shift thing after all…


quote – john irving

Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you – and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you! – John Irving


Do You have Athazagoraphobia?

An interesting concept to think about.

I used to chalk my belief up to a weird perversion of object permanence. I guess this kind of is exactly that. I tend to believe if people don’t see me and interact with me regularly, they forget me. I get the impression it actually happens. I also fear that people find me really annoying and distasteful to be around. I have trouble reaching out to friends and family because I worry that 1) they hate me, and because of that, they 2) consciously try to forget me or remain away from me.

Lemme tell you, it frustrates my friends. I can’t tell you how often I get asked why I didn’t call or come by… How do you explain that you feel like people would rather gouge their eyes out than have to spend a moment with me?

There was another part that stuck out to me: the fear of forgetting. I often hoard memorabilia, and I journal incessantly in an effort not to forget more than I already have. People call it materialistic or anal, but I keep hoping an object connected to a memory will keep the memory alive. When so much of my past is a huge blank, I grasp at anything that may help me to not forget… Sadly, it doesn’t really work. I go back and read journals but cannot connect to them or remember accurately what I was talking about. I look at items from my past, and have no clue what they were from, or who gave them to me. I take pictures all the time hoping photographic evidence will trigger a memory, yet so much is still lost. It’s not as bad as it had been before college, but it’s still there. One of the worst memories to have lost is my first date with my wife. I know what she has recited to me over the years, but the rest is super foggy. I have snippets of moments from the night, but most of it is gone. It’s no reflection on her or the night (because I’m still with her, and we went on a second date relatively soon at my initiation). It’s just “the story of my life”…

But I digress. This is an interesting blog on a phobia I had not heard of before, but one that makes perfect sense to me.

 

Discussing Dissociation

Drawn by ... On deviant Art. Drawn by rhyme-my-name.deviantart.com

Athazagoraphobia.

I have learned a new word today.

Athazagoraphobia.

Athazagoraphobia is the fear of being forgotten, ignored, or being replaced.

Athazagoraphobia.

Ooooh boy, what a powerful word that relates to intense feelings held by soooo many dissociative trauma survivors. And since abandonment and neglect is often a huge and prominent part of the trauma history, is there any wonder?

First, let’s learn more about athazagoraphobia.

Here is a quote from http://www.fearof.net :

“Athazagoraphobia is a rarely discussed phobia. It means the fear of forgetting or the fear of being forgotten or ignored. Thus, Athazagoraphobia is of two types or has dual components: it might be seen in dementia patients in their early stages (or patients suffering from other medical conditions where memory loss occurs) where they fear forgetting their own identity and other things. Alternatively, it may be seen in spouses or caregivers of Alzheimer’s/dementia patients…

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“Disgustingly happy art” was approved (and thoughts on today)

disgustingly happy artMet with TM again today and showed her the finished Unicorn Pegasus picture. She really liked it. We talked about how difficult it was to do, and how it didn’t really meet my standards, but that it was growing on me. I had intended to explain that trying to do the happier piece in my art journal was very triggering, but I forgot to bring it up. I wanted to explain that the art journal needed to be where I could be genuine with the expression, but we ended up talking about how taking the art journal classes was helping me be less critical of my work.

I also mentioned that the Unicorn Pegasus piece may or may not find a way to go up in flames after session, so she asked if she could keep it. :shrugs: All good. I had to think I was making it for her to keep anyway in order to be able to finish it, so I was ok with her actually keeping it. At first she had said she wouldn’t hang it up because she knew how uncomfortable having my other piece up had made me. I came to the conclusion that the piece in the hallway was too vulnerable, which made me feel exposed. We kinda talked about that a bit. While I know a lot of my art expresses stuff, the more vulnerable and “dark” a piece is, the harder it is to have it seen by random people. It’s kinda like having my journal hanging up in the hallway for anyone to read; just too personal. The Unicorn Pegasus was a piece done “on commission” so it doesn’t make me feel as exposed.

I showed her my art journal that I had started in May. I told her how it was an easier way to express things than in writing, and it was safer in many respects. I have had my written journals read by too many uninvited people to have that feel like a safe way to get things out of me. At least with the art journal, a lot is left up to interpretation. Unless I tell you exactly what I was trying to express, you either interpret it correctly or you don’t. And if you happen to guess it but I don’t want you to know that, I can explain it as something else…

She used the title of “counselor” today and I was able to correct her in real-time about it. I told her how and why it made me uncomfortable. I joked with her that I “get stupid” as soon as I walk through the door to the building anyway, so even if I had gotten my degree, I doubt I could come up with anything intelligent. She kinda laughed at that, then agreed to change her wording to “former intern”. On the heels of that discussion going well, I took a breath and asked for a reality check around whether or not she had believed me the last session when I told her I cut my finger by accident. She admitted that she didn’t know me well yet, but was going on the assumption that I was being honest. I told her that I do my best to be as honest as possible in therapy. If there’s something I don’t want to answer, I will stay quiet rather than lie about it. I was relieved that she didn’t think I was lying, and told her so. We talked a bit more about working in therapy and trying to get out of the rut I seem to be in. I think she may have been generalizing a bit about noticing that I am trying (because really, she’s seen me 3 times. Yes I put forth effort, but I don’t think it’s as obvious as she made it sound… though maybe it is and I just don’t notice it). I may have to bring that up with her, because I don’t believe people when they say nice things about me, especially if I don’t think they would have the knowledge to make a particular statement. It feels fake and forced and like something G would do (either right before or right after harshly criticizing someone else), so it makes me wonder. I know she is not G. I am pretty sure she would not act like he did, however positive stuff towards me always makes me cringe (I know I felt this same way towards TL, and it brough up a lot of transference. I hope TM will be able to tackle it a bit more if it comes up with her also)…

This week’s homework is a bit different: I’m supposed to “practice” doing a trauma narrative. I’m supposed to pick a stressful memory and write about it more formally (beginning, middle, end). I could also do art around it if it’s easier. I may end up doing both… We talked about my desire to be pushed on the trauma work. She mentioned that she normally would not move this quickly, but I seem to have coping skills at my disposal. She is trusting that I will manage myself safely. We reviewed how I have been trying to cope when triggered. She wanted to add to it calling the office hotline. I told her how uncomfortable I was speaking on the phone, and how I often trip over my words or minimize things if I actually get to the point of speaking to a human being (normally I hang up before that can happen).  I told her I will sometimes contact the crisis chats and she seemed ok with that compromise. I guess if it ever gets to her really wanting me to speak with someone at the office, then I can ask her to warn them that I have a difficult time on the phone and it may take more effort on their end to get me to talk… Anyway, this homework is only practice because we are trying to keep triggering to a minimum. She doesn’t even want me to pick a trauma memory, just something more stressful. I’m supposed to describe the event in detail and add as much of both the emotions and thoughts surrounding it as I can recall. I’m also supposed to stop if I get too triggered or stressed. I tried to explain that I am triggered regardless, but she still wants me to take it slower. I’m still trying to figure out what to go with. One thought is the whole incident around Dr. Ass-Wipe wanting to force me into ECT. It’s something I have yet to really process, and I actually remember most of it. It’s also something that reinforces my desire to stay away from psych hospitalizations. Even if I am triggered and freaking out, it will be a very loud reminder to stay safe at all costs.

Can someone remind me to talk to her next week about the difficulty of doing a trauma narrative around something that comes splotchy and fragmented? I don’t really know how to do a “beginning, middle, end” when all I can remember is flashes of various “middles”…


The memory debate

Ever since these new memories have surfaced, I have questioned them. I’m still incredulous about having not remembered anything about these events prior to last year, but on the other hand, they make sense in context of some other unanswered questions.

My original search started in an effort to find the description on rainn.org of body memories. I remembered reading it once and finding it was not the same context in which I was using the term when trying to describe what I experience. I couldn’t navigate back to where I found it (and my memory of the content is very vague), so decided to try a general Google search for a definition of the term “body memories”. It was through this I stumbled upon everything from websites describing the role of body memories in trauma, to websites refuting the claim that body memories even exist. In all of these websites, I think I found a small handful that used the term in the way I use it. I guess I will have to be specific when talking to anyone new about what I mean when I say I experience body memories: the physical sensations associated with an act or occurrence. For me, body memories are generally experienced as the feeling of hands or other body parts on or in my body. It’s not limited to that though. I also experience body memories of instances of self-harm (cutting or burning). While the body memories of being assaulted/abused trigger cognitive memories of the assault as well as the emotional effects, the body memories of the self harm often bring about the same relief that actually engaging in the self harm would. I get the rush of relaxation, the slowing of thoughts, the release of bodily tension, and respite from the flashbacks or suicidal thinking. The “flashback” of the self harm is experienced the same way as a flashback of any of the other negative stuff that went on in my life. It holds true to the experiencing of the self harm and its emotional aftermath. Honestly, I wish I could induce the self harm memories whenever the flashbacks of the assaults became too overwhelming. It does the same thing as the cutting, but I don’t get in trouble for it… and maybe if I mastered control of the self harm flashbacks, I could master control of the assault flashbacks.

Anyway, I had mentioned coming across sites that try to refute the concept of repressed memory and body memories. I read through two of them, as well as a few websites that sided “with” the concept of body memories. I must admit, the ones “for” it were somewhat better written than the ones “against” it… one “against” site sounded like it was written by someone with a personal, vested interest in proving the concept false. There was no explanation of their terminology, no references (on the page I read), and lots of teenage-like bashing. I must point out I did not explore the rest of the site beyond reading most of the linked page. I found the “interview” transcripts a frustrating read since most therapists I have had the pleasure of meeting are more well-spoken than what was presented there, but again, that’s my own bias. The other site simply pointed out the dangers of unfounded allegations and offered a few references. That said, one of the pages I read “for” repressed memories and body memories offered real scholarly evidence and critical thinking around the topics. It also pointed to several other articles both supporting and denying the claims that repressed memories of trauma are valid. I would like to point out here that none of the pages talking about the validity of repressed memories actually gave a definition of body memories, used the term “body memories” very often, or described them in any detail beyond calling them a physical re-experiencing. Most of the pages spoke about flashbacks without separating out the physical re-experiencing of the events. I am unsure why this is, since as recently as last year, I was able to find this info quite readily. Perhaps it is related to the controversy around body memories and “false memories”, as well as the lack of research on the topic.

Some other sites I found that would be good to read through:

I could not find the second page refuting body memories this time around (didn’t think to save any of the links the first time I went through my search yesterday afternoon). I’m sure it exists out there, and that there are more, but I cannot find it at this moment.

Anyway, it’s got me again questioning the validity of the memories attached to these flashbacks. The above mentioned well-gathered page for repressed memories cautioned that anyone wanting to tackle previously forgotten trauma ask themselves a few questions, including:

  • “Why do I want to recover (more) memories?”

  • “What do I hope that recovering memories will do for me?”

  • “Why do I wish I could know for sure whether I was abused?”

  • “What problems and suffering in my life now do I believe will be changed by remembering abuse?”

I know for myself, I simply want the flashbacks to subside. I want to be able to stop experiencing the sensations of being assaulted over and over again. I want my life back. I want to function again. I hesitate to tell anyone close to me the details because I am aware that newly discovered memories can be misleading. I want to talk about it with a neutral third party (therapist) so I can explore it, get it out of me, and hopefully move on from it. I don’t necessarily want to discover more memories because honestly, this is plenty, but I do want them to stop popping up. So if there are more locked away in my brain, bring it on and let me deal with it so I can stop being so strongly and adversely effected by it. I also want to figure out how to be ok without ever knowing for sure if these memories are accurate. My only goal in dealing with them is to make them leave me alone already.

All that said, I think I have a slightly different take on what body memories are, at least for me. I’m not sure I believe that we remember specific incidents at a cellular level unrelated to the brain. I think the memories are stored in the brain, but just separated out from the conscious, cognitive remembering. Muscle memory is the concept that our muscles “remember” frequently used motions and can return to it at any point in the future, even without much practice or conscious thought (the rough definition paraphrased from here). In school, we learned about muscle memory in relation to fitness, learning to play musical instruments, repetitive physical activities, etc. I would hazard that what I am experiencing as body memories are actually just muscle memories (which I would say are more subconscious memories, rather than ones actually stored in muscles, but I  have no evidence for that). Anyway, my personal theory is that traumatic events or ones causing great stress can also cause “muscle memory”. If we go with the theory that traumatic events are more salient because they allow us (as a species) to survive and avoid such traumas again, then it makes perfect sense that we would store those memories in a number of ways for quick access. Think of it this way, you’re walking along in the wilderness and stub your toe on a rock. It slows you down, you’re not able to get where you are going, and you may be sick & hungry for a while. Once you heal, you notice your toe still kinda hurts sometimes, but not all the time. You pay more attention to it when it hurts. You then start to notice that the hurt really only comes when you are in a place with more rocks around. You begin to pay attention to the rocks in order to avoid stubbing your toe again. I think body memories are quite valid. I also think they evolved as a way to enable us to pay better attention to the things around us to which we need to pay attention either to make life easier, or to spare our lives. With PTSD and flashbacks, this all somehow got kicked into over-drive. Our brains are desperately trying to protect us, so it throws this stuff our way. It is also trying to make sense of stuff that doesn’t compute well with our conscious thoughts… Take PTSD theory, toss it in a blender with muscle memory, and you get body memories that accompany the flashbacks (after all, most flashbacks also include a physical re-experiencing of an event)… I think the intensity and salience of “negative” body memories can be explained with the same theory that explains the intensity and salience of negative cognitive memories. Afterall, most people do not claim to experience “flashbacks” of really happy times. I have not yet heard of people being randomly triggered into remembering their happiest moments in the same full-on, 3D, THX, IMax experience of traumatic memories. There are no anecdotal stories of people re-living the good times to the intensity of the really bad ones. There’s no body of research on the spontaneous re-experiencing of strongly positive experiences, so why is the argument against body memories centered around the lack of body memories for positive experiences? Just some things to think about.

(on a side note, and only marginally related to all this, I’m kinda frustrated/pissed/angry/sad that Dr. Glenn Doyle seems to have disappeared from the blogosphere and the internet in general. I was trying to link to the post where he described flashbacks as 3D, THX, IMax experiences, but his blog is gone. His fb page is inactive, and his practice seems to have moved according to psychologytoday.com. I worked with him very briefly while inpatient in DC back in 2011 and really liked his style. He has a similar sense of humor, but writes much more eloquently than I do. I hope he is well, and I hope he reappears again soon… I miss reading his thoughts on things).