Who knew that memories could be so terrifying and paralysing?
That mere thoughts could bring you to your knees, gasping for air.
That a certain sound, smell, place, image, could rile up the brain into a wild fervour.
That an event that happened long ago could still hurt today, perhaps even more.
One might at first doubt the power that a distressing event can yield over an individual. After all, it happened in the past, they’re safe now, time heals all wounds, it could be worse, they are just bad memories, right?
Well, yes, an unhappy memory is like a broken arm: it needs time to heal, it hurts, it’s annoying… but it does get better eventually.
But on the other hand, a traumatic experience and the resulting memory is like both arms being driven over by an oversized truck. The resulting mess of flesh looks quite ugly, it needs much more intense work and much more time to recover, painkillers aren’t always enough, it’s dysfunctional, it really gets in the way of things and can be extremely inconvenient, it’s not something you would forget – ever.
So some memories can be strong. Really strong. And these vivid memories are nestled in the brain, one of the most powerful organs in the body. The brain is responsible for controlling all bodily functions, so it follows that severe mental damage can cause impairment, loss, disability. The overwhelming and lasting power of trauma should not be underestimated or trivialised.
A traumatic event might not always result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD), at times it just leads to an unfortunate cocktail with varying shots of intense anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. But no matter what manifests afterward, the sufferer cannot do a ‘Frozen’ and “Let It Go.” You see, trauma causes a deep mental wound that feels as real as anything, and any resulting pain is not imagined or illegitimate.
It does all sound pretty hardcore, so you might think that only super hardcore things can count as trauma and perhaps cause PTSD. But you don’t have to have lived through the events of ‘Game of Thrones’ to have experienced a trauma. Maybe you were deeply afraid, perhaps something felt intrinsically wrong, your physical integrity and sense of self might have been violated, there could have been feelings of fear, helplessness, terror… all of that, or just some parts of that, that’s trauma.
Trauma can take the form of abuse, assault, rape, war, death, for sure, but it can also be an experience of divorce, abandonment, a natural disaster, a serious illness, prolonged exposure to distressing events or images, a bad accident, etc. It doesn’t have to be epic to be valid, and no matter what the source, feelings of trauma are legitimate and should not be discounted. Furthermore, past traumatic events may be confusing, blurred, and unclear, but that does not mean that the resulting distress is not real or valid. Dealing with trauma is exhausting, overwhelming, lonely, and crippling, and just because it is all in the head does not mean it doesn’t physically hurt.
There is an unhealthy pressure out there to act strong, to appear like wehave it all together, to play down the effects of a traumatic experience and try to be a Productive Member of Society (PMS, hahaha…) But just as purposely leaving an open wound unattended to and risking infection is counterproductive and silly, ignoring the effects of post-trauma stress and not seeking help may cause it to fester and strike you down later on.
To realise and admit vulnerability takes courage and intelligence. Seeking help and support for this vulnerability is brave and a sign of true strength. Maintaining a façade is not worth the endless suffering in silence of intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, loneliness, isolation, fear, guilt, anger, shame. Would you wander through the streets pretending everything is fine if half your chest cavity was missing? Would you seek help if you were bleeding to death? Would you try to help someone else bleeding to death?
The good thing is that recovery is possible, healing can happen.
Holes can be filled and pieces can be glued together.
Things that help may include but are not limited to time, space, professional therapy, ongoing support from loyal and patient friends and family, acceptance, discussion, openness, medication, learning self-care and self-compassion. Just like recovery with any other mental illness, there are good days, bad days, and really bad days, but eventually, finally, there are more good days than bad ones, and the bad ones feel less frightening.
Please take care, I truly appreciate all shares, comments and likes.