What a Brain Scan Told Me About My Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Some days, I like to forget about my horrific child abuse history and think I am just another ordinary person trying to get by in this world. After all, I can get distracted by the things in life the same way my presumably ordinary neighbors can.

I appreciate the moments when nobody knows my big secret about having dissociative identity disorder (DID) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), and people think I am just another neurotic person, similar to themselves. I am a master at hiding my symptoms.

Then there are the moments when the truth slaps me in the face so hard I can barely stand up again.

This week, I met with a doctor to go over my results of some cognitive testing and my qEEG, or brain map. I am very interested in alternative or nontraditional therapies in treating my DID, so I am working with a new “brain doctor,” in addition to my traditional talk therapy.

I have always known I am sometimes cognitively impaired, and certainly sometimes operating from a “trauma brain.”

Though I had neurofeedback this past summer for about 15 sessions, the providers I used never shared what was going on with my brain — they shared positive statements about the neurofeedback results they were seeing. Never the baseline.

In my discussion this past week with the new doctor, it was explained as sensitively as it could be that I am extremely cognitively impaired and my brain waves look like a badass — not good — electrical storm.

I was told calmly and slowly they have seen worse, but it is pretty bad. The doctor is a genuinely good person and an optimist, and believes she can help repair much of my brain problems, even as severe as they are.

Because I had my son go through this process for a different reason, I knew what the brain pictures were supposed to look like. You want the brain to appear white on the paper.

I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of color on every one of my brain images.

I thought I was really calm during the actual test being done, but the results make it look like I am an anxious wreck. I guess my body has simply become used to the free-flowing anxiety from my PTSD, and I only recognize it when it is over the top.

I showed my brain in my best state. Can you imagine if I showed it when I am doing really poorly?

Two years ago, I was working in a highly demanding job in which I was quite successful and made a lot of money. Today, I am not working at all.

The one sentence from the doctor that stood out to me was when she gently said, “I can see why you are not working; your executive functioning is extremely low.”

A dagger in my heart.

The scribble-scrabble brain waves on the page were not something I can deny. I don’t need to be a doctor to know it isn’t “normal” looking at all.

The mental anguish I feel on a regular basis has just been verified as totally real, and it is as bad as it feels. It is not hidden or made up. Through this qEEG, I let people see the mess of a brain I have — lots of internal conflict about doing so.

“You’re such an idiot; why did you let people see what it looks like inside?”

My trauma has without a doubt destroyed the way my brain is supposed to function. Maybe I shouldn’t say destroy, because my favorite word is all the buzz these days — “neuroplasticity,” when the brain can heal itself. There is hope through neurofeedback and other brain therapies to repair much of the damage.

I always thought I wanted to see what my “DID brain” looked like. At this point, I feel it was a mistake, but hopefully someday I will change my mind about it.

It is an overwhelming picture of myself. And, I actually feel shame about my brain. That’s a new one.

This morning, I was looking at a job announcement that came to my email, and what followed were the voices in my brain telling me I can’t possibly work given the extremely low level of executive functioning I am at (confirmed by these test results). Sigh.

I always knew the abusers from my past ruined my brain, but I secretly didn’t want it to be true. Parts of me appear to be so severely abused. I didn’t want to believe they could be as badly abused as they felt and claimed. I realize now how much I was clinging to the hope that not all of my story was true.

It is hard to hide from the serious consequences of the severe abuse I endured throughout my life. It is sad when the ability to deny the consequences is gone.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Getty Images photo via amoklv


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