Dealing with trauma

Hello, I am 24 years old and have spent the last ten years of my life battling what I was led to believe was anxiety and depression. Only about a month ago did I find the courage to speak out about the trauma I experienced at the age of 10. Speaking out for me was telling my mum. Which sounds small and silly, but the consequences of telling one person have been MASSIVE, already.

I started therapy last week, my mum actually found me a counsellor (sometimes the steps that appear small and simple can be utterly overwhelming). I was petrified for my first session, but it actually went incredibly well. We spoke about my childhood and what I’d been through and it was only then that I came to the realization that I had in fact been through trauma. Never in the last 14 years had I thought of what I’d gone through as trauma, I saw it as an awful experience in my life yes, but not trauma. Something about the word trauma hit me hard, I suddenly realized that what happened to me wasn’t a small part of my life, it was huge.

“Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.”

My therapist also mentioned PTSD, to which my brain automatically responded “she’s wrong, there’s no way I’ve had/have PTSD”. I studied psychology for 3 years at university, I had learnt about PTSD, but not once had I picked up on the signs of it in my own life. I went home and googled PTSD, below is what I found (symptoms I’ve experienced/experience are in bold):

Reliving aspects of what happened

  • vivid flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening right now)
  • intrusive thoughts or images
  • nightmares
  • intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
  • physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.

Alertness or feeling on edge

  • panicking when reminded of the trauma
  • being easily upset or angry
  • extreme alertness, also sometimes called ‘hypervigilance’
  • disturbed sleep or a lack of sleep
  • irritability or aggressive behaviour
  • finding it hard to concentrate – including on simple or everyday tasks
  • being jumpy or easily startled
  • self-destructive behaviour or recklessness
  • other symptoms of anxiety

Avoiding feelings or memories

  • feeling like you have to keep busy
  • avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma
  • being unable to remember details of what happened
  • feeling emotionally numb or cut off from your feelings
  • feeling physically numb or detached from your body
  • being unable to express affection
  • using alcohol or drugs to avoid memories.

Difficult beliefs or feelings

  • feeling like you can’t trust anyone
  • feeling like nowhere is safe
  • feeling like nobody understands
  • blaming yourself for what happened
  • overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness, guilt or shame.

Complex PTSD

  • difficulty controlling your emotions
  • feeling very hostile or distrustful towards the world
  • constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • feeling as if you are permanently damaged or worthless
  • feeling as if you are completely different to other people
  • feeling like nobody can understand what happened to you
  • avoiding friendships and relationships, or finding them very difficult
  • often experiencing dissociative symptoms such as depersonalisation or derealisation
  • regular suicidal feelings 

So, I have a few. Maybe, just maybe it hasn’t been depression and anxiety (more specifically social anxiety) I’ve been living with, maybe it is in fact PTSD or Complex PTSD. This blew my mind. Reading the symptoms explained a lot. I flashed back to feelings I’ve had in the past, my reactions to situations, my lack of confidence, my struggles to interact with people, my lack of memory when it comes to details of the actual traumatic event. it was almost as though in that moment my whole life as i knew it made sense.

At first I felt relieved, but then that feeling of relief turned into a gut wrenching feeling of sadness. During my therapy session my therapist said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget, “you’re not living your life, you’re surviving it”, this was the only point in the hour session I actually cried. Because it was so true. After researching PTSD I came to the realisation that the last 14 years of my life have been ruled by PTSD (or at least symptoms of PTSD), It’s time to change that.

This Blog will be my way of sharing my journey in dealing with trauma. I may share my traumatic experience at some point, I may not. At this present moment in time I am not ready to share my story, but I am ready to share my experience of dealing with it. I want other people to know that asking for help is the first step in healing and I want them to know that if I can do it, they can too. It’s time for me to prove, at least to myself, that I am more than my trauma.

“The greater a child’s terror, and the earlier it is experienced, the harder it becomes to develop a strong and healthy sense of self.”

-Nathaniel Branden