July 8, 2008

Combat Vet on Zoning Out

This posting has been edited somewhat, but I wanted to leave as much of the disjointed and convoluted train of thought to give you an indication of my thinking processes

It has been a couple of days since my last posting, I have just now realized that I am in one of those stuck positions. For a person with PTSD their brain has become highly compartmentalized, sectioned off and coordinated along narrowly entrenched connections. The mind will shut down reasoning, conscious processing and engage the unconscious reflexive mechanisms. This controller switch enables the person to react to traumatic situations without filtering sensory information through our conscious mind. Through this defensive mechanism we can survive situations that would otherwise overwhelm us if we had to process the traumatic event in the moment. By the severity of the situation this connection gets heavily imprinted, thus enabling the PTSD sufferer to shift into a stuck position or zoning out. This cognitive binding can be triggered by situations that require emotional response, trusting issues, and really just about anything that requires thinking.

I was just reading an article by Penny Coleman on AlterNet. The article is about...I have also been reading in the PTSDForum.org, both the article and the forum thread have been talking about using a drug called Propranolol. The drug is a beta-blocker, it blocks nerve impulses, which seems to have a benefit for PTSD sufferers. I AM NOT ENDORSING THIS DRUG, I am still looking into its affects and effects. So, in the forum posters were talking about being in a stuck position and that is what triggered my discussion of detachment or dissociative states, which made me realize that I was going through one myself right now, still.

Now, I was talking about my stuck position, I just started an online class yesterday. I have been also trying to write a post for this blog. I have three drafts...I am sitting here going through my rituals of emotional blocking...closing my eyes, putting my right arm across my stomach with my left arm resting on my right. Then I use my hand to run down my face, starting from my forehead then down to my nose...I have been focused on my nose for about three days now, I have been picking at the skin until it is raw. I cannot forget the pausing that I go through when I am in this dissociate position. I zone out for several minutes at a time, I can loose hours if I do not try and meditate or pray...So does this post seem kind of disjointed? Thats because I am trying to relate how PTSD effects my life. During stressful times I run through dissociative states and this ritual cycle of zoning out and wiping my face, rubbing my nose and forehead, closing my eyes, rocking back and forth and a myriad of differing affects. Back in the day this would set me up for an anxiety or panic attack. Before I learned how to manage my attacks I was on clonazepam for about two years.

Reading the forum and article made me remember what it was like to be in an extreme state of mental illness. I could of used something to take this kind of episode out of my experience. The medicine Propranolol may of helped, but I do not see this treatment as a long term fix. Maybe in the short-term along with therapy and counseling to aid in the processing and reintegration of the emotions and experiences that have been separated from one another. After the traumatic experience is over, after the soldier comes out of the combat zone and transitions home. PTSD rewires the brain, it changes its landscape, alters its coping mechanisms and permanently turns on the primitive survival mode. Throwing in the medicine during the time combat to deny the brains response could complicate the soldiers coping mechanisms further.

Taking this medication before combat would only be doing what the brain is already capable of doing, shutting off reasoning functions and turning on a wholly basic instinctual response. It appears that it would harm the brain more than it would do good. Consider that the dissociative states might be entrenched further into the mind and promote the dissection and partitions of the brain relative to PTSD. PTSD is the breaking of the toggle switch that enables a person to vacillate between a fundamental reflexive reaction to danger signals and the reasoning of common experiences. I do not think that our troops and veterans should be some kind of guinea pig any more than they have been already.


  1. I know exactly what you are talking about . . .your brain is stuck in self preservation and your brain has become dopamine dominant to ensure preservation. Unfortunately, the brain does not easily shift from this mode and the mechanisims must be reset. I am a naturopath who works in this area. I also use the work of a psychotherapist specializing in EMDR. My site is www.whitneygabhartnd.com
    The drug you mentioned is a good tool but more tools must be used in conjunction to pull the person trapped in this brainlandscape out!


  2. I would like to hear more about the dopamine dominate self preservation mechanism and how this can be reset. Also, what do you think about hypnotherapy?

  3. Hi Scott,
    I am glad I found your blog! I wasn't in combat(although I was deployed). I fall into the MST spectrum of PTSD. I have been in theraphy for 2 years.

  4. Hello Aya, feels like we already know each other. Thank you for reading my content and commenting to let me know that you were there. It is an honor to have you here...

  5. Scott,
    Its been about 6 years since I have been back, but it seems like I am now exeperiencing a lot of what you and others I have talked to are talking about. Lot of change in the past 3 years and a lot of stress have forced me to deal with things I thought were long dealt with. Thanks to you and others who write about this stuff.

    1. Welcome home Anony, you are welcome and keep reading and seeking help when needed. I urge you to go to Vets Prevail for an online coping skills training to aid in well, coping. If you are not in therapy, please do so. At the top of this blog you will find links under the banner with information of handling VA appointments, how to prepare for mental health emergencies, what to expect in therapy, how to talk to your doctor, etc. I have recently began looking into ways to creatively express my trauma through writing about something other than war and art.

  6. Zoning out or feeling lifeless, I know exactly what you mean. I can never accomplish tasks when I set out to do them right away because the when I zone it can last for a brief period of time or all day or comes and goes, started college classes finally online because I cant deal with the class room setting, I zone out a lot, even when in stores or public settings or talking to family members on the phone it just come out of no where it is really aggravating at times because I feel as if everyday is the same.....2ND INFANTRY DIVISION 3BDE!


Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee