My Life with PTSD (and reasons why I haven’t told you) Part II


Shortly after I released My Life with PTSD (and reasons why I haven’t told you) Part I I had a few humbling experiences. First and foremost, the outpouring of love and support from friends and strangers was incredibly life-affirming and I thank you for that. Second, I have upset people I care about who would rather I never spoke of this. To those people, I love you and I hope you can forgive me and continue to forgive me as I explore being open about this. Third, I had a slight uptick in PTSD symptoms following the post. Discussing this has required me to dig a bit deeper which in turn has been destabilizing. While this caught me by surprise, it’s not surprising. I now have preventative measures and support systems in place to help me address symptom uptick in future, and am ready to continue this conversation which I hope will yield valuable insight and new awareness.

I want to start with why I am talking about this now.

  1. My life and experiences are inextricable from my work; from the work itself, and from my capacity to interface with an audience. Once it’s all on the table, I hope to be able to proceed more freely and discuss more openly.
  2. I feel safe enough to talk about it. I didn’t have enough distance to be able to speak to how this has impacted me before now. Healing from trauma takes time (1). And I needed to learn a bit about who I am on my own before allowing this story to shape others’ perspective of me. Understanding the relationship between trauma and identity has the potential to positively inform prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing the negative effects of traumatic exposure and increasing the positive growth effects that can also come from such experiences (2).
  3. It’s important. Over the years I have come to know so many people who’ve gone through facets of what I went through in their own lives. I understand that my situation was extreme, but you needn’t be Brittany Spears #freebritney or Ivanka Trump (if her epiphany ever comes) to appreciate patterns of harm which, while left unchecked, will continue to harm people. The cultural sickness (3) in which my grooming was rooted affects everyone to varying degrees. How does this happen? How is it manifesting for others? And what can we do about it? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I want to facilitate conversations that may yield some solutions.

That’s the takeaway and the setup for some deep, reflective, honest insight from me in future. For those curious about what happened between where we left off with Part I and now, read on. Those who get the gist and don’t wish to explore further, here’s a performance vid.

*BIG BREATH* Part II

In the aftermath of my Dad leaving and my lawyer’s confirmation of his charlatan status, everything stopped. I didn’t force myself to do anything outside what was necessary to pay bills. Otherwise I was a broken, shattered heap of a person. The one thing I did compulsively was write music. The part of me that composes was not something that could be groomed in or out of me, and that gave me new life. Thereafter I recruited a band and started booking shows. I learned how to do some of the “business things” that my Dad had always done (this time legally), and found the real world simultaneously empowering and terrifying. Every thought and interaction was a revelation on how the world actually worked contrasted with how I’d understood it to work. My instincts were shit, and it took a long time for me to get better at deciphering whether someone was trustworthy or not. One of the most pernicious effects of trauma is that it disrupts this ability to accurately read others, rendering the trauma survivor either less able to detect danger or more likely to misperceive danger where there is none (4). I attracted and was attracted to abusive, predatory people who I thought well and good simply because they were not as abusive as I was used to. Often times these abusive people were survivors of trauma themselves. Trauma Bonding can occur between anyone; partners, family, or friends (5). Few of the relationships I entered into lasted, and I struggled to find any place that I belonged. Exposure to cruelty, perversion, or betrayal may lead to a greater sense of threat or fear as this represents not just the risk of physical injury but also the breakdown of social norms as well as the sense of safety associated with being a member of a rule-guided community (6).

Beneath and in spite of my drive and effort, I was feeling more broken by the day. I continued in this way until I hit rock bottom. For me, this manifested as near constant suicidal ideation accompanied by the loss of will to eat, drink, or take care of myself.

When I checked myself into hospital in 2017, I needed help. Instead, I was dehumanized in the process of being stripped of all things that resembled myself, spoken to, and handled as certifiable (as if that could justify such things). Nurses perceive people with a psychiatric disorder as more negative and less human than non-psychiatric patients (7). After an overnight stay with an attending nurse who repeatedly told me that hospital beds are intended for people with “real problems,” I sat in a grey room wearing grey hospital sweat clothes behind a grey folding table waiting for a stranger to determine my fate. Sleepless and terrified, I made an onerous effort to tell my whole story to that point. I tried not to leave anything out, but by this time my memory was extremely jumpy and unreliable. One of PTSD’s core symptoms is impaired memory…memory continues to falter even after the single event or events leading up to a PTSD diagnosis. Memory can continue to deteriorate into treatment and beyond if the mechanisms behind memory distortion, loss, and failure are not addressed (8). There was a moment after I’d finished when the psychiatrist looked at me stonily, then asked if anyone could verify that this had happened. I gave him my Mom’s number. 10 minutes later he returned with a laugh that said, “sorry I thought you were crazy,” and officially diagnosed me with PTSD.

*FLASH FORWARD*

Some years later I had the bandwidth to reflect on that experience and decided to report the nurse from that night. I don’t know her name, and could only provide my name and the date of my stay. I can’t say that it amounted to much, but it seemed right to stand up for myself in retrospect. I think a lot about how best to protect and stand up for myself these days, and I’m really proud to be amongst generations that seem to be doing the same.

*FLASH BACK*

This was the first major turning point in my post-Dad life. I didn’t want to feel this way anymore, and I never wanted to go back to the hospital again. Armed with anti-depressants – which did help and which I used for several months – and my new diagnosis, I started to research PTSD and the treatment of it. I tore into literature on PTSD and self-help. Three particularly influential books during this process were The Body Keeps Score (9), Belong (10), and The Simple Art of Not Giving A Fuck (11). The first book helped me to understand and appreciate my psychological and physiological response to trauma. The second helped me to refine the process of community building. The third helped me to refine my values and leave the rest.

While I was not instantly cured of suicidal ideation, I no longer felt that I was broken. Given the circumstances, all my symptoms – suicidal ideation included – made sense. I made a plan. I reasoned that the culmination of my life experiences to date was net negative, and therefore it made sense to feel that death was preferable. NOTHING > NEGATIVE. By that same logic, it was conceivable that accumulating positive experiences could shift the equation to result in net positive. POSITIVE > NOTHING. If after exhausting myself and all conceivable options I was unable to achieve net positive, I gave my future self permission to die. ..It’s been 3 years. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and I think this logic still stands. #suicidepreventionmonth

Here’s where it gets good ❤️

In 2018 I left Michigan and made a new life for myself in San Francisco where I started to feel the accumulation of my new net positives. There, I was fortunate to hone my values, my community, and my craft among many of the best musicians I’ve had the privilege of playing with. I mean musicians who back your favorite famous artist and should be famous in their own right 🤯 If most of my career till then had been a charade, at least everything from San Francisco on was real. My PTSD symptoms – characterized by panic attack like episodes, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, hypervigilance, memory loss, jumpiness, disassociation, olfactory hallucinations, difficulty doing everyday tasks – became fewer and farther between. For the first time, a world of my own making grounded in reality took shape.

HOME STRETCH!

In 2019 I was primed for my second international tour, this time to New Zealand. I was briefly kidnapped at the end of this tour – story here – which eventuated meeting my now husband. Spoiler alert: he was not one of the kidnappers. I returned to New Zealand in February 2020 where 8000 miles and an incredible support system has brought me to the best mental and physical space of my life. In spite of COVID, the pandemic years have been good to me. Intentionally building my life, getting married to an amazing, healthy person, continuing my amateur study of psychology, making music professionally, and refining my values have contoured me as much as my relationship with my father ever did. I’ve ceased fearing that my origin story would overshadow all of this and anything else I could ever do or be. I’m excited to learn what new depths of honesty will yield.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World

Song: The Weird Ones from Maggie Cocco’s Science for Sociopaths

(1) Healing from trauma takes time. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm

(2) Understanding the relationship between trauma and identity has the potential to positively inform prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing the negative effects of traumatic exposure and increasing the positive growth effects that can also come from such experiences https://www.scitechnol.com/peer-review/identity-and-trauma-FBG5.php?article_id=5034

(3) Cultural Sickness https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/culture-bound-syndromes

(4) One of the most pernicious effects of trauma is that it disrupts this ability to accurately read others, rendering the trauma survivor either less able to detect danger or more likely to misperceive danger where there is none https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/06/20/the-body-keeps-the-score-van-der-kolk/

(5) Trauma Bonding can occur between anyone; partners, family, or friends https://www.thehotline.org/resources/trauma-bonds-what-are-they-and-how-can-we-overcome-them/ family https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/when-family-relationships-become-toxic-the-trauma-of-enmeshment-1016197 and friends https://www.counselingworks.com/identifying-and-breaking-trauma-bonds/

(6) Exposure to cruelty, perversion, or betrayal may lead to a greater sense of threat or fear as this represents not just the risk of physical injury but also the breakdown of social norms as well as the sense of safety associated with being a member of a rule-guided community” (6). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722782/ Also see SAD https://www.verywellmind.com/ptsd-and-social-anxiety-disorder-2797528

(7) Nurses perceive people with a psychiatric disorder as more negative and less human than non-psychiatric patients. http://www.uclep.be/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Pub/Fontesse_APN_2021.pdf

(8) One of PTSD’s core symptoms is impaired memory…memory continues to falter even after the single event or events leading up to a PTSD diagnosis. Memory can continue to deteriorate into treatment and beyond if the mechanisms behind memory distortion, loss, and failure are not addressed (9). https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/ptsd/how-ptsd-memory-loss-are-connected/

(9) The Body Keeps Score https://www.besselvanderkolk.com/resources/the-body-keeps-the-score

(10) Belong https://www.radhaagrawal.com/ Free download: https://ashesleftbehind.blogspot.com/2018/11/download-belong-pdf-free.html)

(11) The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck https://markmanson.net/not-giving-a-fuck

Update: I’ve been able to replace my expired computer! Thank you for your patience. I wouldn’t be living the life I love without you 🎶❤️

On deck for Maggie Cocco Music:

1. Maggie Cocco Band Live Mini Set (Blues-Rock)

2. Maggie Cocco’s Science for Sociopaths Live Mini Set (Neo Mellow, Solo Piano/Voice)

3. Fan Highlight Reels (Mix Genre)

4. Maggie Cocco’s Science for Sociopaths at Quarry Arts Centre (Art Exhibit & Performance)

5. A Thousand and One Nights from StarKid’s Twisted featuring Brett Ruys (Musical Theater)

6. Sneak Peak of the new song cycle set to premiere at Whangarei Fringe 2021 🤩

If you appreciate this content, please share, like, and subscribe. Become a patron if you can. It all keeps my metronome ticking. 

Musically yours,

Maggie


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