People who have suffered from psychological trauma will understand that healing is layers. Just when we think we have overcome our trauma, we realise that all we did was peel away another layer, taking us closer to the true source of our pain.
Psychological trauma is complicated, it has no easy fix and when it rears its ugly, complicating head, you have only one true path if you want to really heal yourself. You will experience many setbacks, many painful emotions and you must start healing each layer; while also learning what that layer requires from you in order to be able to heal that issue and in turn heal you. This is the process of growing through your pain.
In 2011, at 32 yrs of age I was diagnosed with severe depression and an anxiety disorder. The first attack came out of nowhere and was so surreal it took me months to figure out what I was experiencing. By 2012, I was having constant anxiety and panic attacks that would tense my muscles so badly in my neck I would cry from the pain if I sneezed. Between sweaty palms, heart palpitations and chest pains, were extreme mood swings predominantly of rage that would leave me physically drained for days. I would refuse to go to work for fear of breaking down in exhaustion from unbearable migraines and the incessant noises in my head driving me crazy. Depression can be manageable, but anxiety is sheer paranoia and madness.
I was prescribed anti-depressants; Valium for the anxiety, Lexapro (a combination of both) and Tramadol an opioid pain killer. I took my Lexapro regularly but used the others sparingly, I didn't want to create a dependency. I started seeing a psychologist who taught me coping techniques and how to identify my anxiety triggers. In my last session she wanted to refer me on to a psychiatrist, I was getting worse. My mental health was declining but I opted to stop seeing her and to stop taking the Lexapro. I pushed myself to implement my coping techniques but instead I pushed myself over the edge.
In my already deteriorating state of mind combined with massive withdrawals from the Lexapro, I found myself fortunate to wake up one morning in my own bed in mid 2012. I was drugged out of my mind and disorientated from taking all of my prescribed medication that night. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the floor as I hung over the side of my bed in a stupor and the first clear thought I had in my head while staring at that floor was "Why do I hurt myself over people who don't care if I live or die?". And that was that, that was my epiphany.
Family, friend, coworker; it didn't matter- Fuck anyone and everyone who brings harm to my life. Fuck everyone who contributed to creating my trauma and fuck every one of them who did nothing to help me heal the damage they caused me. Sorry doesn't cut it, people who care are there to help you through the process. My job from now on was to clear a path of healing for me and becoming the person I needed to be to find peace within myself..
HITTING ROCK BOTTOM
This was my rock bottom, and this was my rebellion. I proceeded to drag myself out of bed and along the floor to the bathroom. I slid in the tub and slumped inside still wearing my clothes. I turned the shower on and swallowed all of the prescription medication I had with cheap wine. It was a failed suicide attempt.
I can't tell you how long I huddled there, I can't tell you if the water was hot or cold, but I can tell you the same person who put me in bed and watched over me that night was the same person who helped me out of the tub, dried me off and put me safely back into bed that morning after tolerating me at my worst for months - Steve. What Steve did for me in this time of my life was more than anyone had every done for me mentally, physically and emotionally. I am so thankful he was there at the lowest time of my life.
Without realizing, he demonstrated the exact type of people I need in my life and the exact type of people I didn't. He also made me realize how I treated others had to change dramatically if I wanted to keep friends like him in my life. You attract what you are. I realised that I needed to change for the better.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
While fighting to reclaim my life back from my mental health conditions, I realized my anxiety was a result of me living a one dimensional life where I didn't have to engage my vulnerabilities. My trauma had conditioned me to always be strong, so my abusers would never get the satisfaction or sense of power they were seeking from exploiting or hurting me.
It hits like a hammer; to realize you've been in survival mode since childhood and not as a figure of speech but in a matter of science - our fear centre. I had over two decades of abuse, grief, fear and pain that I had channeled into anger and self destructive aggressive behavior. My psychological trauma hard wired me to equate aggression with safety and control, yet none of those outlets actually healed the pain, they merely served to continue the abuse in me as a victim or from me as a perpetrator.
In order to change and relieve the build up of emotions that were creating my anxiety, I stopped letting myself be manipulated emotionally. I took responsibility for my choices and refused to feel guilty for other people's choices. I refused to feel guilty for choices I made for myself even though it upset other people. I let go of trying to control people and situations and instead focused on controlling myself and my own decisions.
I started confronting my abusers so often rage subsided to assertion and passivity rose to it. I started confronting my abusive and self abusive behaviors slowly, replacing my unhealthy practice with healthier practices that helped me chip away at triggers as well as treat others better.
If I was unsatisfied with a job, I found a better one. I walked away from toxic friendships and created a healthy support network of friends. I started identifying the need to create boundaries and then I implemented them. Most of all, I gave myself permission to be vulnerable. I learned how to let "weakening" emotions sit with me until they resolved themselves and moved on naturally.
I stopped caring about what other people perceived of me especially when I was highly emotive learning how to deal with my own emotions. When you have lived in survival mode and you finally come out of it, every emotion you experience from loss and grief; to excitement and love is like feeling it for the first time....Intense and overwhelming! But you get through it by growing through it and most importantly, you heal.
For me this was the first layer of three (that I am aware of) that I needed to heal. I have mild bouts of depression that are infrequent and short lived, with only one setback that a great support network helped me navigate. The greatest result of my mental health journey so far is that I haven't had one anxiety attack since 2014 and every year my anxiety weakens. There is no miracle cure, taking care of our mental health is consistent effort we have to put in every day but the results are truly liberating.
Written by Dawn Kurei
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