PTSD and the Dimming of the Thinking Brain

A couple weeks ago, I went to dinner at someone’s house. Another couple in their late sixties was invited. The wife seemed a little subdued with eyes cast down a lot. She turned out to be a real doll–friendly and kind. Her husband was a charismatic, tough guy from New Jersey. Very successful in construction.

I talked to him a few minutes and thought, He’s a walking time-bomb. I hope he doesn’t drink too much.

At the beginning, everyone was talking together. I was in good form and had no trouble articulating my thoughts and interacting with others.

As the night went on and the tough guy got loaded, he began to dominate the conversation and express a lot of anger about what’s threatening the running of this country.

Then I heard him use the “n” word and my stomach cascaded. I thought, OMG, get me outta here.

His wife turned to me and started asking me about what mascara I used and other “girl talk” stuff and suddenly I found I could not access my vocabulary. I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I could see it, but I couldn’t find the words.

My thinking brain was going dim.


Brain scans show that when the survival brain is activated, the thinking brain or neocortex, all but shuts down.

It makes sense. We don’t need to be wasting time in reflection and contemplation when danger is at hand.

As with so many of us with a history of childhood trauma, I usually go into instant calm mode when people act nuts or there’s an emergency.

But not always.

For me, if I’m in a situation which mimics some aspect of my original trauma, I get triggered.

Luckily, I’m not a child anymore. I have choices. I can walk away from situations I don’t like and, in this case, that’s what I did.


I continue having a rough time with IBS pain, sleeplessness, and burnout since Jack’s death. I went to an acupuncturist three times. I liked her very much and found the sessions quite relaxing.

Alas, it did not help me.

Yesterday, I went to a hypnotherapist. I’d read Brian Weiss’ fascinating books on hypnotic regression and the miracle cures they often bring and thought maybe this could help.

Unfortunately, this guy turned out to be a self-important showman type and was not helpful. I could see doing hypnotherapy another time with someone who has been recommended to me.

I found a Reiki person. I’ll meet with her Wednesday for a free consultation.

You know, I love life so much. I love going out on my tiny patio in the mornings and looking at the beautiful trees and gorgeous blue sky. I love the smell of the air. It’s always fresh and a little different every day. It rained yesterday and the air smelled like cedar. I love the sunlight that comes through my windows in the morning. I love the mountains in the distance. I love connecting with people, but this pain and fatigue has undermined my energy so much, I only go out (dinner with the fascist aside) when I have to for necessary errands. I keep thinking, When will I be well enough to meet people?

When I was young, I wondered why my uncle talked so much when he came to dinner after my grandmother died. (He always lived with her.) I think it’s because he had no one to talk to. I understand now. I’m like the lonely old lady who doesn’t talk to anyone all day so she bends the ear of the guy behind the fish counter for twenty minutes and tries to engage the checkout ladies and post office people and so on.

I had the biggest laugh on the phone with a stranger the other day. I was making a first time appointment with a potential primary care physician and the office lady who took my info just cracked me up.

Who is to say when and where we’re going to connect with people or what the perfect scenario is for making new friends? I kept thinking, I’m not getting out. I’m not meeting people.

But I do get out. I do meet and talk to people at the post office, at the grocery store, at the pharmacy, at Walmart–everywhere I go.

It’s just not the way I imagined.