By this point you have read here, here, and here that 2018 has been an exceptionally difficult year for me. And not just for me, but for my family as well. In fact, I posted my most vulnerable video ever to my channel talking about it.
Edit: attempting to talk about it.
Put it this way, I have felt like my brain has been in a constant state of chaos. There are so many thoughts and feelings flowing through my brain at all times and it’s been insanely difficult to put into words. So much so that I’ve felt frustrated because writing has always come easy to me. Never have I ever struggled to write out my troubles. Vocalize them? Absolutely. Write about them? Never.
I’m still working through what I want to share and how I want to share it. What I know is that I want to use my pain and my healing to help others. That being said, I think I am going to have to be a few years removed from it to be able to put it into words in a way that is valuable to others. Maybe not? We’ll see.
I have received the most helpful, enlightening messages since openly discussing my struggles. I want to let you know that I am ok. In fact, allow me to share something that will help transition us into the rest of this post.
I’ve struggled with the use of that word.
When I think trauma, I think of people who have been through things vastly more difficult than what I have been through. So you should probably know that every time I express that I have been through a “traumatic experience,” I feel like a fraud.
My psychotherapist is the one who first brought it to my attention. She says that what I have been through is indeed, traumatic.
trau*ma / noun
1. A deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
2. Physical injury.
What I’ve learned is that different experts in the field define it differently, but it is believed that an individual’s subjective experience determines whether an event is or isn’t traumatic.
I suppose my trauma is defined as “the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed,” or “the individual experiences a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity.”
From my understanding, my therapist decided I was dealing with trauma because my brain wasn’t able to cope. For a really long time I bounced from emotion to emotion, unable to focus in enough to heal.
I want to first share that brief explanation because it is something I am trying to cope with and I suppose that comes from always caring about others more than myself (aka not wanting to minimize another person’s trauma by claiming a lesser experience as one.)
Phew! I know. It’s a lot. Hopefully one day I can articulate all of these things in a more beneficial way, but until then I’ll leave the teaching to my therapist.
Which brings me to this:
6 key things I have learned through trauma therapy:
(Not her word-for-word necessarily, but rather the messages my brain has retained from our sessions.)
CHECK- IN DAILY
Every day, around the same time in the day, check-in with someone. If you are attending marriage counseling this would be with your spouse. If it is individual therapy, it could be with your spouse or additional support system. With family therapy you would be encouraged to check in with each member of your family separately and/or as a whole.
Check-in is a time to discuss anything that happened during the day; highs and lows. Concerns, fears, anxieties. Anything that has any effect on your mental health and path towards healing. For example, if your security with your spouse feels threatened, “check in” by expressing your fear to your spouse and tell them what you need from them to work through it.
SWITCH UP YOUR DAILY ROUTINE
This one was difficult for me because I have always been the optimistic problem solver who engaged in activities I enjoy.
My desperate plea to my therapist went something like this:
You’re telling me to do things that make me happy. All of the books are telling me to do the things that make me happy. But I already was. I was happy. I was listening to my podcasts, taking my baths, and dancing around the house in my underwear. Now here I am, doing those same things, and they aren’t making me happy.
What I learned is that the things that made you happy before a traumatic experience won’t necessarily make you happy after. The reason behind that, in short, is because you need to switch up your routine or your brain associates past routines with a part of your life that the trauma occurred in. That’s not to say you can never do those things (fyi I’m doing them again,) but it’s important to switch it up during the most pivotal part of healing.
THE PAST IS DEPRESSION, THE FUTURE IS ANXIETY
This one is pretty self explanatory, but I’ll say it louder for the people in the back. Living in the past is depression. Living in the future is anxiety.
Take it day by day, live in the now. Focus on the now.
It’s okay to acknowledge pain from a past event, but to dwell on the situation is a different beast entirely.
ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? You want something? Ask for it. But what happens when you are worried that what you want will be met with a negative reaction? More often than not we skirt around the issue, not wanting to step on any toes.
I was guilty of passively asking for things. For example, If my husband wanted to do something that upset me I would tell him that I didn’t feel great about it, but I would encourage him to do it anyways (for his happiness.) Now I look back at those times and realize I was hurting myself by trying to please someone else.
This might be a good time to add that through therapy I discovered that I have dealt with a lot of painful experiences in my life but because I didn’t want to upset or inconvenience anyone, I allowed certain behaviors and made excuses for them. I would spend a few hours hurt, crying myself to sleep, and then convince myself the next day that I was being irrational. I did this as a child, a young adult, and as a mother and a wife. It was a coping mechanism that I didn’t realize I was tapping into.
INTERRUPT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
The idea is to interrupt negative thoughts using the “four square breathing method.” I cannot accurately describe the science behind the method without insulting the experts, but I will attempt to explain it from my understanding.
Think of it like this:
Anytime you have a negative thought, picture a square and follow the lines of the square as you breath through each side.
1. Breath in for 4 seconds.
2. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
3. Breath out for 4 seconds.
4. Repeat 4 times.
The brain cannot concentrate on two thoughts at once. Therefor, as you are focusing on the square and your breathing, you are unable to focus on the negative thoughts.
I’ll be honest, my first thought was no way am I going to interrupt those thoughts. I want to acknowledge my feelings. That was until I realized that triggers happen anywhere at anytime and it became necessary for me to redirect my thoughts to function day-to-day. Not only that, but at times I struggled to get out of that painful place once I allowed myself to go there.
FILL UP YOUR OWN CUP
Another obvious one that I thought I was doing, but I wasn’t. Not entirely.
While yes, I was spending time taking care of myself every day, I was putting off things in my life due to restraints I had made up in my mind.
For example, like I shared in my last post, I have wanted to volunteer at the animal shelter since I was a young girl. Life got in the way and I never carved out the time to do that, therefor repressing something that would bring me happiness and fulfillment.
Another example? Piano lessons and photography class. I convinced myself that I was always learning with podcasts, webinars, and YouTube videos. But actually sitting down with someone to learn a new skill? I could never. Nobody has time for that!
Turns out, I did have time. I just had to make it a priority. Naturally other things have taken a back seat. I can’t go to every PTO event. I don’t cook dinner every night. The laundry isn’t washed and folded on the same day. All things that were important to me in tending to my family and my home, but have now taken a backseat so I can make sure my cup is full.
While it is difficult and exhausting at times, I am really putting in the work to heal. I want to be sure that I am giving it the proper attention it needs now so it doesn’t creep up on me later. At least not in a way I am unable to manage.
Through this I have learned that it’s okay to not be okay. Taylor Swift says it best with a lyric in her song All Too Well (a personal favorite)
I might be ok, but I’m not fine at all.
I’ve spent so many years of my life listening to the likes of Tony Robbins and Oprah. Learning that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us. Happiness is a choice. So when it came to something truly traumatic happening in my life, I thought I had to move forward in a certain way. Eventually I realized that while those thought processes are important, and they are useful, I also deserve the right to grieve one life while building another. By doing so I am discovering teachable moments that will not only benefit my future self, but those around me as well.
And oh man do I hope my lessons help to heal your own heart and strengthen your mind.
If no one has told you, let me; I believe in you. xx, tara