Polyvagal Theory and Emotional Amnesia

What is Emotional Amnesia?

I have noticed in myself and others a tendency to forget.
When I feel really good, I think – or at least feel – that my life has taken a turn for the better, and that it will continue to be good indefinitely. Whatever it is that happened has changed me, or changed the course of my life somehow. When I feel really bad, I know that I felt good sometime before, but I don’t see any path to that good feeling now, and I feel helpless to get back there.

Neither of these are accurate emotional conclusions, of course. Even when I have a truly life-altering experience – and I have personally had many – still, it is a guarantee that there will be a time in the future when I will feel lost, alone, discouraged, confused, helpless and overwhelmed. And whenever I am in that place of helplessness and overwhelm, there will be a time in the future when I feel good again, as good as my baseline for feeling good, which varies from person to person.

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Turtle Day

Two days ago I used the bluebird energy to enliven and empower my day, but yesterday it didn’t work.

Is it possible, every day, to find a new organic inspiration?

I’m going to try today.

I am scanning my body, looking for and inviting anything that seems like a spark or current of hope, excitement, eagerness, or some other similar sort of energy.

But what is showing up is more like a sweet melancholy; a tender feeling of love. It is rising from my belly to my throat.

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When Clutter Attacks!!

This is interesting.
I need some id and password information. I just lost my job, so now my husband needs to apply for Medicare and to do that he needs to open a social security account. I froze our credit reporting accounts after the Equifax breach in September. Creating a Social Security account online requires an unfrozen Experian account. Now, we could just drive to the Social Security office. But we prefer just doing things online. So I need the id and password information that will allow me to unfreeze our Experian accounts. But I don’t remember where I put it, since I did this three months ago.

That is the opening scene in today’s blog. Middle-aged post-traumatic woman who just lost her job sits in the recliner in her living room shouting “Where are those papers!?”

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Bluebird Day

I let myself sleep in this morning. It wasn’t my intention to actually sleep. I wanted to use my semi-awake state to do some healing work with myself. Whenever I woke up, I iterated through my new BEST CARING acronym, test driving that resource.

B = Body/Breath. Let the body lead, don’t let the freaked out nervous system or the obsessive thoughts lead. And breathe.

E = Environment. Be aware of what is safe, supportive, unsafe, un-supportive in the physical environment.

S = Support. Create images of the support from people and communities who care about me, call on those images even if I can’t palpably feel the support. Also includes the support of Divine beings and of objects, like a roof and a locked door and a bank account.

T = Thoughts. Coach my thoughts. Intentionally think supportive and reassuring thoughts: “You can do this.”

C = Contact. Touch my own body, my arm, leg, or heart. Or make contact with another person or animal who is safe and supportive. 

A = Allow the expression of anything that is organically arising from inside myself (but not from the freak-out, from deeper in the system.) The Dark and Light poetry process can also fit here

R = Respiration. Breathe. Notice my breath.

I = Image. Bring up images of things that are pleasing and comforting. For me: flowers, bunnies, waterfalls.

N = Nice. Image is a subset of this. Think of things that are pleasing. Look around and find things in my visual field that are pleasing to look at. Do things that are pleasant (drink tea, walk outside, take a bath, play music, stroke my own hair…)

G = Gratitude. Give Thanks. 

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Navigating Mitigations or “Medications”

As I am learning more about the nervous system and about trauma, I am better able to see, notice, and understand what happens in my body. Basically I almost never really feel ok. Sometimes I feel pretty ok, but I’m still not whole-heartedly enthusiastic or joyfully or fully embodied. And much of the time, whatever level of ok I feel, it’s fragile, it can easily be derailed by conflict, stress or confusion. One way of explaining this is that I can get thrown off balance by something that is a trigger of a past trauma. And sometimes that’s clealy what happens – I notice my whole body moving rather quickly from relative stability into being wired, alert, concerned, distressed, and unable to feel calm.

But I believe that there is a different dynamic that also occurs. Here is what I think is going on. My post-traumatic nervous system is never actually at ease. When I feel pretty ok it is because the combination of mitigations that I have put in place is working. I’m not organically ok; rather, I’ve arranged to feel and function ok because of the various things I’m doing to take care of myself. Here are some examples of things I do to take care of myself; that is, to regulate my nervous system.

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I need an Owner’s Manual

I’m coming to understand more of the neurology and psychology of post-trauma, bit by bit. I understand that I have a pattern of being in chronic freeze mode – that any sort of challenge or conflict sends me directly into freeze, where I am in a state of continuously actively numbing myself. And I understand that underneath the freeze or numbness are powerful urges to flee and/or fight. And those urges for positive action are in conflict with the urge to remain motionless at all costs. And that this exhausting battle and stalemate continues perpetually in my bodymind. And I understand that I do not have the required neurological hardware to easily or organically develop and sustain healthy connected safe relationships with anyone – that the lack of healthy attachment bonding as an infant left me without the infrastructure I needed, so I’m working at a deficit in my efforts and wishes to build relationships. And I understand that there is a whole complex of unresolved trauma in my system, which produces a range of neurological and physical symptoms. And that some kinds of activities can mitigate and sometimes suspend those symptoms but that they tend to just keep showing up day by day and hour by hour.

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Making Friends with the Discomfort

I’ve had a difficult few weeks – physical discomfort, intense procrastination patterns, unease: moderately intense post-traumatic stress.

Last weekend I completed the second Somatic Experiencing class session, Beginning II. It was a good class, and I felt more regulated at the end of it than when I started. But even then I did not feel great, more like “pretty much ok”.

My realization today is that the discomfort of post-traumatic stress is not going to go away quickly or easily. I should already know that. But my focus has been around finding various tools, resources, approaches to make that discomfort go away. That’s a reasonable approach but I’m thinking that it may not be enough. Because the discomfort is not going to go away quickly, so in addition to trying to get rid of it, I also need to work out how to live with it in a way that works better than what I have done so far.

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Why Do I Forgo Self-care?

I didn’t feel so bad this morning, likely because I took my supplements last night for the first time in several days. So why don’t I make a point of taking the supplements every day if they help me to feel better?

I came across some reasons in my post-sleep study. Note that I’m not saying they are valid, just that they are there.

Feeling better doesn’t fix anything, it just obscures it.

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How to Stay Connected with My Self?

I finally got up – it’s almost noon. I’ve been lying in bed trying to process. Asking how can I feel good about my life? How can I have a day where it feels like I am ok? Yes there is a lot about my life that is difficult, frustrating, maddening and out of my control. But what I was feeling into is that even if all of those things were gone that I still would not feel ok.

There IS a lot that is outside of me, but what is inside me is still a huge problem.

I have the sense that I want to somehow move through my day in slow motion. I don’t yet have the concepts around what that means, what it would do, how it relates to things. It feels like if I could move in slow motion then I could remain connected to myself. If I move fast or even at a normal pace I lose myself and become the task or activity.

If I move at a normal pace I lose myself. If I relate to another person, I also lose myself.

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Anger. What to do? What does it want? Self-processing

I am angry about something. It’s something that it makes sense to me that I would be angry about, something I can’t change or influence, something that I believe is counter-productive or destructive. The question: “Is it really accurate that I can’t change or influence this in any way” is always a fair question. In this case, the answer is something like “Maybe but not really or not easily, not enough that trying to effect change is an effective way to be with my anger.”

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