How does one survive chaos, or rather trauma*?

How does one move past the bits of life that you so desperately want to leap over? 

These are just a few of the many questions I have been asking myself for going on two years. 

For me it is no secret as to why our blog posts have slowed down to near non-existent. It hasn’t just been a combination of bad timing, a heavy work load, and kids. I suffered a traumatic blow to the structure of my life as well as the resurfacing of childhood trauma I had packaged tightly away. Nor was it just one small change that undermined life as I knew it or the addition of multiple small new things. Rather it was the culmination of big life changes, bad timing, kids, and trauma all at once.

Still I tried to keep up an appearance of life just tossing lemons my way and me trying to figure out how to juggle them.

The appearance of holding my life together helped keep me moving forward without feeling truly lost. But lost is how I felt when no one was looking.

I knew that I couldn’t maintain our blog while I felt so lost. Rent-a-Dad was busy with helping pick up the slack in other areas of our life that blogging was the last thing on his mind.

While I didn’t give up writing in general (journals, poems… starting a family cookbook) I felt like anything I shared on our blog was somehow tainted by what I was experiencing, and feeling. More than a few times I would start to write a blog post but either I didn’t finish; they felt non-authentic; I felt like my writing style/voice wasn’t represented; and worse… they all felt either too emotional or very watered down. Suddenly I felt like what I had to share had no value. I was struggling with the topics that I felt comfortable making contributions to as well as with feeling what I had to say was relevant, and the thought that I was a fraud (as if suddenly I was “less than” and unworthy to write/share).

Instead of burying myself in writing and coming out the other side through self-expression in blogging, I felt further lost. So, I put blogging on hold, always the thought in the back of my head of returning when I felt more like me.

I needed to find myself.

Looking back, it hasn’t been a journey about finding what I lost. I know what was lost and what changed me. The journey was really about finding a new “normal”/way of life that I could be comfortable with, and found joy in.

Suffering trauma was not new to me. The new factor that spun me around and rocked my foundation was drastic shift in my support system. This shift caused me a lot of pain, both physically and mentally. I was questioning everything I was doing including how much worth I had. 

For all mental health professionals, I am sure this is setting off alarms.

Between good friends and a supportive spouse, I knew I needed help. I talked to my doctor about my physical health and sought counseling from a mental health professional as well as from our pastor so I was taking care of my mental and spiritual health as well.

After a few counseling visits, my diagnosis was given and I wasn’t surprised. I knew I was depressed. Also that I have severe anxiety issues and lived with high amounts of stress. The only thing that really surprised me was being diagnosed with PTSD and that the counselor felt this was something I was living with since my childhood trauma. That the new traumatic event and shift in my support network was making me re-live some childhood trauma that had never really been addressed.

To the world at large I was still presenting a good face while inside I felt like my world was crumbling. Seeking help was what I needed to do. It made me feel better talking about what was happening and the ways I was trying to move forward. My counselor didn’t even feel I needed any kind of medicine to help me move forward. For me that was a relief on several levels but mainly that there is a history of alcoholism in my family tree, and therefore always a fear in my head of a hereditary gene for addiction.

Were there hiccups in all this? Yes, yes, and yes.

For months I only shared my journey with a select few. I had a hard time reaching out and confirming my new support network/structure.

Some close family wanted to call me crazy, messed up and worse. These specific family members were not interested in me as a person getting better let alone the length of time it might actually take. Sadly many people apply a pre-conceived idea of how long they think it will take someone to heal… Healing doesn’t work that way. We all heal differently and in our own time.

No one seeking to better themselves should ever be put down. 

Another truth, I owe no one an explanation into what caused my depression or what traumatic event set off my PTSD. Does not mean I didn’t, or don’t, want to talk about it. I am just a bit more closed off right now then I have ever been in my life. I am protecting myself better, and re-learning who I can/can’t trust; how that looks; and how that feels.

The problem that has existed with some family members is that because I have always appeared to be an open book with others, I was suddenly expected to continue with the same level of openness with the very people who caused the trauma. Those family members were not very happy with the boundaries I was trying to set into place and may never be happy with these boundaries, but they are necessary.

In addition to affirming my new support network and setting up boundaries, it has also been important to recognize the toxic people in my life, what their toxicity looks/feels like, and learning how to section that off from my daily life. Doing all of that while trying to keep pace with kids and other parts of my life has been a challenge.

Some days moving forward is not as easy. I have my setbacks and am still re-learning who I can lean on and for what. Even at the worst point of struggling with depression I still smiled and found joy. What I needed help with was not feeling ALL the feelings ALL the time. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but in my case time, and talking about my problems, has helped me find my perspective again. And in time, in finding my new normal, I am hoping my voice will reemerge.

My backstory and Take-Away:

In college I was blessed with having a good group of friends who openly talked about mental health. It wasn’t something to be shied away from, packaged up or hidden. I went to college in a small Midwestern town and because of the location many of the student body dealt with seasonal depression. January through March were some of the hardest months to deal with for seasonal depression. Not only do those months follow the holidays/joyous times with family/friends, but it also meant a return to school life. For many that alone brought on a heavy sadness. Added to that were wintry conditions that meant staying inside more and evening/nighttime descended upon us by 5pm. Many of us would enter the dining hall on the last few glimmers of sunshine, when it was present, and exit on full darkness. Talking about mental health was important to our daily life.

Leaving college, I found that mental health was not something people easily or readily talked about. It was once again something to be buried away, hidden, stigmatized… People couldn’t be depressed without the worry of being involuntarily committed for a psych evaluation. People fear how others will perceive them as if they are less or not worthy. Fear is as powerful as depression (perhaps more so) as it can hold someone hostage in their own personal hell incapable of seeking help.

Mental health should not be treated that way. The stigma needs to go. We all need to be set free from the fear of others knowing about hidden diseases and hidden struggles.

Everyone suffers from trauma and loss at some point in their life. It is why there are support groups. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are there to help be sounding boards so we know that what we are feeling does not drive us to isolation and darker places. Mental health should not be boxed up and hidden away. It needs to be taken from dark places and light to be shown on it.

We all have our struggles. Talking about those struggles in safe places is what helps us move forward and be over all healthier people.

While everyone at some point feels that they are struggling alone, none of us are without struggles.

Reaching out is hard. If you are in a good place don’t forget to check in on your friends to see how they are doing. Reaching out does go both ways. If you aren’t in a good place don’t suffer alone…


To learn more about the crisis text line, click here

And remember… emotional distress doesn’t mean you are thinking about suicide right this minute, you could just feel isolated, alone, like you have no one to turn to and not sure what your next step should be… but it’s no reason to keep it all caged inside. Feeling isolated and alone can feel like a personal hell with no end in sight. A problem shared can make someone feel like their load is lightened so they can make clearer decisions. I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

A problem shared can make someone feel like their load is lightened so they can make clearer decisions. I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

* Keep in mind, trauma takes on many forms from the loss of a loved one, having to make an unexpected move (residence, schools, even jobs) to surviving events like a robbery or sexual assault. Trauma doesn’t take on one simple form like being a survivor of a war but can also mean you survived your own personal battles that have left you traumatized.

One of the reasons it looks like I can handle what life throws my way is that when life begins pelting me with lemons I have outlets for my various emotions and struggles. I have to credit my dad and mom with guiding me through being eclectic but mainly my dad for reminding me as a teenager that we all need different outlets for different emotions.

My dad had seen how angry I was one day and how I was holding that anger inside of me. I couldn’t do my typical anger depleting activity of cleaning my parent’s house because my dad needed the family room for a project. I was (and am) very OCD so I cleaned my parent’s house in a specific order or not at all. So when I started to head to my room to slam my door (yes I was a typical teenage girl), he asked me to sit down for a moment and talk. I very much didn’t want to talk or humor him but he told me I could scream at the top of my lungs when he was done talking to me. So I sat down.

What my dad told me was pretty simple. He told me I could let the anger eat me inside and out or I could put that anger to good use. Me being me wanted to shout about how that is what I attempted to do with cleaning the house before he stopped me. Before I could say anything he put his hand up and asked me to hear him out. That was not something I was good at as a teenager: hearing someone out. But that day I listened.

I don’t remember the whole conversation but what I do remember was that my dad helped me figure out several activities I could do for each of my basic emotions. On that day I started teaching myself some stage combat and quarter staff fighting as another outlet for my anger. My dad had given me a staff he had made and he told me to go take my anger out with exercise.

How does this apply to this post?

Over a year ago when our first foster children went home I was devastated. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was breaking and I didn’t know how to deal. I tried cleaning but that was a bad idea because every where I looked I saw what was missing. I tried reading a book but all I could do was cry. I tried throwing myself into work as well as various other projects but nothing helped. All I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and sleep all day, every day. I didn’t do that. Instead I got up every day. I set one goal for every day and when that goal was complete I felt better. Since my mom was still recovering in a physical rehab facility my biggest daily accomplishment was making and taking her lunch.

Then one day I had a lunch date with my husband. I went to pick him up from his side job and ended up waiting in the car for him for over twenty minutes. The first five minutes were the worst. I was left alone with my thoughts and emotions. Once again I couldn’t breathe as I was drowning in all my emotions. Then something miraculous happened. My emotions turned into words and those words formed sentences and eventually poems. I pulled out a pen and started writing on the blank side of junk mail. The rest of the twenty minutes flew by.

It had been years since I had written a poem and since then poems have changed in so many ways but the basics are still the basics: powerful words and emotions coming together on a blank page. I certainly had plenty of words to describe my emotions and I let them just flow.

Once upon a time I used to always keep a pad of paper with me but had stopped when I could no longer find small enough pads to keep in my purse. This time I just started keeping a pad of paper and pencil in my car, beside my bed, and anywhere else I thought I might be alone for a few minutes and need to just write my down my emotions before I let them drown me. And when paper is no where to be found, I have a notepad app on my phone to keep my thoughts in.

Since that day over a year ago, I have written several dozen poems. Some are complete and some not so much. There are days that I get flooded with emotions and the best thing to do is just let them flow. Here are a few yet unfinished poems that seemed to just flow from my heart:

 

 Heart of My Heart

You may not be blood of my blood

But you are a focus for my love

The heart of my heart

The light that turns down the night

You are everything

The perfection that only God could give

Heartache and Heartbreak

The hardest thing I ever had to do

Was to send you on your way

With a hug, a kiss and a smile

Yet on that day my heart was torn

Since then I am nothing but forlorn