I ‘knew’ Svasti well before I ever moved to Australia. Such is the power of the blogging community. I’ve met her in person now, and count her not just as a friend, but as a brave and inspiring woman. She’s been through a lot, and with each new challenge, she just steps up. I was delighted when she agreed to be part of this week’s Inspiring Women series. Read on for her fantastic advice on healing from trauma. Yes, illness counts, so does bereavement, or moving house, especially twice in a year…
When Nadine invited me to write a guest post for her blog, I quietly wondered if this was her oh-so-subtle way of nudging me towards finishing the ebook I’ve been saying I’m going to write on this very topic. (Nadine’s note: I am about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Svasti, write the damn book already.)
Regardless, I’m honoured to write this post. Thank you Nadine, for the opportunity!
For those who don’t know me – a little personal history
In late 2005 my world was turned upside down when I was physically and violently assaulted.
What happened to me wasn’t the most extreme life-threatening situation a person can find themselves in. But it was bad enough.
Just that single night of terror was all it took to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, suicidal tendencies, panic attacks, and eventually an autoimmune disorder.
Trauma and PTSD suck.
To be honest, for many years I thought my life was over. I truly didn’t believe I would be happy ever again: if you’re in the midst of coping with trauma, you might feel the same way, too.
But in the last few years, I’ve managed to completely turn things around.
I’d say that I’m 97% free of PTSD symptoms and I’ve kicked depression out of my life, too.
It was a long, hard journey, but it was 500% worth it.
My ebook on what I learned from dealing with and healing from PTSD? It’s still in the works.
Until then, I’m pleased to share with you my core advice for those who’ve experienced any kind of trauma and/or PTSD.
This post is dedicated to all traumatised souls out there.
These words are for you, with all my love.
First, let’s talk about trauma vs PTSD
Trauma is caused by a sudden and shocking event. It can be anything that feels like a threat to your life, including things like: car accidents; physical or sexual assault; the loss of a loved one; being tortured; witnessing someone else in a life threatening situation; being in a war zone; bombings; and natural disasters.
You get the idea.
PTSD is a persistent and chronic response to trauma. Some people develop it; others don’t.
That said, most people who experience a traumatic event have some PTSD symptoms for a short period of time.
My top 5 things to know about trauma/PTSD
1. PTSD is a serious injury. But it’s invisible.
Even though no one can see it, you are carrying a serious injury that can have long-term effects on your physical, mental and emotional quality of life.
It doesn’t matter what happened to you: whether you perceive the trauma you experienced to be big or small, important or not.
What’s relevant here is the impact that trauma had on you.
If you think you might have PTSD, you need to go and see your doctor. They will be able to diagnose you, or refer you to someone who can.
2. PTSD is in your body, not just your mind
I didn’t understand this for a long time.
PTSD feels like it’s IN your mind. But that’s not completely true. It also inhabits your body, and most of the symptoms you experience directly affect your body, via your adrenal system.
This is a common misunderstanding. After all when PTSD symptoms are triggered, your ability to think rationally disappears. Your brain turns to mush and functioning like a ‘normal’ person is out of the question.
But here’s what you need to know: PTSD causes a disorder of the HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal) Axis.
This is the connection between your brain (where you perceive the trauma symptoms to be occurring) and the body (your adrenal system).
3. Get. Treatment. ASAP.
Fact: PTSD doesn’t heal without treatment. If left untreated, it actually gets worse over time. But recovery is possible.
Some people do manage to live with PTSD their entire life. My grandfather, for example, became an alcoholic to cope. While it’s possible to get through life that way, it makes for a really uncomfortable existence.
My PTSD was undiagnosed for three years, and unwinding even that amount of chronic stress was tough enough!
Of course, the very nature of PTSD makes most people shut themselves away. It can be very difficult to ask for help.
- Trauma shuts the body down – this affects your adrenal and immune systems.
- It can upset your gut health – which can lead to life-long physical health problems.
- Depression is linked to low iron levels - which you can be tested for. Taking a good iron supplement changed my mood and my life.
4. Effective treatment options exist
Medication (anti-depressants/ anti-anxiety) can be useful to suppress your symptoms but it won’t get rid of them.
In terms of treatment options, most people find that talk therapy offers limited relief only. That’s because trauma is linked to the pre-verbal fight or flight mechanism, so it can be difficult to resolve with words.
There are many kinds of treatment that work. It’s basically trial and error to find the best combination of therapies for you.
Here’s a short list of therapies you can research and consider for yourself:
- Naturopathic and homeopathic medicine
- Yoga and meditation
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing)
- NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)
Personally, my recovery began with talk therapy. I was then referred to an EMDR therapist which for me, worked like magic. Since then, I’ve mostly used a combination of yoga, meditation, kinesiology and naturopathic medicine.
But what works for you will be personal.
5. Healing = facing up to the truth
This is important.
When I first realised I really wanted to heal from trauma and PTSD, it was because I was sick of dealing with the various ways that PTSD was ruining my life. Day-to-day, I had no control over how I’d respond to anything. Most days ended in tears and comfort eating. Nightmares of being murdered, stalked and other horrible things ruled the night hours.
So I made up my mind that enough was enough, and that’s when the healing process began.
There were many times when I thought I was “done”. But I wasn’t – trauma and PTSD run deep, through so many aspects of our being.
And once you start real healing work? You don’t get a choice about what needs to be healed. Anything and everything that you’ve ever stuffed down and not dealt with properly (even if you consciously think you have) is there to be dealt with, too.
Also: your grief, terror and emotional pain? Isn’t just about the instance(s) of trauma you experienced. It includes everything and anything that’s ever caused you grief in your life.
Ultimately, you can choose to see the healing process as a gift. Because to kick PTSD out of your life, is to face up to everything that makes you feel weak.
And when you come out the other side? You’ll be strong. Really strong.
With lots of love,