As I looked upon her in her final hours, something began nagging at me. This same, strong woman, this same month 11 years ago suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. The same week of that year my then 3 y/o daughter was hospitalized. And not for the first time, I began losing my mind.
Looking back, it’s really not surprising I developed post traumatic grief when my dad killed himself 3 months later. I was already well entrenched in complex post traumatic stress from years of various forms of abuse and his death – no how he left – zapped my rather tenuous remaining grip on reality.
I didn’t actually lose my mind though certain people in my life at the time would say otherwise in attempts to cover up their own antisocial behavior. It is but an act of God I was an assistant in my university’s counseling department at the time of his death. Days after that New Year’s Eve 2009 I made a call to see a counselor. The journey out of abuse and untreated Bipolar Disorder would commence.
As I sit at her bedside, I begin to realize why September has been a source of somatic cues insisting dissociation and depersonalization is required for survival. My body has been trying to protect me from feeling the magnitude of fall 2009. I hold the recognized traumaversary trifecta in the present. I am able for the first time to be fully embodied in the present year of September, no longer held hostage by the past. Over a decade of therapy later, my cognitive self and my physical being are in sync. I am safe. The monster is no longer under the bed.
That, my friends, is the power of psychotherapy within the confines of a well established, structured therapeutic relationship.
She became aware of heat on her shoulder. Fearfully, she turned her head to see. Her heart sank. I thought that was you. Her head grew heavy, sinking toward her chest, collapsing under the weight of anguish.
She howled, “I put that away!”
Startled at the volume of her own voice, she lifted her chin slightly.
The smell of the cooling September evening taunted her. “And yet you are afraid,” snickered a mocking voice from the trees. “Child, you are simply wearing a costume for them. I know the truth.”
She stood, immobile. Unsure. Only her eyes moved, darting rapidly.
I intend to write a memoir one day. Blogging is a way of dipping my toes into public authenticity. One post at a time, the depths of my life will come to light for all the world to see. All the world connotes.. well, everyone. Can we stop a minute and appreciate how terrifying it is to put oneself out there? (Insert grimaced emoji here). I’ve put off writing my memoir in fear of revealing myself to the public as a professional. Yes I am aware simply putting it on the internet will not ensure every person will read it. Honestly, I’m cool with strangers reading it. It’s the people I’ve known or could know (potential clients) that is terrifying to me. Once it is published, it is out there forever. I ask myself every time I make a blog post or a Tik Tok am I comfortable with my clients knowing this about me?
The struggle that ultimately led to my becoming a therapist is precisely the reason I want to be public. To be an example of a person with significant mental health difficulties still successful as an adult and a professional. There’s a fear my credibility will be diminished. I’m keenly aware of my position as a professional, however, to combat stigma and instill hope in those who are still struggling. It is less a matter of “I want to be public” and more “I have to be public.”
We are all just trying to do the best we can with what we have.
With a little shiny bow on top. I was the dutiful follower, going to church, singing my little heart out to my Jesus and doing my best to love as Christ loves. I had a tidy little checklist I could cross off everyday to prove I was a good Christian and look upon the mirror of self loathing for the areas I fell short.
The problem was the areas I fell short were determined by humans. And in my absolute quest to be “good” I lost my intuitive self. I began to question my own reality. The Bible says God is not the author of confusion. So how come going to church became so confusing? Why all of a sudden did love and evil look the same? Why was the only place I was growing was in self destruction?
I had to go. I could no longer hold the conflicting realities, trudge through the muck to see where – and even IF – the truth existed. The God I once understood did not create me to live in chaos, of that I clung to. And I walked away from organized religion.
It took me 5 years to recognize my pain. 2 more to speak about it. And a decade in therapy before I could sing my favorite songs without dissociating. I’m not in a hurry to find out if there’s a building for me to worship at. I’m content singing alone, just me and Jesus.
I didn’t know what a flashback was until I’d been in graduate school (to become a therapist mind you) for two semesters and realized following a rough day with my boss that I would potentially be seeing male clients in my office. Cue evening phone call to my therapist who assisted me in returning to my body whilst parked on the side of the road in pouring rain.
Now I thought I knew what flashbacks were until that point. My understanding of them was full on checking out of current reality and reliving a previous experience. Of course this is true but so too are emotional flashbacks (no visual content) and partial dissociation (feeling of out of one’s body but still recognize the year, surroundings, etc). It would be another year or two following this experience that I would face the reality that *I* had PTSD.
Back to the flashbacks. I rarely have them now, as a result of some deep work with my long-time therapist. However, a significant portion of my clinical work is WITH trauma survivors and thus it is imperative I tend to my own self care. Sometimes I have to take some extra time. Today was just such a day. I needed to do a little more grounding, a little more self compassion, and a little more mindfulness. I chose lavender essential oil, and an earth element focused yoga practice.
I couldn’t have made the choice to engage in such self care were it not for my own therapy and thus would have run the risk of secondary trauma and/or lingering emotional distress robbing me of the next hours and days of my life. Or based on my history, engaging in unhealthy coping skills that have previously threatened my sanity and my life.