Recovery From Trauma - Finding The Way

by - Friday, June 07, 2019


First of all, I’m clearly not a professional so if you are struggling with mental health issues of any kind, do go talk to your doctor or a counsellor. They are trained to listen and help steer you onto the right path, especially at times when you feel at sea.  Alternatively, even take a little step and try to talk to friends or family about how you are feeling.

Life's not always a Fairy Tale!

This is more of a meandering exploration of the effects of trauma and how to find your way through it.
As I outlined in previous posts, (most recent The Year From Hell), there have been multiple stressful events in our lives in the last while and the problem with consistent stress is that it becomes almost ingrained in your psyche as a norm. It also affects your physical health because being in a ‘flight or fight’ state takes its toll on your body after a time.  I think, in normal life, minor stresses affect us but then better things balance them out so whilst you can feel bad and stressed for a while, your mind and body then start to calm down and return to normal after a more peaceful time.  The difficulty with multiple or consistent stressful events is that your body and mind don’t get a chance to ‘reset’.  And it’s not as if you are totally conscious of this all the time, it’s more that even in the calm times, your response to minor stress becomes magnified.  It’s a question of perspective above all.

My experience of this has unfolded over time. I’m actually great in stressful situations, I tend to kick straight into adrenaline mode, do what needs to be done, sort out stuff and generally deal with whatever crisis is happening.  I push my worries and fears completely into the background.  This is great in many ways because I don’t panic or give up or break down. However, the immediate downside is that I often don’t allow room for those worries or fears that are undoubtedly there.

The effects of this have been manifold for me. One of the main things I’ve become conscious of lately is that I have forgotten how not to be stressed. This probably sounds a bit mad but it’s true, in calm times now, I have a weird sense of something missing or not quite right. I don’t know if your brain can become somewhat addicted to the stress hormones but instead of being able to relax now, I find myself feeling anxious and anticipating that something else bad is going to happen. I also have ptsd symptoms where anxiety can be triggered by any number of random things. Some are logical – any hospital or doctor visit now triggers in me a faint feeling of dread and anxiety.  This of course makes sense; many hospital visits up to now have been a source of huge obvious stress.  When Síomha is admitted for her Crohn’s we are always under pressure, battling for good care, trying to juggle home life and balance Izzy’s needs with everyone else’s. We have the emotional pressure of feeling worried about Síomha and feeling gutted to see her going through pain. So it’s logical that we have bad associations with hospitals.  However other triggers make no sense at all, I can’t think of an example but I frequently have a gut reaction to something I see or hear, or in a social situation, and I honestly can’t figure out why it is suddenly making me feeling panicky. It doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason at all!  Then there is the loss of hope. I remember when Síomha was first hospitalised and then subsequent times where I got myself through by thinking ‘we’ll deal with this and then everything will be back to normal’. However, over the years, that hope of things being ‘normal’ was slowly eroded and replaced with a feeling of expectation that something else was going to go wrong.  It wasn’t an unrealistic or negative expectation; it was borne out by reality because so many things did go wrong.  Also, when I had my Carotid Artery Dissection, I spent a lot of time waiting and hoping for things to get better and for symptoms to abate. Now, 4 years on from that, one of the hardest things has been accepting that I’m not the person I was pre-dissection. I have to carefully manage my time and be aware of not overdoing it. The result of overdoing it is weeks of head pain and chronic exhaustion and it’s just not worth it.

So, how to deal with trauma? Well, that’s the burning question really J For me, it has been a journey, one that I am still on but I would like to share my own experience of how I’ve been trying to deal with it, in the hopes that talking about things might help someone else.

First of all, for me anyway, exercise is a godsend. It helps me release a lot of stress and anxiety and it’s something I try to do even if my energy levels are low. I’ve often gone for a run at the weekend and then had a two hour nap J I appreciate that when you are feeling down, it is hard to get motivated (and for that reason, medication can help to get you to a better place), but the endorphins and feeling of well-being after exercise can make a huge difference.  Eating well is so important too – I find that it is the first thing to slip if I am not feeling good, the energy required to plan and cook a meal can just feel beyond my capabilities at times. Nevertheless, when you are not looking after your body, it can make you feel physically run down which is not great when you are psychologically struggling.

Emotionally, the biggest lesson I have learnt is to get in touch with my anger. There is nothing negative about anger in the correct context. It’s a natural human response to situations that seem unfair or unjust.  There is a huge difference between anger and bitterness. Bitterness is a slow festering anger that isn’t properly acknowledged whereas anger is a recognition of how you feel in the here and now. I’ve felt angry that I ended up having a weird and rare medical condition that has floored me, I’ve felt angry about stuff in my past and instead of making excuses I’ve just let that anger sit with me for a while so that I could move on from it. 
Taking care of yourself does take strength and resilience and you need support and love from people. This is where it can get tricky though. People may not understand (or may not care) that you are going through something difficult. It is very easy for people to judge or simplify your issues or relate them to some minor thing in their own lives, which isn’t comparable.  Talking/writing about stuff is essential for me so I’m very aware that I put myself out there when I’m feeling vulnerable and it’s a difficult thing to do but finding your real ‘tribe’ of people who care is so important.  And yes, I’ve probably lost people along the way but I’ve realised that I’m not going to feel better if I don’t prioritise my own needs.  Also, be wary of simple solutions to a complex problem – there is honestly nothing more counter-productive than pious suggestions from people of ‘cures’ that will sort you out straight away.  Chances are, they haven’t had the same life experience as you and really don’t get it.

Social media – this is a big one. I love Social Media for many reasons; it can give a sense of connectivity and a means to communicate with people far away. However, it can also be a major source of stress. It can be addictive in nature and stop you from being more active, it can also contribute to a sense of negativity about the world. Whether it’s political or otherwise, being exposed every day to worrying events around the world can contribute to feeling down or despairing.  It can also give the illusion of company that isn’t real a lot of the time and an hour with a good friend is so much better than hours of online chat. So be wary, if you are finding yourself stressed whilst online, think about reducing your time or try to make it more manageable by opting out of groups. I did a big Facebook clear-out in the last year, deleting ‘friends’ who weren’t really friends, and leaving groups which weren’t relevant to me anymore. Facebook and Instagram are also full of saccharin sweet ‘positivity’ posts. I’ve written before about this positivity obsession (The Positivity Trap) and for me it’s a simplistic and dictatorial way of looking at life. Being positive is amazing, but true positivity is sometimes reached in a roundabout way and after a lot of falling down. Denying your true feelings and pretending to be fine is not useful and actually pretty damaging.

Learn your limits – whether physical or psychological, finding the right balance is key. I’ve been learning to say no and to recognise what might have a bad impact on me.  This could mean any number of things and of course will be different for everyone. It might mean reducing time spent with people who leave you feeling drained or turning down invitations or maybe not spending that extra hour in work. It’s very much down to your own personal circumstances.  Moreover, your limits will change all the time, maybe right now the bar is pretty low so what you need is to just focus on yourself. That doesn’t mean that it will always be this way.

Lastly, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, talking to your doctor or to a good counsellor is immensely beneficial. I’m a big fan of talking things out anyway and your GP, in particular, can help you decide if medication is the answer. It might feel like an awkward conversation and opening up to strangers is not always the easiest thing to do but talking with a professional will help you find the right way to go. Likewise, with counselling, you get the benefits of chatting about what is going on with you but also the benefit of their expertise.

Above all mind yourself, try to find the things you love to do and make time for them. I would love to hear of your own experiences or tips so feel free to comment, x

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20 comments

  1. Beautifully written post. The way we deal with things that are traumatic for us is so important as they really can effect all aspects of our lives.

    Thank you for sharing x

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  2. Really well written, really good to hear you've developed healthy coping habits. I really need to take up more exercise - makes such a difference to my anxiety. Less social media also a struggle with me!

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    1. Yes, it's hard to give up Social Media, isn't it? I try to cut down but then find myself falling back into it!

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  3. Sometimes we need to write a post like this to get things off our chest. There's some great advice in here, taking a break from social media is a healthy thing to do and knowing when to ask for help is important too

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    1. Thank you, yes, asking for help in itself can often be a big relief!

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  4. I totally get this all. I know what you mean about feeling stressed then when things are calm you feel lost, like something is missing

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    1. Yep, it's kind of a weird feeling, like you should be feeling ok but you're not really!

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  5. I suffered from birth trauma and 3.5 years on and I still haven't dealt with it completely but I'm getting there.

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    1. I'm so sorry you had to deal with this and it is a journey, you will get there for sure, xx

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  6. Learning to cope with things in our own way is key. It sounds like you have found your way, really well done to you.

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  7. It sounds like you've been through some tough things lately, but it's great you've put together this list of coping strategies. Exercise and writing are two of my favourites too. Xx

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  8. Seem like you have so many life challenges. But glad to see you being ok. Ao many important tips I have learned today.

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  9. I have found that exercise is great for me to deal with anxiety too. If I've had a busy day, a run is great, I have also recently got into doing yoga too to get rid of the thoughts of the day.

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  10. I'm sorry you've been through a tough time. These tips are invaluable though. Social media has its benefits but sometimes I do feel like I need a break from it.

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  11. Sounds like your life has so many ups and down. God will never give us a thing that we can't handle. We just need to find positivity in our most difficult days.

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  12. Have to disagree,I think we get lots of things we can’t handle - I mentioned in my post that simple solutions are not appropriate for complex trauma:
    ‘be wary of simple solutions to a complex problem – there is honestly nothing more counter-productive than pious suggestions from people of ‘cures’ that will sort you out straight away. Chances are, they haven’t had the same life experience as you and really don’t get it.’

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  13. I couldn't agree more: exercise is definitely a saviour when you are not yourself and have experienced a trauma. The tough thing is starting the exercise regime. Once you've done the first session, it gets easier.

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  14. I couldn't agree more: exercise is definitely a saviour when you are not yourself and have experienced a trauma. The tough thing is starting the exercise regime. Once you've done the first session, it gets easier.

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  15. Beautiful & brave post - thank you for sharing :)

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