I wonder if you’re a bit like me. If in childhood you caught the ‘reading bug’ and became an avid reader, transported from one world to another, and set on a course of imagination and possibility?
“When I was just a little girl…”
As much as I was an adventurer, a little girl who loved to play in nature, under this vast sky, some of my fondest memories also include being absorbed in books. I still remember vividly the big old library with wooden winding staircases that my mum and I used to go to when I was little, in the days when our library cards were actually made of cardboard 🙂 I loved the smell of books, the touch, the feel and the worlds within a world that I could embark upon to spark my own imagination. I loved books, everything about them. Some were beautifully illustrated, others were text only, but I had an affinity with them, as perhaps many of you did too.
My passion continued.
As I grew, my passion for reading, for literature, and for writing (I started writing stories and poems as a little girl) continued, unabated. I was commended and won prizes in school for my writing, and loved studying English, so much so that I went on to study English Literature as part of a joint-honours for my first degree (afterwards going on to complete a Masters in Human Rights, Women’s Studies, and International Development).
I loved reading, and I was introduced to a new way of looking at the world of literature through more focused analysis, intertextuality, literary theory, and so forth.
It was an amazing new challenge, however, part of me missed just being able to step into another world, through the gateway of reading, and to imagine without analysis.
Success and ‘Failure’.
I worked hard, studied and read a lot, put my heart and soul into my studies, and gained two First Class Degrees. I had achieved a dream in excelling in English Literature as a big part of my studies, and my identity, as it was part of the fabric of my being.
However, the victory would shortly give way to ‘failure’ in a sense.
My adverse childhood experiences from being traumatised from bullying and hate crime over an intense couple of years most particularly in the first two years of high school, coupled with having severe anxiety, and experiencing the stresses of young adulthood and looking for my first jobs, moving out, and other challenges, bullies in adulthood, close to 3 years of not sleeping, night terrors, and so forth all combined to trigger an ‘explosion’ in complex PTSD, and a few years ago everything collapsed.
My brain felt like it was exploding. Everything was terrifying. The smallest of things was overwhelming, and I didn’t know how I would take the next step or make it through life. I was devastated. My waking and ‘resting’ life was a nightmare, I was both awake during the daytime in a living nightmare even as I went about my day to day or tried to, and was unable to escape in the repose of sleep either.
And to make matters worse, reading had become terrifying for me. My head was exploding, everything was frightening and confusing and overwhelming, thoughts ‘screamed’ at me, sentences were a blur, I couldn’t focus, and when I did my mind couldn’t make sense of things, I was intensely fearful and didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew I should be able to read, I had majored in English Literature as part of my undergraduate degree after all. And yet, I was broken, and could not read even one line in a book without fear and terror.
I could spend an age staring at one page, tears filling my eyes, the room swimming around me, utterly broken and devastated. What had happened? Why were books no longer a safe and comforting place for me? Why was my brain malfunctioning such that even reading one line in a book was a tremendous and terrifying ordeal?
Was it over?
Scrambling back up that mountain.
There’s a line in a song that encourages me: “Life ain’t over, life ain’t done yet, so get back up in your place, child’.
That’s what we’ve got to do.
The song goes on to say: “When you feel like it’s the end, no mother and no friend could love you more”.
The song is about the faithful love of Jesus, and He carried me through it all and continues to. Suffice to say I got help, and after years of persistence, I started reading again….including for pleasure.
A new way of exploring books.
Although I write a lot as part of my professional work, and have managed to push through and excel (high functioning! 😉 ) in my productivity at work, and although I have started reading again for pleasure, it is not quite as easy for me to just sit down and read a book as it once would have been. I used to be a ‘voracious’ reader, and I would lose count of how many books I had read in a month, in a year. Now, however, I can count the books I have read in a year on one hand. Maybe I’ll get back to where I was, or move forwards to something new.
Recently, however, I have been enjoying new vistas of opportunity for my mind and imagination: audio books. I have embarked upon a free online borrowing system with my public library that allows users the chance to borrow audio books online, download them and listen at leisure – for free.
Once again I am able to get cosy on a cold winter’s evening, and absorb myself in a good book. Only this time, someone is reading to me. I can go about my tasks while listening, or I can close my eyes and imagine the scenes unfolding before me as someone helps to lead me on that journey with their voice. What a pleasure to find a new avenue into the world of books. Of course, it is nothing new, audio books have been around for goodness knows how long now, and with technology, they literally are at people’s fingertips.
The hope of new adventures.
Sometimes we all need a helping hand to get us through. Even Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress found comfort from like minded friends on his arduous journey. Like faithful friends, the narrators of audio books are helping me through, from the slough of despond to being able to see in the far distance a promised land, a ‘Celestial City’.
Audio books are a new gateway for me, into new stories, adventures and realms of inspiration. I can listen to the Word of God, Scripture, biographies, factual accounts as well as fictional stories being read to me.
There is comfort in this. When I was a little girl, I also enjoyed listening to stories on tape and read along with the accompanying illustrated picture books. Perhaps this is like the adult version of that. Another form, another gateway into the realms of stories, of human life, of imagination.
A word of encouragement.
So what can you glean from my gratitude for and enjoyment of audio books? Perhaps that no matter what your challenge is, there is a way forward, it might not be the route you thought, it may seem like you are using a ‘crutch’ at first as you hobble on your journey, injured as you are, but nonetheless, as you persevere you may just find that what you thought was a crutch assisting you in your weakness actually turns out to be a blessing and a gift of comfort, strength and new possibilities as you continue on.
We all have a story. A story to live and a story to tell. And no matter who we are, we all have light and shade on our path. You have lived. You have experienced. You have done things. And you have had things happen to you. Good and bad. Light and dark.
For some blessed souls, their experience has been one with more light than darkness, more protection than distress or horror, more hope and joy than pain, despair, anguish and loss.
So, what will you do with what has happened to you, whether good or bad?
We all have a choice to make. A series of choices. A lifetime of choices.
What happened to you?
For some among us, that question will be poignant, it will resonate deep within, it will touch our soul. We have not lived on the surface of life. We have not been allowed to. We have been hurt, we have suffered, we have known the laceration of spirit and identity that we seek so desperately to be healed. Is this you? You are not alone.
If what has happened to you in life has been mostly good, then I rejoice with you, and encourage you that you can use that too. You can use your strength to help and comfort the weak and hurting. You can give the love that was lavished upon you to those whose wells are dry and empty, who have all but given up on life. You can use the good things that have happened to you too. Perhaps it is the easier path, but you are blessed in it.
What do you do next?
At some point in our lives we have to make a choice. No matter what has happened to us, we all have to make a choice. Life or death. In the physical real as well as in the spiritual realm. I know this road is strewn with complexities, with difficult issues and with choice seemingly taken away from some people at times. You only need to look at the news to see this. But we all have to make our own choice. Life or death. Light or darkness. To step into the light or to stay crippled in fear in the darkness.
As I often say, I write for anyone who will read, I write for believers and non-believers alike; in fact, one of my most interested readers is a friend who is an atheist. Nonetheless, I can only speak the Truth that Jesus Christ is the Light that has extinguished the darkness in my life. Once and for all. A new life, a new heart, a new spirit, a new hope, a new mind-set, a new future, a new Identity, a new kingdom, a new everything.
We all have to make a choice. And how we respond to Jesus Christ is the greatest and most eternally significant choice we will ever make.
What are the burdens that you carry? Shame. Guilt. Fear. Anger. Turmoil. Terror. Self-hatred. Loss. Grief. Pain. Oh the pain. Death? He has taken the sting out of Death. He can bring healing and peace, liquid love into all of our dark and broken and crushed places.
‘He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds’.
‘By His wounds, we are healed’.
He heals the broken hearted and crushed in spirit.
Don’t I know it? I certainly do. For some the healing comes in an instant. For others, like me, it is an unravelling, layer by layer, bit by bit, but the pain, it does ease, the chains, they do fall off, the heart that was defeated, crushed in despair, feeling completely hopeless, useless, weak, unwanted, unloved, despised, rejected…this heart…my heart….finds a home….a HOME, a dwelling place in Pure Perfect Selfless Love….in Him.
But what if you don’t believe?
Things have happened to you. You perhaps feel far from what I am saying. It’s where you are right now. Do I have a word for you?
What will your story be?
Things have happened to you. You have done things. You have lived, experienced, survived. So far.
What do you do when the pain is so great and you’re in a fog? What do you do with what has happened to you? I understand how deep these wounds, these lacerations, this anguish can go. I understand that the darkness in the world can feel like it has all but wrecked us. But it hasn’t.
You can choose.
Will your story be to be defined by what has happened to you? Will you be crushed by it? Will you merely survive it? Perhaps that’s all we can do at times. But we can still choose. Choose to believe in the impossible, in something better, in a purpose from the pain, and choose to use it. Even today.
What will you do with what has happened to you? Will you hope, and will you push through and endure the darkest seasons of recovery so that in time you will break through to the other side? Or will you accept the lie that this is all there is for you, you’re not one of the so called “lucky ones” in life? This isn’t all there is for you. Believe me, there is so much more good things than the bad we leave behind.
Will you endure the hardships, will you allow them to refine you and not merely define you? Will you dream so much farther than the depths and heights of your pain? Will you dream of helping one person some day with what you know, know deep in your soul…what you have survived….what you one day can conquer?
We can work with the surface, but only Pure Love can heal the depths. Can transform.
So, what is your answer?
What will you do with what has happened to you? Will you push through, will you ask for help, will you seek advice, support, counsel, will you do the really tough hard work that will help you to get better, at least better than you are now, and will you pass that on to someone someday, even today?
That’s my choice. I’ve been broken hearted and crushed in spirit. Heavy laden. Giving up inside. In a way that people don’t see on the outside. But healing is Real, it is possible, and even though the journey still can be tough, it is leading somewhere, and it has purpose.
But it’s a choice, our choice, to keep taking that next step. Will you?
(A ‘longish’ read, but hopefully worth it, and full of inspiration and motivation!).
Any superhero, DC, Marvel, general comic book, etc fans out there?
Let me start by confessing that I don’t know a great deal about superheroes and heroines but I do know enough to know that most of them have some pretty intriguing ‘origin stories’.
Looking at the ‘good guys’ and ‘gals’, and with a little help from my friends Google, and Wikipedia 😉 let’s take a closer look at some of our well known and loved superfolk and their origin stories.
Superman: perhaps one of the most known, amiable and familiar superheroes is Superman. Wikipedia tells me that there have been several variations over time to his life story through publications, adaptations and revisions. However, the basics of his story are as follows (thanks Wiki ! 🙂 )…
“While the individual details vary, certain key elements have remained consistent in almost all retellings.
Superman is born Kal-El on the alien planet Krypton. His parents, Jor-El and Lara become aware of Krypton’s impending destruction and Jor-El begins constructing a spacecraft to carry Kal-El to Earth. During Krypton’s last moments, Jor-El places young Kal-El in the spacecraft and launches it. Jor-El and Lara die as the spacecraft barely escapes Krypton’s fate. The explosion transforms planetary debris into kryptonite, a radioactive substance that is lethal to superpowered (as by Earth’s yellow sun) Kryptonians.
Clark keeps his powers secret in order to protect his family and friends, who might be endangered by his criminal enemies. In order to use his powers to help humanity, Clark creates the alter ego of Superman. A number of elements are added to each identity to keep them distinct enough to prevent the casual observer from matching them. Superman wears a characteristic red and blue costume with a letter “S” emblem and a cape. Clark Kent takes to wearing glasses, styling his hair differently, changing his body language, significantly altering his voice, and wearing looser clothing and suits that hide his physique.
Spiderman: In Forest Hills, Queens, New York,Midtown High School student Peter Benjamin Parker is a science-whiz orphan living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. As depicted in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962), he is bitten by a radioactivespider (erroneously classified as an insect in the panel) at a science exhibit and “acquires the agility and proportionate strength of an arachnid“. Along with heightened athletic abilities, Parker gains the ability to adhere to walls and ceilings. Through his native knack for science, he develops a gadget that lets him fire adhesive webbing of his own design through small, wrist-mounted barrels. Initially seeking to capitalize on his new abilities, Parker dons a costume and, as “Spider-Man”, becomes a novelty television star. However, “He blithely ignores the chance to stop a fleeing thief, [and] his indifference ironically catches up with him when the same criminal later robs and kills his Uncle Ben.” Spider-Man tracks and subdues the killer and learns, in the story’s next-to-last caption, “With great power there must also come—great responsibility!”
Wonder Woman’s origin story relates that she was sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta and was given a life to live as an Amazon, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek gods. In recent years, DC changed her background with the retcon that she is the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, jointly raised by her mother and her aunts Antiope and Menalippe. The character has changed in depiction over the decades, including briefly losing her powers entirely in the late 1960s; by the 1980s, artist George Perez gave her an athletic look and emphasized her Amazonian heritage. She possesses an arsenal of advanced technology, including the Lasso of Truth, a pair of indestructible bracelets, a tiara which serves as a projectile, and, in older stories, a range of devices based on Amazon technology.
Wonder Woman’s character was created during World War II; the character in the story was initially depicted fighting Axis military forces as well as an assortment of colorful supervillains, although over time her stories came to place greater emphasis on characters, deities, and monsters from Greek mythology. Many stories depicted Wonder Woman rescuing herself from bondage, which defeated the “damsels in distress” trope that was common in comics during the 1940s.
What’s your super powers and identity?
Ok, so what has the identity and origin stories of comic characters and superheroes and heroines got to do with us? Good question, and I think exploring the answer is a bit of a longer term ‘project’ for me psychologically.
But for the time being, let me share some thoughts and points to ponder.
I’m sure we all want to be people that we can be proud of, people who make a difference in the world during our perhaps fleeting time on earth. People who as children and teenagers once had dreams of accomplishing great things, even using those dreams as perhaps a form of ‘escapism’ of the hard realities of growing up. However, as we have grown up (and I presume most of us are in the category of technically being adults, even if we don’t always know what that means! 🙂 ), it’s likely that we have taken a few bumps and bruises through our journey in life, and so maybe we’ve let go of those dreams and high ideals.
Thinking of the above point, do you ever find yourself merely ‘trudging along’ from one day to the next? Have your dreams and ideals been swamped by the cares of this world, and simply making it through? Are you simply trying to put one foot in front of another? Have you given up hope of making any significant difference? Does it matter?
Does it matter? Let’s start with that. I guess you and I are deciding that every moment of every day in the precious lives we live. We live much of the time taking our lives for granted, even though we know that time on this earth is limited. As a Christian, I have the sure and steadfast hope of an eternity with Jesus Christ, but I don’t have ‘forever’ on this earth. It’s something we don’t like to think about. Surely it should be a bit of a ‘wake up call’ though, shouldn’t it? Surely knowing this, we should seek to live in a way that matters, for ourselves, those around us and maybe even future generations. Wouldn’t that be to walk in wisdom, redeeming the time?
I’d like to think that all of us, however long we’ve been blessed to live, would say yes it does matter. But how do we make it count? We would do well to take time and to take stock of what matters, and perhaps our answers will all differ, but at the core, what kind of legacy do you want to be leaving for the future, and for right now, what kind of a life do you want to be living? So, maybe we’ve had to let go of some dreams and ideals. Maybe none among us here will win the Nobel Peace Prize (although, don’t rule it out for yourselves 🙂 ), we might not walk on the moon, we might not set up orphanages across the world and help suffering children by starting up a global humanitarian organisation, and we might not solve the hunger crisis, or the problem of homelessness, malnutrition, child neglect, climate change or poor health and inequalities. Maybe we won’t write the next great music score, or be a world class musician, a missionary taking the Gospel to far off lands, a sports person, novelist, film maker, discoverer, break boundaries in the science and arts and in communication. Maybe we won’t be the person to come up with the invention that changes the world for good. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t change the world for good in our own way. Can’t we all be ‘superheroes’ in our own spheres of influence?
So I’ve listed a lot of things that most of us probably won’t be or do (although, like I said, don’t rule it out if any of those are your dreams, work hard and use your talents for good). However, I’m not a person to leave anyone with a list of ‘can’t do’s’. Here are some of the things we perhaps can do, and doing them together we will make much more of an impact for good in the world. So the Nobel Peace Prize is kind of out of the picture, but can’t we all work for Peace, in our own lives and minds, our families, friendships, workplaces, neighbourhoods, communities, and our online sphere of influence? When so many people in the world are struggling or tearing each other down, can’t we be the ambassadors of peace in our realms of influence?
Is walking on the moon a bit of a leap too far for us now? Can’t we help someone else to fulfil their dreams? Can’t we teach the children in our lives, whether or not they are our own, to reach for the moon and the stars, and to dream big dreams? And can’t we be there to help, encourage and equip them to reach those dreams so that they become achievable goals?
What of the other things listed? Maybe we can’t do any of those lofty things either (or maybe they are actually achievable for some of us), but what can we do? Could we give to charities and humanitarian organisations that set up orphanages and help suffering children? Could we be a source of support to a suffering or vulnerable child in our sphere of influence? Could we work as a community to provide outlets and activities for children and young people to help them grow up in healthier ways which might actually keep them from otherwise experiencing unnecessary suffering? Could we give out food to homeless people, donate our time, money or resources to a soup kitchen or homeless charity during Christmas, or any other time of the year for that matter? Are we in the position to advocate for someone, take them in, or provide support in some other way, however small? Could we give someone a smile, treat them like a person, give them a cup of coffee instead of walking by? Maybe we can make more responsible choices with regards to the environment, and help others to do likewise, or maybe we can write to companies to take action, or come together as communities to think about how we can do things better, and listen to the children whose lives it will most affect. Can we help to guide people and also ourselves implement healthier life choices? Can we be involved in groups to help address the inequalities in our worlds? Can we share the gospel with the people in our lives, or reach out to ‘strangers’ and live in a way that is loving, kind and points people to Jesus? Can we share our musical gifts and talents with others to bring joy and a sense of community, or can we learn or teach an instrument, write a song, make an uplifting video on our phones, use art to bring hope and comfort and joy to ourselves and others, write that one book (or more! 🙂 ), write the blog that helps to encourage and inspire others, even if it reaches one person and not one million? We may not invent breakthroughs in science, arts, technology and communication, but we can study to understand and respect the world we live in, we can explore and share our gifts of creativity, we can learn to use technology for good and not for harm, and we can seek to breakthrough communication barriers and communicate with more love, respect and kindness with the people in our own lives, and help others to do the same.
Sounds nice, but I’m just ‘getting by’….
Now that we’ve hopefully reignited some of that ‘spark’ of imagination and the desire to do something worthwhile in our lives, recognising that the smallest of things are important and special too and can change one life at a time, what about the ‘nitty gritty’ reality of it all?
It sounds great, but what if you’re just getting by? What if there are still too many ‘can’t do’s’ in your life?
What if even having broken it down to these less lofty heights, you feel like these smaller things are still way out of your grasp, you feel like a failure, and life has knocked you down so many times or hurt you so deeply that you feel like you can’t even find the strength to bother enough, to care, or to pick yourself up again?
I hear you. I feel it. I’ve been there. That feeling that you just can’t make it through another moment, let alone another day. That feeling that life is too painful to bear anymore, and that maybe, just maybe if you could slip away….
But wait. Stop. Please stop and listen if you feel like that. That is not meant to be the end of your story. It’s a hard, poignant and challenging, tough part of your journey, and maybe it ‘defines’ you more than you’d like it to, but it is by no means the end. Believe me. I’ve been there. You can’t see a hope and a future, but there is one.
Back to our Superheroes:
Let’s think once more about our superheroes. At this point they’re ‘saving the world’, or at least within their sphere of influence they are. They’re doing those great things some of which include the ones on your list (you have a list right? you are a world changer after all! 🙂 ). But they didn’t start out that way. They started out as lumps of clay, of awkward teenagers who were bitten by radio active spiders, as ‘aliens’ in a sense, strangers on earth, orphans taken in, with superpowers, but also with arch enemies, and a fear of kryptonite.
The point is, they had to go through something, and maybe you did / do too. They were born with potential, but they had to go through a whole bunch of stuff before they could make a real difference, they had to learn some tough lessons, fight off some ‘dastardly’ villains, grapple with their identities, realise that they’re different somehow, and figure out what to do with their strength, how to use it for good.
Maybe your ‘origin story’ sucks.
Sorry for putting it bluntly, but maybe you’ve had a pretty tough and awful start to life. Maybe reading this you are struggling with the reality of your life as a backdrop against which all these shiny and lofty dreams and ideals are presented. Maybe you’ve suffered abuse, ill health, trauma, poverty, homelessness, grief, anorexia, addiction, fear and anxiety, depression, neglect. Maybe you’re thinking, nice fairy tale, comic book story, but it’s not real life, and it’s not for you. But it is.
Who do you know, have read about or seen in a documentary inspires you? There will absolutely definitely be someone who you can find out about who has gone through some rubbish in life that has turned it around and are being ‘superheroes’ in their own spheres of influence. Does anyone come to mind for you? Maybe you just haven’t found them yet.
For me, I can reel off a few names of people that inspire me and motivate me and help me find courage. If you haven’t already heard of them and their stories, I encourage you to do a bit of searching and find out a bit more about them. Katie Piper, Nick Vujicic, Lizzie Velazquez, Malala Yousafzai. These are all young or fairly young people that are still alive today and still making a difference with their lives, impacting many other people for good, even though they have gone through some really difficult experiences and encountered evil. They have been courageous and you can too. Not only them, but if you look through the history books, there have been so many people whose lives we can take inspiration from. I could come up with lists of my own, but I’d rather leave that to you to ponder, and even better if you could share who inspires you in the comments then you’ve made a good start today with reaching out and inspiring others, including me.
So for many of us, parts of our ‘origin stories’ have been tough, things we feel have hurt us, scarred us, all but defeated us, held us back and are stopping us from being the people we dreamed of being in this world.
But your beginning is not your ending, dear friends. Finishing well does not depend on having a good start. Sure, it would have been easier if we’d had an easier time of it, but there are things we were powerless to change, and things that we have in our power now to change for the better. We can recover, heal, get strong, and make a difference. We can surprise ourselves with the difference we can make in our lives. What if the difference you can make is comforting someone else who is going through what you went through, with a letter, a text, a kind word, a hug, some practical support, or even crying with them, getting through it together? That is no small or insignificant thing. Some of the most pivotal moments of our lives, and the most life changing moments for ourselves and others are moments like that. That is not out of your grasp is it, dear one?
Your origin story is not your destiny. It is part of a far bigger picture. How we think of those dark or difficult parts of our lives hugely impacts how we go forwards and what we do and become. Do we see those things as life-long limitations? Or can we survive? Can we dare to thrive? Can we keep making small changes everyday until our whole lives are transformed?
I remember sitting in an appointment, talking to my trauma psychologist, crying to him because I felt so weak and had gone through so much effort to try to overcome the emotional, psychological and physical effects of complex trauma in childhood, mainly through bullying, verbal abuse, physical attacks by peers, neglect by teachers, loneliness, isolation, intense and crippling fear, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, etc, etc.
I felt like a bit of a ‘failure’ because after so many years I was struggling to make it through each day, when there were people like Katie Piper who went through so many difficult things, an acid attack, immense physical and psychological trauma, wanting to die, seeing no hope, but going through rehabilitation, recovery to now having her own charities to help burns victims, writing books, speaking up for other people in public platforms, having a family and making a difference in the world. And there was I sitting crying my eyes out and not making much of a difference.
The strange thing was that with absolute sincerity my trauma psychologist told me that I was an inspiration, he couldn’t imagine doing as well as I had if it had been him, he genuinely was in admiration of my perseverance, tenacity, determination, and the fact I had aced my studies, was holding down a full time job, had two first class degrees, but there was I sitting feeling broken and beaten down and like I wasn’t making any difference.
Maybe you know all too well what that feels like. But it’s not the end of the road for you. Just think how much we can do with applying the same determination we have had to into ‘surviving’ if we can continue and put that into thriving. You are making a difference, simply by being you, and you are a superhero, you may just not feel like it right now with where you are in your life’s journey, but it’s not the end for you, not yet, and you have some choices to make.
I hope you’ve found some hope or inspiration from my experiences and my ramblings. 🙂 I’d like to end this post by saying how important it is to consider how you think about yourself. You are not your failures, and you are not the things that happened to you. You are amazing, an original, one of a kind, valuable, a world changer.
I am also on a journey of discovery, but I’d like to end this post with speaking about my true source of hope and identity. Jesus Christ is The One Who has given me ‘new birth’, a new identity, a sure and solid foundation, spiritual blessings in Christ, heavenly armour, and His Strength to enable me to be ‘more than a conqueror’ in Christ. His death and resurrection means that no matter what life has thrown at me, He can and in His time will heal me of it, turn it around for His glory, my good and the good of other people. I owe all of my victories to Him. I hope you find all that you can be in Him, too.
If like me, you’ve suffered with trauma, you’ll be familiar with the distressing battle with intrusive thoughts, memories and flashbacks. It’s important if you have C-PTSD, PTSD, or any related conditions that you seek professional help. I’ve tried to get through things on my own in the past, but I couldn’t get a handle on the ‘explosions’ in my mind and the related physical pain from trying to cope without really knowing or understanding what was happening to me. It was scary, but getting help has been a game-changer for me.
I’m not a professional, a trauma psychologist, or a medical practitioner. But I am someone living with and overcoming complex post traumatic stress and the daily challenges that a maladaptive brain presents. Getting help has given me understanding and hope, but now I’m no longer getting this input, I still have to invest in ways of discovering how to help my brain heal.
If I can help anyone else out there in a similar position to find relief and mental strength, that would mean so much to me. So I’ll just share with you some of the things that I am continuing to learn on this journey.
One of the most overwhelming and difficult things for me has been how adverse childhood experiences impacted and crushed my sense of a positive identity. This has been a long road, but I’ve worked hard and am finding strength and would like to help others also. Yes, we can work on positive self talk (which is so important), we can exercise our minds to think on positive attributes about ourselves and go over and over these again and again until new ‘tracks’ are formed in our mental processing. We can work hard at retraining our thought processes and reactions. However, we all, who are on this journey, know the crippling pain and distress caused by those intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and experiences that are laden with powerful emotions. We become scared of these thoughts, and sometimes we become lost in them. Our minds become frightening places to dwell. We might try to pretend that certain things didn’t happen, we might try to minimise their significance in how they affected us by comparing our experiences to others who went through far worse, we might try to block things out, or find harmful ‘coping mechanisms’. We need someone to help us work through these things a little at a time, and it may take years, or even decades depending on how we were initially affected by the trauma. But one thing we can do for ourselves is to create a context in which these difficult thoughts, memories and emotions can sit, and in doing so, defuse their power, and take back control of our own minds and lives.
Let me share with you what I do. I seek ways in which to put the painful and difficult experiences into a context of being part of a bigger plan of becoming the strong and positive and amazing individual I am meant to be. I know that I am made new in Christ, but I also think of myself as a Princess Warrior, and so when the negative comes to mind, I remind myself, that I can see it in a different context – rather than seeing myself as a victim, I can choose to think of it as a painful and difficult part of my life’s journey, and in fact reclaim control of my mind by seeing it as a training process to make me strong, an overcomer, a warrior of light. How can I be a princess warrior if I haven’t been through any battles?
Our minds seek narrative, context, meaning and explanation. Sometimes our experiences are just too painful to be able to get there in any easy way. We have to let things take their course, but if we can regain control over our narratives, we can begin to shape a more positive future for ourselves. Creating context and meaning is something our minds crave, so we can find ways to do this. I am far less afraid of those formerly extremely troubling thoughts. I have a narrative and when they intrude, rather than try to push them away, fear them, or block them out, I embrace them in a new way of thinking – I think to myself, oh yes, that was a lie, I break it, or that helped shape me into becoming the overcomer that I am meant to be, and I think of what I can take from those experiences to use positively today and in the future.
Once we know we are not helpless, that we have choice, we are not victims, we can rewrite that narrative, give it new meaning and context, and look upon it productively so that we don’t have to spend all of our days in mental suffering, but we can transform our minds, little by little, bit by bit, even when it is painful, and we can become strong enough to help others. What do you want your identity and story to be? Today is a good day to start figuring it out. Be blessed, and may your future be filled with Love and Light and purpose. x
Our lives are always changing. Our experiences ebb and flow with the seasons. We find comfort in the predictability of the seasons of life, and the rhythm of our days – we like change, we even find it exciting, when we can manage it, feel somewhat in control, in the driving seat.
Yet change doesn’t always happen in a way that we would like. When planned for, change can be life enhancing – the new job we prepared for, the travel adventures we want to go on, the new seasons of life that come with new friendships, relationships, births, marriages, achievements, academic success, promotions, new hobbies, and so forth, where change happens, but it is wanted and to some extent planned for. Life sometimes just happens though….regardless of whether the changes that come are what we want or not. Changes may be unwanted, negative – they might involve suffering or pain or loss or just throwing us outside of our comfort zone more than we would like. But what of those changes that are neither particularly ‘good’ nor ‘bad’….just different?
To bring things to a personal level, with where ‘life happens to be’ for me at the moment, the organisation I work with has recently been amalgamated / absorbed into our larger ‘parent’ organisation, as it were. Old logos have gone and we are now all ‘one and the same’, within this bigger organisation. I helped, along with some of my colleagues, with the business transfer – the legal stuff. It was an exciting new challenge and I learned a lot that I would otherwise have had no opportunity to without these unique circumstances. As important as it was – that was the easy bit!
Now that all of the legal procedures have been dealt with, and things are official, the practicalities of what this means have come into play. Thankfully, I won’t be moving to another building, but 250 people are moving in to the one I’m in. I’m seeing new faces every day, I have no idea who most of them are or what their jobs are, and I have on the positive side of things been involved with new and more interesting work.
Now, as a person with C-PTSD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression, changes like this can be quite tricky. I had a panic attack and was sent home from work last week, and that’s even before the new people arrived – I had just been moved out of the room I was in, someone was in the temporary quiet place I was to be in for a couple of weeks until they let me know where I’ll be sitting, and so this ‘little issue’ turned out to be a major trigger for me in feeling unsafe, overwhelmed and like a helpless and threatened child again – I was no longer in control of my surroundings and felt like certain people were being hostile towards me, which may just be their less than graceful way of communicating. And so came the fear, stress, hyper vigilance, hyperventilation, panic, tears, dizziness, PTSD etc.
Thankfully, despite various hurdles and challenges along the way, my workplace is pretty supportive overall, and I am very thankful for that. If you find yourself in a similar situation, and have ‘hidden disabilities’ that make things harder for you, then know that there are ways for you to manage change at work. Maybe like me, you’re protected by legislation, and have people within your organisation who can advocate for you when speaking up for yourself is difficult or seemingly ‘impossible’. Through this process I have had meetings, a risk assessment, and an occupational health review. As such, I am being considered for work in a quiet space, to help me stay well at work, and to continue doing the excellent work they know I am capable of doing. I am awaiting a decision on that, but in the meantime I have been given a laptop to use in a quiet room, which happens to have a beautiful view of trees – which is just the calming effect that I need. I still have the hurdles of my own anxieties to overcome, like encountering new people, wondering whether colleagues think I’m getting preferential treatment, or whether they think I’m ‘crazy’, or weird or are talking about me.
I’m sure I’m not alone in these kind of thoughts and feelings – that’s all part and parcel of anxiety – however, we can find ways to manage change at work better, if we learn to better manage our own thoughts, feelings, nervous system and wellbeing. If you are struggling, maybe that’s the last thing you feel you need to hear right now – but I know that it is a daunting and difficult journey. it takes time, it takes courage, it takes patience and practice. And sometimes we just can’t quite manage it on our own – and you know what – that’s ok. If you are having to manage change at work try to give yourself as much help as you can – when you are less stressed write down some ways in which you can find a helpful way forward – perhaps this might involve asking someone for help, asking your employer for ‘reasonable adjustments’, getting a letter from your doctor or union representative, or some other form of advocate. On a more personal level, it may mean spending more time working on your breathing, managing anxiety, ensuring you are looking after yourself physically, working on improving your sleep, water intake, healthy eating, exercise and generally being really kind to yourself. This can be incredibly difficult when things are tough and stressful. It can also be difficult to keep in contact with friends and you might feel alone – but there are always avenues of support – you deserve giving yourself the best chance. Find familiar things at work and build them into your day – whether that may be going somewhere for lunch that you are comfortable with, keeping in touch with a colleague you are friends with, or working on something that you know you are good at. The bigger, strategic, high-level changes may be out of our hands, but at a more ‘down to earth’ level, we can find ways and means to help ourselves and each other manage the otherwise stressful effects of workplace change. Any helpful ideas from your experience? Please feel free to share them in the comments. x
I’d like to add a disclaimer that this isn’t advice for sufferers of eating disorders or others who have negative relationships with exercise and / or body image. These are simply my own thoughts for things that have helped me.
There have been times in recent years, and even months where I have felt like my brain, my mind was exploding, deconstructing, self-destructing, and taking my nervous system with it. There was a point in my childhood at school where I was on a daily basis experiencing emotional, psychological, verbal abuse and on a few occasions physical attacks from my peers. This was mainly in the first two years of high school, and so the friends that I made after that either did not really know what was going on for me, and I didn’t know how to articulate it, so people assumed I was just quiet, shy and studious, which I was but a lot of the lack of speaking and problems socialising was because I was walking around severely traumatised. But something in me broke. The damage in those two years had been done, I was in such pain I didn’t want to live, I hated myself and had a distorted self image, and didn’t care anymore whether I lived, but this remained unexpressed so no one really knew, and I just quietly kept my head down, got good grades, got on with things, and tried to keep it together but the pain never went away and I never felt even moderately ‘ok’ inside even though appearances on the surface might have told a more positive story. The trauma had no where to go, I can only say that it felt, including physically with chronic pain that I couldn’t really explain to people, like my brain had ‘broken’, and was malfunctioning and this as an adult manifested as complex PTSD. Because I am a smart young woman, people didn’t really consider that this was the case, until several medical health professionals and consultants provided a diagnosis to this silent daily suffering. Eventually I just wasn’t coping and had to reach out for help and the help I have had over the past few years has enabled me to see a way forwards although some of it was gruelling work at the time. Your brain is not ‘broken beyond repair’ – it just sometimes takes a lot of incredibly hard work and support to get to a point of breakthrough.
I was never much of a person for being into exercise, and still I am not a fitness fanatic, but I do try to do something a few times a week, even if for a short amount of time. I have learned that exercise isn’t just about keeping the body fit, or boosting those ‘feel good’ chemicals. It also, importantly, helps to retrain the mind, in a positive direction, and helps keep mind and body ‘in step’ if you’ll pardon the pun, and I think helps to rewire new neural connections. I have noticed that people, even your ‘average’ person, who engage in some kind of fitness often become focussed, determined and press through their personal limitations even if this is on a modest and moderate level. When people reach a personal best there tends to have been a psychological barrier that was broken that enabled them to persevere, well before crossing a ‘finish line’. I don’t exercise as an escape or as a ‘fix’, but I do know that it is something that over time is improving my mental agility and speeding up my recovery from severe childhood trauma. This needs to be a balanced for some people though, who might take exercising to an extreme – I can safely say that I’m a bit too ‘lazy’ for that ever to be a problem for me.
There are times when I can sense aspects of the trauma ‘getting to me’ again. And I am reminded that what ‘broke’ within my mind as a child doesn’t need to stay in that irreparable state of heightened fear, pain, helplessness and distress. I no longer have to be in a psychological ‘free fall’ unable to stay grounded or to cope with the explosions in my brain that make no sense logically in my adult life where things aren’t an actual threat to me. There is a verse in Scripture that admonishes one to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). Scripture also elsewhere talks about the importance of physical exercise (but in the context of training ourselves in godliness and righteousness as even more important). There are also several passages that use analogies of spiritual discipline being like running a race, preparing for battle, being ready, focused and alert. I believe that although renewing our minds with Truth is the most important thing for us mentally, exercise also has an active role to play in moving towards psychological breakthrough. You are proving to your body and mind that you can do it, even when you feel you are otherwise malfunctioning. You are training your mind to persevere, to push through barriers, and to succeed. Even when I feel that sense of things resurfacing, like this evening, I don’t necessarily have to engage in exercise to know that it is there for me and it has already been of benefit – I can remember the times I have persevered physically and mentally, I have pressed through I did overcome, and what seems insurmountable psychologically in relation to trauma is put in its place as I take my thoughts captive (as the Bible says taking thoughts captive ‘ in obedience to Christ’) and exercise my mental agility to push through and take control and work towards recovery, mental strengthening and over time, a better quality of life.
I want to encourage those of you who have been trying so hard, but are struggling to ‘make progress’ in your recovery from trauma. Trauma is a complex issue, and although I am not a medical professional, I am a sufferer and survivor, and working on being a victor of severe complex post traumatic stress….or C-PTSD, but I personally don’t find the ‘D’ for ‘disorder’ a particularly helpful term.
Trauma can be the result of a one off event, or it could be caused by cumulative traumas and stresses which result in ‘complex’ trauma. No matter how seemingly ‘big’ or ‘small’ the trauma seems to someone on the outside, the impact is how it affects you individually and how it triggers your threat responses of fight / flight / freeze, and the anxiety, panic, fear and heightened emotions that result. When you are overpowered, shocked or in danger this can have a significant impact on your nervous system, and particularly when trauma occurs in childhood, especially if it is repeated and severe, the effects can be devastating and last well into adult life. What might not affect one person could have a huge impact on another, so it is not our place to judge whether someone should be ‘better’ yet.
However, often the biggest judgements come from ourselves. We feel that we have been trying *so* hard for *so* long that we surely *ought* to be better by now. Can you relate to this frustration and self blame?
The thing is, it is not so simple a situation of cause and effect that if one does A + B + C then after X amount of time, one will be ‘fixed’ or at least able to function on a ‘normal’ level. It just doesn’t work that way. Traumatic experiences cause our brains, nervous systems, emotions and bodies to react in a self protective way. Sometimes, especially in childhood, we ‘dissociate’ to block out and try to manage the pain, we’re ‘not really there’, but as we grow into adulthood, this survival mechanism becomes a maladaptive coping mechanism when we find it encroaching into daily life. Whether your trauma was a natural disaster, bereavement, childhood bullying, abuse, or a car accident, or ……you fill in the blanks….or a cumulative result of various stressors, your brain simply did not have the chance to process what happened, and so parts of you may remain ‘stuck’ in the trauma. I was in this situation for several years, and only recently have felt like I have been coming out of it and able to use my overwhelming experiences to help other people, rather than merely try to hold on and get through life somehow.
If you are in a place of feeling like the same cycle keeps repeating itself, the same flashbacks, memories, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks, insomnia, fear, agoraphobia, dizziness, dissociation, suicidal ideation (sometimes the brain’s way of trying to escape a situation we can’t cope with – there is always help, suicide is never the answer) feeling trapped between past and present, as if living in a waking nightmare where you are not in control of what seems to be ‘exploding’ in your mind, no matter how much work you put in, then please, please be gentle with yourself.
There is no set or objective time limit on recovery. The tangle within you may seem to be going nowhere and you may just keep feeling ‘stuck’….that is because your experiences remain unprocessed, and that is ok, it is normal, and it is not your fault….if only I had someone to tell me that earlier then I would have been saved from a lot of distress and self blame as to why I couldn’t simply ‘leave the past behind’ and get better already. The trauma gets ‘stored’ as it were not only in our brains but our bodies and nervous systems too.
So what should you do? I would encourage you that if you feel you are going through something like PTSD or trauma of any sort and can’t integrate past and present memories and experiences such that they are significantly interfering with your ability to cope with every day life, to get help as soon as possible….and know that it is never too late. I didn’t get help for trauma and was undiagnosed for over two decades, but I am making good progress now, even though the process was frightening and very tough….there is hope my friend.
Please don’t feel like you have to ‘tough it out’ on your own….it just doesn’t work that way….it isn’t a case of not being strong enough….I thought I should just be able to persevere through it, but my system was falling apart and I was pretty much malfunctioning and in constant heightened distress….that’s no way to live my friend, and if I can help someone to not have to go through what I did then I am blessed in that.
Please ask for help from a medical professional, and tell your friends what you are going through. Even if you’re not sure if you are traumatised, at least ask for an assessment, check up or diagnosis….there are plenty of treatments available out there. You need to feel safe and calm, so if you are not in danger then you can try working on various coping techniques. If you are in danger, please contact someone for emergency help whether that is the Police or a support service or call a helpline.
If you are physically safe, then here are some things you can think about doing.
Let someone or a few people you know and trust know what you are going through, and how serious you feel it is. Don’t worry about whether or not they will understand, they may not, but please reach out for help, and if you don’t have anyone, or don’t feel confident to tell someone you know then reach out whether that be to an organisation, a helpline or a professional.
Seek professional and medical help. This is so important because really we can’t cope with this on our own. This may be a huge step for you as it was for me, but please know that this is totally normal just as if you had a broken leg you wouldn’t hesitate to get help, please don’t see this as any different. It can help to have someone there for support so if you have a friend or family member who can be there with you don’t feel like you have to go it alone.
3. Write it down. It can be so difficult to try to articulate what we are experiencing, and writing things down can help on many levels from being able to communicate to others the level of distress we are going through, and what the specific symptoms are, to being able to offload and try to begin to process things for ourselves. Your notebooks like mine may be splattered with tears, but it could just be that important part of the healing process in telling your story rather than keeping all that pain buried which will just keep resurfacing or manifesting itself in some way or another.
4. Create a self-care ‘toolbox’. That is to say, be aware of what makes you feel better in a healthy way, and prepare in advance to have something at hand for when you are not doing ok.
-It could be practicing breathing exercises to calm your nervous system and reduce the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ reaction,
-having positive affirmations to encourage yourself throughout the day,
-exercising when you can and getting fresh air and eating healthily,
-having a list of emergency contact numbers ready so that when things are overwhelming and you just don’t know what to do you already have something prepared and ready. Have a few key ‘go to’ people, people who know your situation and are available when you are feeling distressed to talk on the phone or visit you if you feel in harm or danger. If you don’t feel you have anyone, note down some helplines on your emergency contact list.
-Have something comforting and tactile, whether it be a blanket, or a smooth stone or object in your hand to help keep you ‘grounded’ and present.
-Make a list of healthy distractions for those tough times when your thoughts get the better of you whether that be some safe and happy comedy programmes that won’t ‘trigger’ you, some craft or creative thing to do with your hands that will take your concentration away from your intrusive thoughts, a sweet you can keep in your mouth and concentrate on the texture and taste.
-Work on your 5 senses and noticing things around you to bring you into the present.
-Have a routine as much as possible and write down even the simplest things you need to do to keep your mind focussed even if it is as simple as eat something, brush teeth, etc. Sometimes our brains need that extra little prompt.
-Think of healthy wholesome things that make you feel good, so that you can build up those positive neural connections, and be aware of your triggers that lead to a slippery slope of rumination, negative thinking and heightened distress. Have something calming to listen to whether that be classical or instrumental music, nature sounds such as waves or birdsong, or whatever you find helpful…remember to keep it calm, and preferably without too much talking or lyrics so that your mind can relax.
-Practice muscle relaxation by clenching and gradually releasing one part of your body at a time, from your feet working up to your head, noticing your sensations as you do.
5. Be kind and gentle with yourself. While you are working through things, or awaiting professional help, or working with a professional trauma specialist things can and likely will get tough. This is why you need to exercise self-compassion and create a positive narrative and framework for how you see yourself and your experiences. Use your imagination, explore and create…it can be tough, but it also can be overcome. Things I did to try to make sense of overwhelming experiences were to think of what I would tell a young child going through what I did, what if it was another adult experiencing trauma what would I tell them, or a friend or loved one….show yourself no less compassion and be kind. I also imagined how I might feel towards a puppy that had been hurt or was in distress and looking broken and bruised and not very ‘loveable’ – how would I treat it to help it to gradually see how special it is, and to encourage it to get well and accept love and care – find your helpful ways of thinking of your situation and yourself so that you don’t have to also contend with those self-condemning thoughts that something is ‘wrong’ with you somehow to be going through all of this.
And lastly, know that you are not alone…you are never alone….even if it has felt that way for a very long time. There are stories of inspirational people who have gone through incredibly difficult things and are now doing well and even helping others….don’t feel like you’re not ok if you haven’t got there yet, but be inspired that it is possible, the human spirit can endure great hardships and overcome much and find meaning and purpose. This is not the end of your story or mine…in many ways it is just beginning so stay strong, reach out for help, and keep taking that next step….like athletes we need to stay in training and that includes our minds as well. xx
Hi everyone, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, and I have written quite a few posts on the topic of mental health since starting my blog a couple of years ago (which covers a whole variety of things, not just mental health).
This week in the United Kingdom is Mental Health Awareness Week. Although this particular Awareness Week for 2019 ends tomorrow, the need to be aware of mental health is so important each and every day for a myriad of reasons, personally and societally.
Mental Health affects everybody, just as physical health does. And we each find ourselves somewhere on the scale between mental wellness and mental illness just as our bodies at different points in our lives can be well or ill. Similarly, we may each be prone to various physical or mental conditions that affect our health and wellbeing.
Somehow though it has become easier and more acceptable to talk about an injured limb, organ or other physical condition than to talk about an injured mind or brain. Thankfully, the societal and personal stigmas surrounding mental wellbeing and mental illness are gradually being addressed and it seems that we are slowly beginning to accept that these things aren’t shameful, just as it isn’t shameful to have broken one’s arm, and that it is incredibly important to dissolve unnecessary stigmas and talk and raise awareness about such a vital part of human life. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. On a personal note, I had to confront my own stigmas and challenge those of people close to me and listen to the advice of those friends who saw me at a particularly low point and told me that I needed to get help. Years of childhood and adult stress, a chronic situation that our bodies and brains aren’t supposed to be under, resulted in me experiencing full blown symptoms of complex post traumatic stress, severe clinical depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. I didn’t, however know or understand what was happening to me, and it was very, very frightening. I blamed myself and felt ‘responsible’ for my mind, without realising that these kind of injuries can’t simply be ‘thought better’ and were not one being ‘weak minded’ as for me anyway, they were a result of my body and brain’s ‘default’ being to exist in fight / flight mode, imbalances in chemical regulation physiologically including with the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and the chemical sertraline. I have two first class degrees, and additional awards, and hold down a full time professional job within an organisation that focuses on helping the society and community and individuals facing difficulties on many levels, so having worked so hard to overcome the damage that a severe period of bullying in childhood and adult stress had done to me, and working in a profession that helped ‘really’ traumatised people with actual severe life situations, I felt and thought that I ‘ought to be’ able to function normally. And yet, the reactions my body, brain and mind were experiencing were in fact very normal reactions to difficult life events…and I had in fact done so well to have come so very far, and still be helping society on some level, even while I was experiencing frightening flash backs, severe low mood, fear, anxiety, chronic pain, intrusive thoughts, disorientation, dizziness, dissociation, insomnia, nightmares and severe depression. I had to fight hard to do simple things like even wash a cup or make a meal or walk across the room. I felt like my brain was exploding and there was no off switch or mute button or way to turn it down to get relief. So out of absolute helplessness and necessity for my survival I reached out and went to the doctor (something I was frightened to do, and something I was also advised against in case it affected my career – it didn’t – in fact I have since been very supported at work), and with the encouragement of some friends I finally took that brave step a few years ago and I am so glad that I did. Despite waiting lists, the help from the NHS I have been given both in terms of medicine and psychological support has been incredibly beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, there was no ‘quick fix’ – it has taken several years of commitment, showing up, doing the hard work to be in a place where I can manage my symptoms rather than them ruining my life. And I realise that I have a ‘toolkit’ to be able to get stronger and stronger and help other people too, so this blog post is a real victory, and I thank God for that.
I want to encourage you if you yourself are struggling….with anything…or know a friend, family member or colleague who you think might be struggling with their mental wellbeing to be brave and take that first step to reach out. I do believe you will be listened to and supported. I know it can be daunting, but there are so many resources out there, and there are professionals who understand what is happening to you even if they don’t necessarily know or understand your individual life experiences, and it could just change or save your or somebody else’s life.
I don’t know what the best resources are in other countries, but in the UK, here are some very helpful, caring, professional sources that you can reach out to – even if you don’t have any issues as such but just want to learn more whether that be to grow in awareness of mental health issues, or to gain understanding of someone you know, then these are a great place to start.
Please do leave a comment if there are any particular things you’d like to raise awareness of as I would like to write more about mental health and learn from you too as this is so important and might be just what somebody out there needs to hear.
I’ve also linked to a YouTube channel of a licensed mental health professional who is very relatable, so that’s something anyone can access which is good if you’re based in another country.
Love to you all and thanks for reading, and for being you. Never be afraid to reach out and ask for help – that’s what it’s there for, and everyone is important and valuable. Also, if you know of any helpful resources in your country leave a comment in case someone else is looking for help where you are. Thanks. xx
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so please see this as a personal piece of writing, and follow up with your own research as required.
Living with chronic pain can be overwhelming. The sources of chronic pain are numerous, and can derive from neuropathic sources where there is nerve damage, from external injury, from psychosomatic pain and / or a combination of these as well as various other factors.
Psychosomatic pain can be wide ranging, but can include pain stemming from depression, post traumatic stress, complex (severe and repeated) trauma, grief, and so forth and can be just as intense and debilitating as pain from more physically identifiable sources. Neurological pathways in the brain can be triggered causing pain receptors to be stimulated with psychosomatic pain being as ‘real’ and intense as pain from nerve damage and / or external injury.
Living with ongoing pain can also have a massive impact upon a person’s mental health, outlook on life, general wellbeing, and relationships with others. However, just as pain can be triggered by non-physical factors, I believe, so too can it be alleviated similarly as well.
There is a light-hearted phrase that I find particularly helpful to bear in mind. That is: “neurons that fire together, wire together”. (Donald Hebb, 1949 – Canadian neuropsychologist). What this means is that our brain cells communicate with each other in a process that involves synaptic transmission where chemicals or neurotransmitters are released and absorbed by other brain cells, in a process that can be called ‘neuronal firing’. Whenever we have any experience, feeling, physical experience, or thought (yes, thought), this process occurs and over time ‘neural networks’ are formed, and such pathways can be strengthened, and can trigger the process of this ongoing ‘communication’ with other cells in the ‘network’.
Simply put, if pain sensations are triggered, then certain neural networks are activated, and pain is intensified.
As I italicised above, thoughts can trigger the firing of neurons and the wiring of neural connections. If you think about it, if you dwell on a negative thought or on a painful symptom, you are more likely to experience that pain with greater intensity, remember other times and experiences when you were in pain, and feel less resistant to overcoming it.
Similarly, if by thought you can activate the ‘pleasure sensors’ in the brain, you are more likely to remember other positive experiences, feel calmer and more able to manage your pain-related symptoms, and gain resistance and even the ability to withstand greater levels of pain.
I do believe that to some extent, what you focus on ‘expands’. From personal experience, focusing on pain tends to make it feel all the more overwhelming, whereas engaging in healthy distractions for the mind such as absorbing oneself in a creative pursuit, taking time to dwell on positive experiences, keeping a ‘gratitude journal’, practicing calming exercises such as controlled breathing and focusing on natural and beautiful things can overtime strengthen our ability to “activate” those neural pathways that trigger pleasurable sensations over painful ones, and overtime the exercise of this habit can greatly strengthen our fortitude to manage and overcome chronic pain, or at the least to alleviate it to some extent.
Please bear in mind that I am not advocating doing this to the exclusion of utilising medical help and prescribed pain relief. As mentioned previously the sources of chronic pain are numerous, therefore I would not venture to provide such foolhardy advice – there is a place for medical treatment of course. However, chronic pain can often leave people feeling overwhelmed, defeated and like victims of their conditions. Taking control of our thoughts and strengthening positive neural networks in our brain brings back an element of control into the process and can add to our feelings of fulfilment in life.
I wish you all well on your journeys and hope that you find relief and blessing, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.