Monday, March 20, 2006


Today is the first day of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, one of two days of the year when day and night are about the same length.

From Equinox and (geez, there’s a website for everything, isn’t there?), here’s a nice synopsis:

"The ancient goddess, Eostre, a Saxon deity who marked not only the passage of time but also symbolized new life and fertility, was the key symbol of this celebration which was also known as Ostara. Legend has it that the goddess was saved by a bird whose wings had become frozen by the cold of winter. This process turned the bird into a hare. Yet this was no ordinary cottontail; this long-eared rabbit could also lay eggs! The main symbols for Easter are the egg, for new life or beginnings, and the rabbit/hare, for fertility."

I always wondered how the rabbit and the egg thing got started. Leave it to the Saxons.

This morning on the way to work it was pouring rain and miserable. The first day of Spring never crossed my mind, and I doubt it would have even if it had been sunny. That’s because I was too busy ruminating about the fact that today is the anniversary of my abortion. Admittedly, I am a glass-half-empty kind of person, always have been, but this got me thinking about my thinking patterns. Why do I (and many others) focus more attention and energy on the negative remembrances than the positive? Why do I become more emotional about today than I do about my wedding anniversary in July? For me, it’s just easier to be upset, depressed or angry than it is to be happy. Ask my husband, he’ll tell you that trying to make me have a good time is like pulling teeth. The only way he knows for sure that I’m having fun is when I throw up. This theory has been proven time and time again, mostly on vacations. Poor guy.

But, I digress. Maybe this is true for me because my brain has been altered by my history. Recently I found a very interesting article from March 2000 called “The Invisible Epidemic: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Memory and the Brain” written by Dr. J. Douglas Bremner, a faculty member of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, among others. He begins by reiterating a statistic that is all too familiar to me: “…a prime cause of PTSD is childhood sexual abuse. About 16% of American women (about 40 million) are sexually abused (including rape, attempted rape, or other form of molestation) before they reach their 18th birthday.” I’m going to throw caution to the wind and say that the Canadian stats are probably no better. The article isn’t that long but I won’t bore you with long quotes from it, you can read it here.

For those who don’t have the time or inclination to do so, here’s the conclusion paragraph: “Traumatic stress, such as that caused by childhood sexual abuse, can have far-reaching effects on the brain and its functions. Recent studies indicate that extreme stress can cause measurable physical changes in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex, two areas of the brain involved in memory and emotional response. These changes can, in turn, lead not only to classic PTSD symptoms, such as loss and distortion of memory of events surrounding the abuse, but also to ongoing problems with learning and remembering new information. These findings may help explain the controversial phenomenon of "recovered" or delayed memories. They also suggest that how we educate, rehabilitate and treat PTSD sufferers may need to be reconsidered.” The article includes an MRI image of the brain of a patient with PTSD compared to a patient without, showing a reduction in the size of the hippocampus.

At the airport in Atlanta on his way home from the Gulf Coast last week, D bought a copy of the April 2006 Discover magazine. In it is an interview with Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, a neurobiologist who’s written a book examining the convergence of four critical fields – behaviorist psychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology. The article discusses a study group he is part of which is exploring whether MRI brain imaging can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of psychotherapy.

I’ve been in therapy twice in my life, in the early 90s for 4½ years straight (at the end of which I had accomplished both leaving my first husband and confronting and outing my brother as my abuser to the rest of my family), and the second for about six months in late 2002 and early 2003 as I dealt with the debilitating panic attacks brought on by the double blows of losing my job – again – and the full brunt of infertility. A SSRI has been a god-send to me, but it would not have worked without cognitive and behavioral therapy as well.

I would have loved to have seen before and after MRI images of my brain. I’m sure I still have a lot of healing to do.


  1. charlie's momMarch 21, 2006 at 7:50 AM

    I am a firm believer in that kind of therapy. I had some really debilitating panic attacks in my early twenties. The therapy really helped me to move on with my life. It seems to have helped you too- I'm glad of it.

    I think you can't ever really get over things, you just learn to cope with them. As we get older, I think the significance of past events can take on different meanings- we will always have to revisist and re-evaluate what has happened to us. Particularly when those things are as traumatic and terrible as what you have endured.

  2. Donna,
    I fear that we all have some additional healing to do. You, however, are a true testament to how strong, independent, thoughtful and wise a victim of sexual abuse can become.

    I am SO looking forward to meeting you in real life!

  3. I can't say it better than Mellie.

    I'm sorry that the first day of spring coincides with that particular anniversary. I know that has to be hard.

  4. You know what I've always wanted to research? The effect of sexual abuse on women's fertility. I am convinced there is probably a relationship...

    I had the panic attacks too. Very bad, in my twenties... they started one day when I was on the metro in Paris, of all places, with a very, very crazy man not far from me to enhance the experience (!) My wonderful ex-SIL helped me deal with them. I sure hope they never come back, they were horrific...

  5. Donna,

    I was a long time PTSD sufferer, at one point it became very active and I couldn't drive and I was very fearful everytime the door bell rang and was afraid to go places by myself. I was having flashbacks.

    I used to do a lot of research on the topic, I was most impressed eith the work of Joseph LeDoux

    Here's a very interesting article about the study of a heart drug to treat PTSD

    I got through PTSD though an odd set of circumstances of going off the medications that I was given for the PTSD and watching several movies over and over where women overcame their attackers, one night I had a dream that I overcome an attacker, and actually saved others as well, it was like something switched back over in my brain - it really was. I was no longer a victim. Technically I guess it was a kind of desensitizing/reprogramming, it was accidental - but then so is so much else in life!! LOL