Research indicates that a brain with PTSD has structural differences from a brain without. I wonder about this while engaged in returning to a task at work. Except I can not return without taking steps to recall what I was doing. An incoming email interruption and quick reply resulted in losing track. I don’t have the faintest idea of what I was in the middle of doing. It’s as if a mental avalanche blocked the path to the executive function I was about to process.
When I Alt-Tab to the computer window where I had been previously, I see missing information and realize I needed to refer to an email. I had been looking in Outlook for an email containing that information. But then the new email came through. In an instant, my brain was unable to go back to where it was before.
This can happen to anybody, of course. For me it happens frequently. It’s much more frustrating when it happens not while working on a computer, but while doing tasks around the house. I can’t Alt-Tab to recall where I was before. Sometimes I will roam around the house looking for clues to remind me what I was doing. Many important tasks become forgotten. But if they are important enough, the need will arise again to continue where I had left off or start over. I often start over having no recollection of doing it before. Starting tasks over often happens with paperwork. Sometimes I discover copies of the same forms. Sometimes I see my handwriting on a piece of paper but don’t recognize it.
In the moment after my three word reply to the interrupting email, my working memory had been wiped clean. What was I doing? Why was I looking at Outlook?
With PTSD, we need coping mechanisms. One of mine is keeping every needed program running for what I’m working on in a given day so that I can Alt-Tab for clues to point me where to go next. I also have dozens of browser tabs open. Often I bookmark a website and close the tab if the data on the page can be reviewed later and has low importance. And then there is my Things list. Things is a program by Cultured Code that allows organization of tasks based on project type or area of responsibility. Tasks are chosen daily or moved to “Someday” if they are low priority. When I have mental blips of lost connectivity, I go to my Things list to remind me what I’m working on. Of course this fails if I fail to record tasks.
One day, when I’m dead, perhaps scientists will use my brain for research. How is it different from non-PTSD brains? What can researchers learn from it and how can it help other people live better after surviving trauma?