I am doing some reading on PTSD tonight and had to put the book down. I’ve got some thoughts inside but not sure if I can get them out onto the screen here. What interest me is more emphasis on the brain structures. I’ve glossed over this in the past in talking to audiences because I don’t want to get too technical. However, this is a weakness of mine and as I learn more about the brain system and tie this in with well known theories of behavior and so forth, I can see means of approaching combat veterans about the changes that have occurred in their personality, lives, thinking, feeling, emotional landscapes, etc… via these stories. I’ve used such stories many times in the past to describe my own ordeals with lonliness, depression, happiness, fear of asking someone out on a date, and other things that a normal person experiences in a life. How many times have I referred to the ‘rat in a tube’ experiment?
I’ll refer back to this experiment. I came across it waaaaaaaaaay back in 1995 as an undergraduate at the University of Monticello at Arkansas. It made an impression.
Imagine that the above is a tube. At one end is a plate with electric shock on it. The rat quickly learns to stay off the tube and will then spend his time everywhere else in the tube except for the end with the shock. He’ll move around up and down but will not touch the end with the shock.
Now, don’t feed the rat. After a while, put some food at the end where the shock is. The rat will come close to the food, drawn to it by hunger. He’ll get the shock and he’ll retreat away. But hunger gets him to come close again and he gets zapped and he moves away. The two competing forces of push and pull eventually have the rat hanging out in the middle of the tube. Not away from the shock, not close to the food… in the middle.
Compare this to learned helplessness experiments where dogs were put in escapable containments but, since they had learned that no actions of theirs could stop the electroshocks on the floor, they eventually learned to curl up and lay on the floor and whimper at the shocking floor. Whereas the dogs that could yelp and jump and move away from the shock never gave up.
My immediate question concerns one of hope. What schemas do we, as a culture of manly men who are also masculine soldiers, have that allow us to express feelings? What ways of thinking about emotions do we have that are other than ‘signs of weakness’?
I’m about to make a huge inferential leap here. Because men (and by ‘men’ I mean a typical American male who is now a soldier in the military) have no way of thinking of gender as either male or female, that male = thinking, rational, control, whereas female = emotional, out of control, weaker (note, it should go without saying that I do not follow these schemas), and because emotion (dangerous, murky, uncontrollable, suspect) is equated with being not manly (i.e., womanly), we have no means of expressing emotion other than trying to hold it back. Even intances that we have every right to express emotion (example, funeral of a fallen comrade) we try to hold it back and to appear stoic.
However, we are social animals. We’ve evolved over a very long time by our ability to cooperate together. Evolutionally speaking, it is in our genes to care about other humans in our in group and to care about how they feel about us. Note to self, review literature on in-group/out-group differences in ability to accurately empathize with others (P2 class). Back to the point… our natural drive is to seek out others. We need companionship and company. Review history, a great punisment on others (then and now) was to expel them from the community, to put them in solitary confinement, etc… One has to only watch Animal Planet as a pack of animals kicks out another animal to become a loner. That loner animal doesn’t do so well. It doesn’t have the benefit of help in protection and food gathering, but one might propose that the animal doesn’t thrive for other reasons as well for a reason that it’s lost some of its drive (as much as an animal might have drive or spunk).
The combat vet with PTSD might feel anxious about being near others. Fear of what others will say when they find out the horrible things we’ve done. Or fear of what we might feel compelled to do (Yes, I’ve wanted to ram my shopping cart into a little old lady in a grocery store before). To have feelings of rage come over us and have no legitimate targets is rough. To have loved ones nearby, taking the brunt of that (or at the least our silent treatment as we try to stoicically bottle it up and handle it ourselves), is a much an electric shock to us as what the rat gets. I’ll presume boldly to say that those who suffer the most from PTSD are those who care the most, who have the most investments in the wellbeing (that is, concern) for others.
The vet is then pushed away from people by the triggers that bring on the adrenaline rush. He is pulled toward people because he wants their influence in his life. What happens is living a life of being stuck in the middle, of living in the shadows, not fully engaged. Wanting to connect but unsure of how to do so. Wanting to run away from it all but not giving up.
What comes to mind is a nearly entirely new presentation. What if I were to illustrate how the incoming visual stimuli that hits the hypothalamus and amygdala before it is routed to the visual processing centers of the brain, it is checked against que cards of threats and if one of them gives a red flag for a threat it immediately pumps up adrenaline into the motor control areas of the brain and then the planning areas of the brain before the visual center has even decoded what was seen and reported to the intellect/classification part of the brain?
Example… a snake. We’ve learned over years and years of evolutionary history to have fear of snakes. We see one and we get the heebie jeebies and we jump. No thinking. No classifying what type of snake it is. No looking to see that it was just a water hose in the grass. Nope. It’s snake like and we get a rush of excitement and we jump. POW! In mid air we realize it was a water hose.
Spend a year patrolling streets being wary of everyone, and I mean everyone. The person you shook hands with yesterday may have a bomb on him today. Trash on the street is a potential roadside bomb. Rooftops have eyes video taping you, comparing notes, preparing for an ambush. A group of men together means an RPG team. The voices of several males speaking excitedly in Arabic, standing together, brings wariness, distrust, and a readiness to attack. When I see a group of Middle Eastern males on campus, close together and speaking in a foreign language that I can only assume to be Arabic (or another language from the Middle East) and I feel a jolt of adrenaline, I can recognize that that it is a trigger for a change in my internal states and adapt to this, with it lessening over time. What I don’t want to do is to think that all Middle Eastern males are terrorists in our midsts, or think/deny that I am a racist (this is a trap of thinking as well, for we all have natural racial feelings that ought to be investigated instead of denied or accepted if we are to work through them).
But it is getting late now, I am tired, I had a long day today and another long day tomorrow. HA! They are all long days. But I love the entire day, save the part where I go to work at the bar. Someday I’ll be finished with restaurant work. But not quite yet… have to pay the bills.