Thank you, deeply, for your outpour of love from my previous blog post. I know you too have known loss, grief, and suffering to have such big love to give.
But I'm not a War Veteran
As a certified success coach and licensed psychotherapist, obsessed with neuroscience and positive psychology, I know better than to go through a whoppin' life ordeal and not seek professional help.
On our first call, I talked, she listened, I talked, she mentioned Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). On the next call, I talked, she listened, I talked, she mentioned PTSD. This repeated itself for weeks.
Finally, I expressed, "But I'm not a war veteran! I haven't lost a child!" What do I have to be PTSD'ed about?
Vancouver, BC, Canada © Ellany Lea
Trauma is trauma
I spent many more calls with my psychotherapist being stubborn as f*ck, claiming that PTSD is not for me. PTSD is reserved for those who have fought wars or for war refugees or victims of sexual abuse or abandoned children. Right...?
Wrong. Trauma is trauma. Trauma is not a badge of honor reserved exclusively for war veterans or victims of assault.
The biggest trauma could befall a person and they're not traumatized by it. The littlest trauma could befall another person and they are traumatized for life. Trauma is trauma.
[Resource: Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma book by Peter Levine.]
The Mind Is So f*cked up!
I spent months uneasy with the diagnosis of PTSD. Of course men have mistreated me (I was, after all, raised by a doormat mom to be a doormat). Of course my needs as a highly sensitive gifted child were not met. But there are people suffering far worse.
How f*cked up is the mind: I didn't think that I wasn't worthy of a mental disorder diagnosis, reserved for true sufferers?!?
What is trauma?
Like any overachiever, I hit the books. I did my research.
In its simplest definition, trauma is the result of the body's nervous system being revved up from a fight, flight or freeze event, but not being properly discharged after the threat has passed.
For example, an zebra is being chased by a lion. The zebra flees. But it gets caught. So its nervous system freezes, it plays dead. Meanwhile, the zebra's nervous system is massively revving up energy to attempt one last escape.
If successful, the zebra darts away. When it finds safety, it thrashes in the grasslands to discharge energy left over from the earlier revving. It knows to shake it off, literally.
We don't. We somehow don't instinctively discharge that revved up energy.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania 2007 © Ellany Lea
symptoms of PTSD
One symptom of PTSD does not constitute PTSD. Even a cluster of symptoms after a busy or stressful season does not constitute PTSD. However, if you exhibit most of these symptoms, at the same time, for months on end, it's time to seek professional help.
Not just stress, but a sharp and constant frazzled state often paired with shaking hands.
Not just tired after a busy week, but an energy debt that stays in the red, no matter how much you sleep, exercise or eat well.
Depression / Paralysis
Not just the rainy season blues, but a frozen response to things that never paralyzed you before. A loss of hope, even.
Not just a state of worry or fear, but a sharp jumpiness that everything is a threat, including the pigeon that lands unexpectedly next to you.
Not just a general numbness, but a loss of sensation to your five physical senses and to your emotions. "I feel nothing."
Not just your usual procrastination, but a downward spiraling need to isolate, implode and extinguish the outside world.
Not just sleeplessness from too many swirling thoughts, but clinical insomnia or excessive sleep that are out of your control.
Vivid dreams / Flashbacks
Not just a perturbing dream resulting from a stressful deadline, but a multi-sensory vivid replaying of past or future traumas.
Shame / Low Self-Worth
Not just the “I am not enough” broken record, but a paralyzing belief that you are less than nothing (which didn't happen before).
Trauma is cumulative
That one shock from dad's passing, it can't give me PTSD, can it? No, it can't. But trauma is cumulative.
My PTSD came from decades of:
- developmental trauma,
- emotional neglect,
- unrelenting bullying,
- chronic under-support (it's a real thing!),
- physical assaults,
- years of working in humanitarian aid (Secondary PTSD),
- being an empath (soaking up others emotions and traumas),
- heartbreaks the equivalent of blunt force car crashes,
- and sad movies that I should not have watched before bed (who knew they were traumatizing!).
Fortunately, trauma is heal-able.
Two surprising facts about trauma
In my research, I was surprised to learn that the body doesn't differentiate blunt force trauma from a car crash or an emotional shock (such as a sudden death or betrayal). Blunt is blunt. Shock is shock. Trauma is trauma.
The most surprising finding for us overachievers is that to our nervous system, trauma from **chronic under-support and trauma from a car accident are the same! We know losing a child is traumatizing. We know divorce can be traumatizing. But who knew that going through life, chronically under-supported can be equally traumatizing.
My love goes out to all the single moms <3 <3 <3 They know what I'm talking about.
How to heal trauma
As I worked with my psychotherapist and Somatic Experiencing coach, the PTSD started tp thaw. It's a sensation like no sensation I've ever known.
As paradoxical as it sounds, I almost wish you some PTSD just so you can experience The Great Big Thaw. It's... it's so…