Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thursday's Therapy - Self-Care: Soothing Your Traumatized Brain + Video: Relaxing Nature Sounds

Thursday's Therapy

Self-Care: Soothing Your Traumatized Brain
Video: Relaxing Nature Sounds

What many people do not realize is that Child-Loss not only involves a lifetime of Complicated Grief, but it also involves an extended period of Trauma. {Tommy and I are in the 7 3/4 year of grief, and we still battle the Trauma aspects of Child-Loss.} 

A client this week was describing her trauma to me and asking what to do to help herself when she feels so traumatized over facing her loss and the dire possibilities of potential loss. A newly Grieving Mother was writing me an email about the same time asking essentially the same thing, how to survive her Child-Loss Grief and Trauma. I decided these questions were so important, I needed to answer them in this blog post so that we could all be reminded of some of the basic survival tactics to our Traumatic Grief.

I explained to my client that the culprit lies in the "primitive part" of the brain which consists of the Amygdala and the Hypothalamus-Pitutitary-Adrenal or HPA system. Once the Amygdala receives the bodily sensations that trigger "Danger!," it sends out the pertinent "Fight-Flight-Freeze-or-Dissociate" message to the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal glands. Unfortunately, the Amygdala can continue to send "Danger!" messages even when the very real danger has passed, leaving traumatized minds, bodies, hearts, and souls whose trauma continues to signal current "Danger!" repeatedly...

For a Child-Loss Griever, our bodies become so worn down from our raw grief as well as our severely traumatized systems, that ofttimes, generally after a period of the first two years of grief, we become worn down, with the blessed initial shock that once graciously cushioned us from the vastness of the devastation of our loss, then starting to wear down, so that our "primitive brain" gets triggered more easily and thus begins to signal "Danger!" more often. This typically happens by year three (3); the third year was exactly the time for Tommy and me that was the absolute worst period of time over these past 7 3/4 years of our grief and trauma.

In that 3rd year after we lost our child, PostTraumatic Stress symptoms began to exaggerate. Hyper-vigilance (ever on the alert for more danger to the lives of our living loved ones), Hyper-arousal (our body jumping at the sound of a sudden noise, or being more reactive in general), Sleep Disturbance, etc. seemed to escalate. We were so thrown by our sudden demise at such a seemingly unusual time in our grief that we began to research every psychologist/psychiatrist parent who had lost a child until we found two simple sentences that brought sense to our chaos:

"Fish (1986) found that the grief of mothers was more intense after 2 years than it was in the beginning, and it did not taper off until after 5 years.... Likewise, in a study of 54 parents following the death of their child..., Rando (1983) found that grief actually intensified in the third year."

What Forever Means After the Death of a Child (page 82)
by Grieving Mother, Kay Talbot, Ph.D. 

We learned from Dr. Therese Rando, Ph.D. (whom we mentioned in the above quote), and from Dr. Bessel A. Van der Kolk, M.D. that the Traumatic Loss of Our Child damages the brain, and that the sensing of continued signals of "Danger!" would only accentuate the damage to our brain! So we knew we needed to reverse what Trauma we could to help our poor brains heal.

Especially for someone traumatized by Child-Loss, it takes extra effort to do anything, even Self-Care. Over those first two years, we found ourselves neglecting the less important things in life (like cleaning the house, good hygiene, etc.!) to make room for the time needed to grieve our child. We made it a point to help ourselves feel some sense of soothing by spending much time outdoors, allowing our traumatized bodies and brains to experience soothing sensations to help calm the stirred up agitation. We found we needed to re-focus and get back to those self-soothing, highly comforting habits in the third year so that our brains could begin to rest and not feel the need to be hyper-alert. 

Sensations are what trigger the primitive brain to react, so we learned that soothing our sensations with right-brained activities was quite helpful. The right brain is the "creative" brain that enjoys art, music, sunshine, a breeze flowing across the skin, petting the dog, cuddling with the dog (and each other), swinging on our patio while enjoying the view of the flowers and birds, and watching the breeze gently moving through the leaves of the bamboo, oak tree, and flowers, all while listening to our little rock fountain waterfall's constant flowing. Such soothing comforts our bodies, souls and spirits and sends soothing messages to the Amydala so that it can relax and know that there is peace, not danger. This allows the incoming messages to the brain to be processed out of the primitive brain and on up to the more reasoning PreFrontal Cortex so that we can wisely choose what we need to do to process such traumatic material, helping it to flow on out of the body, having been re-worked.

Meditation, Exercise, Spiritual Practices you enjoy such as reading your Bible (or Bible graphics on Facebook or Pinterest if your mind is having a difficult time focusing!), Prayer, Making Time for our minds, bodies, hearts, souls, spirits to Re-work the Grief and Trauma, help not only to soothe, but also to essentially re-weave that fragile foundation of our lives that gives us the eternal "meaning" that reminds us we will be with our child again, and thus helps us to endure the daily battles a little better.

Doing this kind of self-care by self-soothing can help to re-wire the brain to repair the damage that already had been done by the Sudden Traumatic Loss of our Child! If you noticed yourself "losing" you car after parking it in a large parking lot, this is a symptom of that damage to the brain. The trauma of Child-Loss seems to attack those habitual, normal, everyday processes that we once did without thinking, such as easily remembering the steps to showering, shaving, washing our hair, how we would normally dress without even thinking about it, etc. That is why people think they are going crazy when they arrive at work (if they are able to work) only to discover their dress is on backwards, or wrong-side-out, or that they have on two different colors of shoes! This is the Traumatized Brain at work, and it is perfectly "normal" (as in, it is quite common) in Child-Loss Grief and Trauma. That is one of the reasons we feel we are "walking through molasses" daily because suddenly we have to think through all our otherwise normal habits, simply to remember the steps to accomplish them!

Soothing your traumatized brain is doable, and it is important to establish these soothing habits for the rest of this earthly lifetime because as we all know by now, grieving our child, (and thus needing to calm our systems) will last our entire lifetime. We will always love our child, so we will always (this side of Heaven) grieve our child.

Relax: 8 Hours-Relaxing Nature Sounds



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