Tag Archives: Mental

Triumphing over Trauma…

Triumphing over trauma is a process. It isn’t always a ‘linear’ one, but it is very much a possibility.

One of the first key steps in overcoming trauma, or at least beginning on the road to recovery, is the very practical one of establishing safety and security. I don’t know if anyone can recover from trauma while in the midst of it – I don’t think that’s possible, is it? Establishing safety is therefore crucial.

Safety means getting out of the harmful situations and into a place of protection. It means that your physical wellbeing isn’t threatened by external forces. At this point you may be more than likely to experience the unprocessed experiences of your trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, chronic pain, sensory overload, breakdown and a whole host of PTSD symptoms. If you’ve come through this you’ll know how tough this can be and it’s vital to get support from a professional as well as to build up a network of caring individuals that you can turn to, whether from charitable organisations that exist to help trauma survivors, or friends and family members. This can take years, so don’t give up. It really does take time, but healing and recovery is possible.

Safety also means that your basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, etc. are being met and that you are able to establish some kind of stability, routine and perhaps also crucially to work through a care package with a professional.

It might take months, it might take years, it might take decades, but if you continue on the positive path of recovery then at some stage you will hopefully be ready to reintegrate socially, making connections and contributions to society. Routines are very helpful in any recovery process as it establishes a system for the brain to follow, which helps prevent ‘relapse’.

So say you, or someone you know, has passed through these stages and you are now ready to not merely survive, but to Triumph over trauma. How do you do this? Sometimes people say things, and they become helpful little nuggets of truth to help us along our way. One doctor once told me (and this wasn’t even a particularly helpful doctor as her manner was very abrupt and even hurtful at times, but even so she has left a productive input in my life in some way) that I needed to begin building up positive experiences.

It seems obvious doesn’t it? Yet when you’re in a tough and dark place and your brain has been ‘put through the mill’ of negativity time after time, then it can be very difficult to see how that is even a possibility. However, what the doctor said stuck with me, as obvious as it may seem, and I set out on a path to build up positive experiences for myself and this wasn’t easy to do because of the negative forces I was fighting against.

However, this my friends, is a significant key to becoming Triumphant over trauma. It’s not the only key, nor even necessarily the main one, but it is very important. Your brain in trauma is overcrowded and clouded with negative ‘reference points’ and your thoughts will keep lapsing back to these traumatic experiences, emotions and memories unless you give your brain, your mind, somewhere better to go.

Initially, as another doctor taught me, this might be in the form of visualisation, of very simple and short ‘positive experiences’ such as through ‘grounding techniques’, breathing exercises and focusing on gratitude. These are ‘easy breezy’ for many non-trauma sufferers, but for those who have had their brains turned inside out and upside down in somewhat of a nightmare, it takes real effort, perseverance, commitment, diligence and determination and will most probably also be accompanied by several tears, some sleepless nights, anxiety or panic and so forth. Push on through….the view is worth it on the other side!

Over time the positive experiences you are building into your life will grow in possibility. You can focus on your senses and begin to actually enjoy living, even if only for a few seconds at a time at first. Taste your food. Smell the sea breeze. Feel the fresh air wrap around you. See the colour of the autumn leaves. Hear the bird song.

You may then be able to integrate such positive experiences with ‘self care’ such as taking a bath, and taking care of your self. Gradually you may build up to include hobbies as creativity can help reduce chronic pain (such a blessing to me as a mental and physical pain reliever!) as it engages certain parts of your brain linked to concentration and pleasure sensations. This might involve tactile hobbies too such as gardening, knitting, cross stitch, photography, music, drawing, painting, singing, dance, adult colouring, cooking and so forth. It could also include ‘brain training’ by doing puzzles and quizzes and building up your time with these from seconds, to minutes to even hours as your concentration and ability to regulate your nervous system improves and is strengthened.

Hopefully in time the positive experiences will also come to include trusting friendships and social and emotional connections, social events even if just little baby steps at first (it certainly was for me), and then as you build and build and build upon your resilience, your mind will be mapping out many new neural pathways and connections of positive experiences that will at first soften the ‘relapses’ and then gradually over time become new ‘reference points’ for you mentally and emotionally. And after that, what could possibly stop you from being and living Victoriously and Triumphing over trauma?! 🙂 x

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A Mental Health Winter Survival Guide – Quick Tips for those tough days (4).

Breathing technique: to help with anxiety or panic, practice breathing well to calm your nervous system and stress (fight / flight) response. Breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, and exhale slowly and deeply through your mouth for a count of 5. Allow your belly to rise on the in-breath, and to ‘deflate’ when you exhale. Repeat as often as required. Practice this even when you are not feeling anxious as it will help ‘reset’ your system from some of the stress responses you have been used to.

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Quality of Life…everyday….

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What do those three words make you think of? ‘Quality of life’. (I mean in a general, everyday sense. I understand that there are many people who are or have friends or family members who are living through terminal illness, severe health challenges, bereavements and other major life challenges, which require sensitivity and compassion and an entirety of focus, therefore this post is aimed more generally, while my heart goes out to those who are struggling with the daily realities of such life circumstances).

I guess the phrase means different things to different people, but individually I think you ‘just know’ whether you are experiencing it or whether something is amiss. As explored in previous posts, we often don’t stop and realise what we really need to change until after we ‘burn out’ or struggle to survive our hectic and stressful days. 

As someone who has had a long battle with complex post traumatic stress (notice, I leave out the word ‘disorder’, for we are overcomers and survivors of the brain’s natural coping reactions to severely stressful life experiences that were put upon us), severe clinical depression, resulting in for a few years chronic pain, and also generalised anxiety disorder, therefore quality of life is something I have had to think about a lot. 

I am pleased so say that by the grace of God, and with a lot of hard work taking those small and seemingly insurmountable steps every day for years and years, I feel like I am stronger and in a better place. 

So, ‘quality of life’ in an everyday sense….what does it mean? You know better what it is when you don’t have it. And what do you think about? Is it having time to yourself to rest and reflect? Experiencing exhilarating challenges and exploring new places? Having a peaceful family life, or finding contentment in your situation whether you have people around you or are ‘alone’? Is it being able to “enjoy your achievements as well as your plans”? To notice the simple things each and everyday?

It is a challenge that each of us have to take up to consider this question for ourselves, and then to give ourselves the permission to set about doing something about it for our own sakes and for those around us. I have taken the day off work today. I was getting to the stage of feeling like I wasn’t ‘coping’ so well, and that’s not the way I want to live. And I think with all I have been through, and all that you have been through in your life, it is a question that we need to *regularly* ask ourselves: am I living, experiencing a real quality of life, even in the simple things everyday, and if not, what am I going to do to make the changes I need to make? 

For me some of these changes have taken years to accomplish having had the mountains of post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression to overcome. However simple they may seem, these changes are small victories in my life. And as each gain is made, the quality of life adds up over the years, as does our personal resilience to adversity, just as conversely each detriment adds up, each bad habit, each negative element that we allow to continue in our lives unchallenged. 

Some of these changes for me include working on a better sleep routine, and eating more healthily, and looking after my body and mind. Having a time of morning devotions and prayer and seeking God, giving thanks and praying for myself and others, committing my day to Him and being gentle with myself when I don’t manage this and end up rushing. Taking time to slow down and notice the beauty in the everyday, ‘mundane’ things of life and appreciating what I have got. Taking time to create a peaceful living and working environment even if there are challenges in doing this, small changes can make a difference. Taking breaks, being mindful of my breathing, setting goals and plans, and taking the time to do more of what I enjoy, whether it is reading a book while waiting for the train, colouring during my lunch breaks at work, listening to music, giving myself more time so that I am not constantly rushing from place to place, and taking a day off when I need to if I can. 

I am a great believer that the little things in life really do add up over time. What you are investing in today will impact your future and those of the people in your life in some way or another. Seeds of legacy. So take time to make time for yourself, small or big changes that will help you everyday to live more in alignment with what really matters, taking consideration of the foundation that you are building your life upon, so that you are living and not merely existing. Small steps, after all, lead to changed lives as the years roll by. God bless. x