Healing Trauma via Buddhism – Part 2

Continuing on from my post here, writing further about what I learned at the workshop “Trauma, Neuroscience and the Evolving Therapy of Traumatised Children and Adults” by Dr Bessel van der Kolk earlier this week and referring to his book The Body Keeps the Score.

The most important job of the brain is to ensure our survival, even under the most miserable conditions.

– The Body Keeps the Score pg 55

Amygdala is the smoke detector in the brain that detects danger. In a traumatised person’s brain, the amygdala becomes hypersensitive, very involved. It goes off all the time. This also translates into low serotonin production. Boosting serotonin can help quieten the smoke detector too.

Using the Buddhist practice in the present moment, I can rely on my prayer for survival. This action focused on bringing out my greatest potential enables me to bypass the in-built brain circuits that were formed in the past. I am gently nudging myself to not fall back to old ways, but let in new possibilities. SGI activities, visiting members, connecting to others, going to meetings gives me a sense of belonging that helps to boost my serotonin levels to calm the smoke detector.

When I sought guidance from the general director earlier this year, I was told that “Until the time, I am stuck in the mode of why is my life this way, why is this happening to me, I am still looking for the Gohonzon outside of myself. Instead when I chant to embrace my situation and I determine to engage with others, no matter what, I will find creative ways to solve my current situation”.

Continue reading “Healing Trauma via Buddhism – Part 2”

Healing Complex PTSD via Buddhism – Part 1

Today I went to attend a conference called “Trauma, Neuroscience and the Evolving Therapy of Traumatised Children and Adults” by Dr Bessel van der Kolk.

In 2017, when I had left my job and was unemployed and suffering from what felt like PTSD from my last job, I wandered into a book store and picked up his book called The Body Keeps the Score. The mystic law works mystically indeed.

Over the next month, when I was on a detox in India. I read this book, almost studied it. It was as though someone captured my life experience and told me what was happening to me in my brain and body. I could let go of any guilt and shame of my life and take control of my life. I could assert my needs and ask for what I needed. I could stop blaming me for everything I did or did not do. I gave myself permission to look after myself.

I would describe it as a pivotal turning point in my whole life. In Mar’18, my doctor mentioned, his wife a yoga teacher attended Dr Kolk’s conference in Sydney. I felt like I missed an opportunity. I wanted to attend it. When the registrations opened in Oct 2018, I jumped at the opportunity.

It is truly my good fortune that I live in Australia and even have access to these opportunities. It is clearly meant for mental health professionals, but anyone can sign up and go to it. Could you imagine that kind of equality mirrored in society anywhere else? After my citizenship test study, it is particularly telling how equality manifests in many ways in Australia.

Last week, I started chanting with the determination to somehow be able to have a dialogue with Dr Kolk and tell him about my practice and how it has provided so many elements to healing that his research has uncovered. I also started chanting to expand kosen rufu and somehow connect the people present to the Buddhist practice and for their happiness.

Today was a fabulous day in this endeavour. I woke up early in the morning and chanted for an hour, dressed in a bright green, picked up breakfast and got to the conference. I further cemented my understanding of the content, my whole day full of “aha!” moments and notes of how my practice helps overcome c-PTSD.

In addition, I gathered the courage to talk to the person sitting next to me, a young psychologist who helps children and old people in the community deal with difficult circumstances and trauma. I gave her an old Indigo magazine I happened to be carrying with me, a print of The Winning Life that I managed to get from Officeworks next door in the lunch time.

I walked up to Dr Kolk twice, thanked him for his work and talked about how my Buddhist practice helps me. I gave him a print-out of The Winning Life too. He humbly accepted my material and promised to read it. He recognised that his work does not even begin to talk about how to deal with this problem when you’re not living the privileged life in Sydney for example but instead are in a village in India.

He is a brilliant man and a wonderful human being. He even recognised my accent as being from the state I come from in India. Nifty tricks up his sleeve, nobody has ever been able to tell that before! 😀

I still continue to fight my negativity. I berate myself that I should not have taken up too much of his time when he reminded me that he has a long queue and I wrapped up my conversation. I continue to battle my self-loathing and self-hatred. I realised that voice may not be going away for a while but I can create value in whatever way right now. I did my best based on prayer today and will do so again tomorrow.

Rinse and repeat.

After the conference, I met with a professional acquaintance who had been curious about the Buddhist practice. I was talking to her about work and struggling to talk about the practice. Suddenly out of nowhere, a Buddhist leader appeared and said hi to me. The same person who gave me guidance in January. I hugged him and my friend asked me who it was. I started to explain he was the leader from my Buddhist practice and how he helped me and went into my struggles for the last few years. This changed the tone of the whole conversation and led to me giving her a printed copy of The Winning Life too and inviting her to the meeting next month.

I feel like today I won in Kosen Rufu and in life.

The fight continues, and there is more and more joy everyday!

Here are some key learnings from the conference for me – warning, this is long, and I will write further sequels to these notes for reference!

Background
PTSD patients say this, "I have become a monster. I blow up all the time." PTSD was earlier thought to be a memory diagnosis. However, Trauma changed my brain in a way that I could not be alive in the present moment. It is very hard for me to feel alive, engaged and connected in the present moment. Conventional psychotherapy and treatments is "stupid", people just get treated on the basis of beliefs rather than outcomes, it just does not work. The USA DSM put down diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses which were essentially clusters of symptoms grouped together into "conditions". It was put together for the purposes of figuring out which drugs to prescribe for what, with the caveat to never use it for forensic or insurance purposes. Of course, this was forgotten. Professionals became terrible diagnosticians, diagnosing based on how they would get paid.

Currently psychiatrists are not even allowed to use "Complex PTSD" in their terminology or diagnosis or they can't get the insurance claims or prescribe medications when needed. This is the limitation of the public health system in Australia and insurance system in the US.

In Nov 2018, the largest ever PTSD study costing $4 million found that the best drug performed the same as placebo. Nobody got better. It found that "PTSD is untreatable". What this means - do things that are not drugs, and are not talking on a couch
Continue reading “Healing Complex PTSD via Buddhism – Part 1”

Health Journey

Shakyamuni using similes and parables inspired me this morning to try to describe my symptoms in this way. Over the last few years of seeing Chinese Medicine Doctors who always focus on my symptoms to treat me and inevitably go down the wrong path often, prompted me to think about how I can explain to them what is happening to me that perhaps makes it easier to understand or imagine.

Here’s what I wrote:

This is me a week after my period – Imagine that I am flying an aeroplane over the mountains. My mind is the aeroplane engine. The aeroplane is out of fuel and the engine keeps stopping. I use my will power to somehow use gravity to navigate to avoid crashing into the mountains right underneath the plane

Continue reading “Health Journey”

Rising from the Ashes

In some sense I live the life of the mythical Phoenix. In my severe menstrual issues, I’m one person for a couple of weeks of the cycle and someone else for the rest. Then there’s the exhaustion and pain in the first half so you could say I get about ten good days in every cycle. Plus the length of each cycle could vary because the hormonal issues make it unpredictable too.

From ovulation until my period, I feel like I’m slowly sinking and then drowning. I’ve always had this. I can’t remember a time since I started having a period that this didn’t happen. Oh wait, right there was the time I was on the pill and while I suffered from wild side effects, I realised for the first time that I’m not an angry person. For that, I am grateful. At least I got to see a glimpse of an alternate me that was still me. Unfortunately, that didn’t last, the pill contributed to too many problems. It’s so strange they don’t tell you how badly it can alter your gut and actually make things so much worse when you go off it.

On Saturday I did everything right, I got enough sleep the night before, I went for a walk, I socialised, ate well. I struggled. I had trouble processing questions, stringing words together. I met with a friend – that’s brave of me- I have many a broken friendships attributed to my severe premenstrual symptoms. PMDD as it’s called.

Turns out one of the big causes is low serotonin, that’s made in the gut and regulates the gut too. The other cause is weak oxytocin receptors. Literally these mean, I’m trapped in not feeling love and joy. The thread tying these together is traumatic childhood experiences that lead to dysfunctional development of the neurobiology causing lifelong problems.

I can’t change my childhood or anything in the past. I can only make a determination in the present moment and keep renewing in each moment. And then from the phenomena of 3000 realms of a single moment of life, this starts to transform my life and reality.

This determination and redetermination is a constant struggle. Battle against how things are inside of me and developing a deep conviction for my life and the purpose of my existence.

In the Gosho study lecture I went to today, the leader said (and I paraphrase)

Karma is misunderstood. It is usually described as the description of your current reality. However, in our practice, Karma is our tendency.

When we have changed our tendency, we have changed our karma. And this manifests in a change in our reality in our life.

So simple and so profound. It is so hard to change my tendencies. It is so hard to know what’s to keep, what’s to change. It’s so hard to solve this problem using my brain, impossible when I’m underwater in the dark ocean struggling to breathe.

When I realised the difficulty, complexity and impossibility of this challenge today, I went into despair. Realising yesterday’s depression caused despair today. Realising the struggle of the last 3 weeks, caused fear of the future, of my next cycle. Sometimes I want to undergo a hysterectomy but then I worry what if I come out stuck in my depressed state not my happy state. Who knows which one is the real me.

I was deadlocked.

Then I messaged my best friend in the practice, who I know has more than an inkling of what it feels like. Her care, while traveling overseas with a small baby to see her in-laws started to shift my life. Her simple words of, yes, this is so unbelievably hard, remind me to acknowledge the depth of my struggle. Reminding myself of the depth, I realise that this is not a struggle that is forever sinking. The fact that I deadlocked and hit rock bottom today means I’ve reached the turning point.

That turning point is my determination. For me to appreciate and contribute no matter what. For me to respect my life no matter what. For now, I will do my citizenship test next week and then if I need to take time off, I will. My friend reminded me to not strategize. I have the Gohonzon, the wish granting jewel. I don’t need to give up one thing in life to get the other. That’s the bit President Ikeda said about having a lofty prayer.

This led me to chanting which further led to this determination.

The fight continues.