I don’t shy away from the idea of having a mental illness. Nor am I afraid of therapy. Yet I found myself beginning one of the hardest mental health journeys earlier this year.
Living with untreated ADHD, traumatic childhood experiences, and the aftermath of an abusive relationship, I knew I had to sort through a lifetime of traumas.
I thought that I was handling things really well. Then suddenly I realized that I’d become fearful, nervous, and jumpy. I barely left the house. I didn’t recognize who I was anymore and I wasn’t particularly fond of myself.
I had PTSD.
Life with daily trauma
My past traumas brought fear into my life and it was an unusual feeling.
I jumped at the slightest sound. Questions swirled around in my head if someone raised their voice or seemed displeased with me.
“Have I done something wrong?”, “Are they angry?”, and the ever-popular, “I’m so stupid, why didn’t I just shut up or do better?” were just some of the irrational thoughts I was having.
After all, calling attention to myself ran the risk of suffering very big consequences. And as all I wanted to do was fade into the background, this posed a very serious problem.
How trauma has impacted my work and activism
I don’t live a very private life. My blog, Black Girl Lost Keys, reaches readers worldwide. I talk, laugh, and cry with my readers. I connect with fellow advocates to better serve the community and I’m always in motion.
This work is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it easy to accomplish if you plan on being a wallflower. Which in case you are wondering, is what I felt like sometimes.
So there I was. Stuck on one side between trauma, begging me to stay inside where it was safe. Then stuck on the other side between my life’s mission, screaming at me that I was wasting time.
This tug of war was incredibly difficult to deal with. I reached out to people but then I shrank away when they interacted back. I neglected my role as a leader in spaces I created. I just hoped that they’d be alright without me.
Ultimately, I did whatever it took to stay safe. Although I sat there feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.
Trauma runs deep
When I left my abusive situation, I thought I was done. I expected to deal with the normal pain of a breakup and move past it. I definitely didn’t plan on talking or thinking about it incessantly.
I didn’t know that I’d hear echoes of my abuser’s sentiments every time someone offered constructive criticism. I thought that time healed all wounds. I thought that things would get better if I just shoved it down far enough.
But you guessed it, things didn’t get better.
Little by little, I stopped eating. I slept intermittently. I was too tired to take care of my responsibilities but I was too restless to sleep.
This wasn’t life. It was a miserable half-life.
Before the symptoms of PTSD crept in, I always liked to get outside and see the world. I loved meeting new people, hearing their stories, and sharing my own.
Now the trauma insisted that I avoid new people at all costs. I chose what my brain told me was the safer option and I turned into a person I didn’t recognize.
I didn’t enjoy my post-trauma self on any level. I resented her for always forcing me to play it safe. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
I resented my PTSD and realized I had to do something different.
Returning to therapy
I didn’t plan on going back to regular therapy. I treated my mental illness like it was in remission, although it was clearly raging and malignant as ever. But to truly begin healing from the trauma, I knew I had to find some extra support.
I’d already been through years of treatment for depression, anxiety, and ADHD so I considered myself the occasional visitor in therapy land. Not a frequent flier.
Going back to therapy felt like admitting failure. I know it’s not, but to me it felt like I was admitting the person who traumatized me still had power over my life. Even when they weren’t in it anymore.
Despite my misgivings, it was time to get onto the couch.
Making therapy work for me
We owe it to ourselves to be certain that new undertakings fit our lives.
For me, finding a black therapist was VERY important. I also knew that frequent travel to appointments would be too stressful. Sometimes therapy also triggers my PTSD. So being in a safe environment means the world to me.
Luckily I managed to find a therapist who does video therapy. Now I can talk about my deepest feelings from the privacy of my own home. I cuddle with my dogs. I hang out in my office. I lay on my couch being lazy.
Before I knew it, I was attending therapy regularly. I looked forward to it.
What therapy did for me
I started therapy again six months ago. The change has not been immediate. But it is there.
Healing comes in waves. I progress. I regress.
I’ve learned something new about myself through each stage of the process. It’s been a strange combination of coming home to myself and discovering the new person I’ve become.
Therapy helps me to move forward. I’m rebuilding my confidence and finding my voice all over again.
It can feel like a failure to go back to therapy again but I want you to know that it isn’t. We go back for checkups for our physical health, so we should do the same for our mental health.
For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
NPS-US-NP-00502 OCTOBER 2019