May 2022, Issue 8 “PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions.” ― Susan Pease Banitt
The Smelling Red Series is the neuroscience component of Shonkinite Sketches.
By Harper Klay, Shonkinite Founder
6 minute read
Smelling Red Series is birthed from the Founder’s personal journey recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury. We begin with her story.
Click on the video below to hear this Sketch in the author's voice
Coming into consciousness, I was drenched, my sheets soaked.
It took me a moment to realize it was own my sweat. And now I was freezing. I was 22 years old. This was a regular occurrence.
I lived with a group of girls in Arlington, Virginia. I worked in the US Senate, I worked in the US Senate in a job I loved. I was proud to be of service and working on things greater than myself. I wondered what my subconscious was doing in my sleep, what demons I was working out that this was how I start my day. All I know is that I was exhausted.
Years later, in the Kingdom of Jordan, I sat in my car, shaking. Something inside me had unlocked. I felt the tidal waves of release and I knew if I could hold on, there would be relief. I gripped my steering wheel and let the ripples course through my body. I had finished my first private Tango lesson, and the deep physical embrace with another human body in motion to music unlocked a hyper-vigilance I had only ever known life to be. I was 27.
I made plans. Plans to shower and dress, pack my laptop, notepad or moleskin, pens and pencils. I would execute the plan and walk the 20 minutes to the Library of Congress. I would sit in the stillness of reading rooms in the Madison or Jefferson building, surrounded by rich materials and history and the ghosts of our founding fathers. Then the convulsions began. Fuck, I want to write right the fuck now. My vision was like a rain pelted windshield. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t read. I was exhausted at the preparation and execution of my plan to write. Not today. I would gather my backpack, walk home, put on soft pajamas, draw black out curtains, crawl into bed, and sleep. I was 33.
I created a term for the rush through my vertical meridians, highways from head to toe that would surge like a revved up car engine entering the interstate. They were my trauma worms, and I was determined to identify what activated them.
Try and try again became my mantra. If a trip to the Library of Congress was too much for me, I would write from bed. Tennessee Williams and Winston Churchill wrote from bed. I did whatever I could to quiet my nervous system to let the creativity pour out of me.
Acupuncture, Korean bathhouses, meditation. I’d light a candle and stare at the flame, listening to Deva Primal music. Hours sitting in a bathtub of baking soda and sea salt would clear my field.
video content warning: may be upsetting for some viewers
My body, wound up so tight, needed a release. I came across a video like this one of a polar bear “discharging” survival activation and I found my key.
My mind may activate the fight-flight-freeze-fawn response, instructing a release of adrenaline and cortisol to surge through my veins. This surge is designed to give me the speed to run from a grizzly or lift a bus to save my child trapped underneath, but when unused, leaves a cesspool of excess hormones, a chemical hangover that is a regular part of my life.
We humans are either in our parasympathetic nervous system of rest and digest, or our sympathetic nervous system of survival. When raised in violence and unsafe environments, our existence is high alert, an Emergency On Button that is permanent.
I hear the term PTSD loosely used in social chatter to get a point across with a dramatic flair. But I rarely hear talk of the sensory experiences that the mind works out through sound, sight, and soma. Or that the psoas muscle, a muscle that connects the torso with the legs, is the catch-all muscle for trauma, and when not supported, is stretched and strained resulting in chronic full-body tension. The national conversation is one now of mental health, but the layers of complex impact on the digestion, nervous, and endocrine system are absent. Or, the nurturing of awareness, tools, modalities, and practices that with repetition can return one to homeostasis.
I discover and explore restoration practices. This has become my life’s work. If I do not address the state of my nervous system, I cannot consistently achieve my goals and dreams. Laughter, a long hug, a meaningful conversation, and starting my day with celery juice to flush excess stress hormones out of my system are my practices of today. Calm is power. And I do my best to approach life like a game to be played with joy.
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