Saturday, August 28, 2010

What the Breeze Brings

Today, temperatures in the metro Atlanta area dropped to a cool 83 degrees. Thus, in anticipation for fall, we shut down the AC, threw open the windows, and let the breeze blow in. For me, the change of seasons has always been an exhilarating time. The subtle shifts in temperature, humidity, light, and wind, signify new beginnings, movement, and possibility!

This isn't the case for everyone, though.

For some, the change in seasons can be a time of angst. Perhaps, one year fall was hard for you, or even traumatic. Perhaps something dreadful happened one fall, years ago, that you have never fully healed from, and every fall thereafter you feel as though you are reliving the pain of "back then." If this is true for you, then the change in seasons, fall itself, or any element associated with that season, may be a trigger for you.

Last post I wrote about the spectrum of dissociation and how trauma-related dissociation is brought about by triggers. In 1984, Bennett Braun outlined a 4 part model of dissociation using the acronym BASK. BASK stands for Behaviors, Affect, Sensation, and Knowledge. In my experience and opinion, triggers can be classified along similar lines. At the time of a trauma, the brain encodes the experience along theses four axes; later, when any of the four are re-experienced, in any context, the brain is likely to recall the traumatic memory. With that recall, may come dissociation, or flashback. Ya with me so far?

Let's break it down. B is for behavior. This represents the action or actions associated with the trauma. Some examples of behavioral triggers might be sleeping, bathing, eating, running, exercising, yelling, crying, being stuck in a small space, etc. If that happened "back then" and the trauma has yet to be resolved, the same action in the present is likely to be triggering and result in some manifestation of dissociation or flashback (behavioral, emotional, sensory, or knowlege).

A is for affect. In short, affect is another word for feelings, or emotions. Let's say the trauma involved feelings of fear, helplessness, or sadness. And lets's say in the here and now, you decide to spend your Saturday night watching a scary movie with your best friend, and before you know it, you are feeling panicky, disconnected from your body, and have an incredible urge to run. Feeling fear is a trigger for you that initiated a trauma response.

S is for sensations, anything experienced with the 5 senses: touch, taste, sight, smell, or sound. A pat on the back, the temperature of the air around you, the taste of salt, the sight of darkness, the sound of a gunshot, the smell of vanilla. . . That which was felt, tasted, seen, smelled, and heard at the time of the trauma is imprinted in the brain as being associated with that experience and may be a trigger for dissociation in the weeks, months, and years that follow.

Finally, K is for knowledge. This is how most of us think about memory. This represents explicit memory, or narrative memory- a conscious recollection that one has experienced something at a particular place and time, and has a story to go along with it. The other three forms of memory mentioned above (behavior, affect, and sensation) are considered implicit memory. They are stored via different mechanisms in the brain; we may be triggered by a certain smell, and be kicked into an intense dissociative state without having the knowledge, or explicit memory of the trauma associated with that smell.

Whew! This feels like alot of info, so I will stop here.

All the Best,
Katie