This week, I am a day behind in posting this. I was going to stay up late and complete it last night, but at what cost? Would I sleep in and start my day later? Would I get up on time and be tired, potentially affecting my complex PTSD? I know right now, sleep is important. It always is, no matter whether you are healthy or not, young or old. Your sleep is important, its when you are healing and laying down memories. Someone with trauma knows all to well how missing, distorted or uncategorized memories can mess with you. Did something happen when you were 8? Was it 9? Did it happen before that other event? Wait, was it after? For someone without trauma, your life, your memories, they follow a pretty straight timeline. You remember with fairly decent accuracy the events of your life and the sequence in which they occurred. It would be hard for you to imagine that someone with trauma can have their memories span 5 years or more, where they cannot accurately place an event. I think much of my experiences happened when I was nine. But, they didn’t. They happened for many years. I have no idea what order they happened in either. Oh, and I have very few good memories. They were replaced by all the negative ones or better yet, blackness. A total and complete blank.
When we are exposed to stress, we regard it as a threat, no different is the tiger to our boss in the way our nervous system responds. Our nervous system elevates and we end up in fight/flight mode. In other situations you end up in freeze/disassociate mode - the threat appears really bad - your resiliency is low - your coping habits are poor - you’re system has been exposed to threats so many times that it is now in a constant on position. When you’re threat system is engaged to the point where you think your life is threatened and in danger you shut down. It’s “turtling,” “duck and hide,” ”survival mode.” We disconnect our mind from our body. We do this because trauma gets stored in the body. Our mind can wall of the memories, it can alter and distort them to allow you to continue on. Our brain is also really good at recognizing that a situation is exceeding our ability to cope and it shuts off our feelings. We experience the event, but don’t acknowledge the emotions. Our body stores it. And at some point, we have to revisit it and experience it. You have to move it through your body.
When we have spent our lives in the “on” position, in constant fight/flight, when stressors exceed our level of capacity, we shut down. It can be as simple as a phone call. Which isn’t simple at all. When your brain shuts your body down, it takes work to get through it. Right now, I have suffered a trauma and my nervous system which spent it’s entire life in the jacked-up and on position, has shut my body down. When I try to make a phone call, there is a wall and my body is paralyzed, my throat feels thick, stuck, swollen. Thinking about it, I feel the cool, icy crawl over my skin. I know I need to ground and do some mindfulness.
My definition of trauma is how your mind/body/spirit reacts to the event, not the event and not the intention behind the event. While war and violence can cause trauma, so can being yelled at by your parent in the middle of a shopping mall. So can not receiving basic necessities, being homeless, not being consoled when you were hurt. So many situations are traumatizing to our systems. Once we have triggered our flight/fight/freeze response, we need to recognize it and respond in a kind and compassionate way. We need to honour the experience, the pain that we felt and we need to move the emotion through our body. That’s why therapies like EFT - emotional focused therapy - tapping, is useful. As we are tapping along the meridian points, we are disrupting the energy of the nervous system (clearing blocks). It is also used in reinforcing thoughts in our brain (whatever we are saying/thinking) from our conscious mind to our subconscious mind.
It’s my knowledge on trauma recovery that lets me know that what I need to do is process the emotions that are causing my system to shut down. How I will process this is as follows:
Journal or reflect - why have I reacted like this? why did the events affect me? Is there a deeper reason? Is there a prior trigger? It’s important to avoid ruminating when you are journaling. It’s easy to start and then end up in a spiral of toxic thoughts that aren’t helping your mental health at all.
Continue with mindfulness, grounding and meditation for mind health, working through understanding self and being present in the now to decrease anxiety / emotional state.
Singing - art therapy - vibrations - gets you out of your thoughts, especially important when you are in a toxic thought spiral brought on by your depression or anxiety (it’s your coping habits, not your personality). Pick up beat, happy songs. Move your body, it’s good for your mental health too. Do activities that we consider “childlike” but are actually, just play. Play with music and dance and art, be free to be you and have fun.
Sit with your emotions. Literally. I have luckily built myself a nest - my two person, memory foam, bean bag chair, a weighted blanket and twinkly lights (none of this is required, but having a safe, cozy place where you can go and be free to experience your emotions is essential). I will nest in and let go of the emotions behind the issue. I will let the terror consume my body. I will let the hurt well in the familiar bubble in my throat, only this time I won‘t stifle it. I will let the tears flow, I will yell, I will let it all go, like leaves on a river.
This can take time. And, the harder to you push for it to happen right away, the less likely it will. Force does not help when applied against emotions. The wall in my mind needs a door built in it, at the very least windows. Start slow, sit with the emotions and build a way out.
When you have depression or anxiety (panic/PTSD), I want you to understand that you are not weak. You spend every day battling against your own body. You battle against your own mind. When you add trauma to the mix you need to remember, you didn’t do anything to deserve it. Nothing. Not one iota. It doesn’t even matter if you think you are a bad person. It doesn’t even matter if you have actually done something bad. No one deserves to be traumatized. Eye for an eye is a ridiculous belief. It just extends pain and hurt to others. The saying goes that eye for an eye ends up with everyone blind. Hurt people hurt people. It’s a phrase I use often. It’s true. It’s sad, but nonetheless, true. We can break the chain though. We can decide to heal our hurt, honour our pain, move our emotions through our bodies. We can choose to react in compassion or at least do no harm when someone hurts us.
If someone cuts you off in traffic, you can get mad, grumble all the way to work, get annoyed at your colleagues, be less productive and have a generally bad day. Or you can let it go. Say “that was annoying,” and let it go like a leaf on a stream. Refocus on something good and change the outcome of your day. At the very least, you aren’t going to pass on anger/hurt/pain to others. We all want kindness and decency. We all want to be treated fairly and with compassion. We need to start with ourselves and expand, give 1% more. If every day, we are 1% kinder or we spread our kindness to 1% more of the population, imagine the impact we can have! Lets start by giving yourself 1% more love each day. In 100 days, start spreading out to others.