Friday, March 16, 2012

Another Side Effect of Brain Surgery: PTSD

It turns out recovery from brain surgery is difficult. Like everything in my life so far, it has been non-linear.  I’ve passed the traditional benchmarks like leaving the ICU; laps around the neuro-floor and ultimately being discharged.  These successes lead to full days at work; 2 completed half marathons; weight gain/weight loss; a promotion at work and jumping back into the dating pool. Despite a backslide here and there I was able to throw up my grappling hook and get to the next level. I know I will be able to look back on this chapter and be proud of getting over it and through it, but day-to-day it is rather unsavory.

This latest hurdle started slowly. During the summer, I became more vigilant while crossing the street. I figured this was normal and actually good since there were times prior to my brain tumor diagnosis when people had to grab my arm to stop me from crossing the street in front of an oncoming vehicle. My vigilance crossing the road persisted, but it wasn’t alarmist. I was feeling strong, healthy, & confident with how well I was recovering and with my promotion at work. In the fall of 2011 it seemed appropriate to try dating again. I had a second date with a charming fellow in late November.  It was on a day of one of those LA Fall rainstorms and even though we walked arm-in-arm under a tiny umbrella, at dinner when he complemented me on my ring, I did not give my hand for him to “inspect” the ring more. Even though I had enjoyed the date & his company, I didn’t feel comfortable with the small gesture of giving him my hand. I didn’t think too much about that day until this past weekend when I was walking next to my mom (who had come out for a visit), I jumped out of my skin when she put her arm around me while we were walking down a road. I shrieked and ran to the other side of the road.

Upon quick consideration, I realized that even though I threw myself back into dating, the idea of holding a young man’s hand is far too intimate. I have gone on dates and given hugs, but the skin-to-skin contact of hand to hand is something I can’t fathom doing.

With a little research this quirky and hyper-vigilant behavior is “normal” and is actually PTSD. I never would have thought I could acquire a disorder that seems to be reserved only for the brave men and women who have served our country. The PTSD does not have to occur right after the incident, but it can be triggered after the event. I’ve even read of brain surgery patients experiencing PTSD 20 years after their surgery. The symptoms result when a traumatic event causes an over-reactive adrenaline response, and the response can make the individual hyper-responsive to future fearful situations. A Wikipedia article says “PTSD is believed to be caused by experiencing any of a wide range of events which produces intense negative feelings of "fear, helplessness or horror" in the observer or participant…” It elaborates that being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness can also be a catalyst for bringing on PTSD.  The article is quite informative and worth reading it in its entirety.

Now that I know why I’m acting like a freak, I can own it and correct it. Unlike the “you must have more brain surgery” scare I had in June 2011, I will not let this consume me or derail me. I’m getting over a cold, but once I get through that I can add more running back to my daily life & continue to eat right.  Unlike ignoring my neurological symptoms of my brain tumor, I have told people & I’m telling you. I’ve also reached out to my Certified Hypnotherapist, Brennan Smith to set up a session.  I’ve worked with Brennan for nearly 8 years and besides my minister, he’s one of the people my family asked to see me on the eve of my brain surgery. The future is bright and this too shall pass.