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Sun 24 April 2022

The Impacts of 'Trivial' Trauma

By all standards, I am very successful. I have more money than I know what to do with, an amazing business that I LOVE, a family I adore, and a mental illness, or two I could well do without. A sure sign that mental illness is an ‘equal opportunity mongrel’ no amount of money is going to make it go away, although it does certainly help with getting good therapy.


But accepting that I needed help was the real challenge. I felt I should be able to manage by myself like I’m an amazing professional who flies all over the world for their job, I appear to ‘have it all together but my life was unravelling, one drink or better known as one self-medicating moment at a time. It was not until my husband sat me down one day and called it how it is, totally unemotionally. It was fact. I couldn’t argue it. I think part of me was relieved because I couldn’t go on pretending but oh my god was it humiliating and awful and I’ve never felt so low in all my life. BUT it was my chance to move forward differently and luckily, I had the support around me to do just that. I’m not sure I would have if I left it any longer, and that would have literally killed me.


The important part of my story is I knew exactly what had triggered it, and I felt like it was a ridiculous overreaction to the actual incident. I was sexually assaulted catching a train to work. Now, I hate even using the word sexual assault, because while I know that’s what it is called, a man grabbed my butt when I walked past him, hardly end of the world stuff, but it was the end of mine. I was such a confident young person, and at that moment, I felt frozen with fear and completely useless in helping myself. I felt vulnerable, I felt angry, really bloody angry, mostly at myself, I felt violated, and I never said a word. Not like me at all. I would have had a lot to say if I had seen that happen to someone else. I really let myself down at that moment, and it made me reassess who I actually was. I thought about reporting the incident, but I talked myself out of it, it was relatively minor in the scheme of things. But I relived that incident in infinite detail twice a day, on the train to work and on the train from work. On the train to the airport, on the train to holidays, on every damn train, every damn day. I thought and rethought of how I should have managed the situation, what I should’ve said, whether I should have reported it. I gave very little thought to the fact that the incident was totally not ok, and totally not my fault. It was all about my reaction to it.


I had convinced myself I could manage the situation, but I couldn’t. My anger boiled over in extremely inappropriate spaces and to a completely inappropriate level. My family wore the brunt of it. I was asked to take some ‘time off work to get on top of my mental health. I was humiliated and convinced that time off was the last thing I needed, I felt like I had been sacked. That was when my husband gave me the healthy dose of perspective that I needed. Timely indeed.


You know what I learned. Psychological trauma requires the same treatment and attention as physical trauma. If you had broken your leg, it requires rest, plaster, and when you get that plaster off, you aren’t straight back into running marathons, it's baby steps. Once I gave myself permission to ‘recover’ this way as opposed to beating myself up about how I responded to what I still considered a trivial incident, things got better, every day. Slowly but surely, I started to manage my emotions, and I had a self-care routine that was a ‘must’.


I also got therapy, a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis and a depression diagnosis, and I went on medication. It was life-changing. I know the debate on medication continues and it's very personal to the individual, but for me, I’ll never stop taking it. It was a huge part in me getting my life back together,


If any of this story resonated with you, the only advice I can give is to treat your mental health the same way as your physical health. If you had a chronic fatigue diagnosis, you change your daily expectations. If you have a mental illness diagnosis, you need to change your daily expectations, give yourself the time to heal, and keep working at it every single day. Because what I’ve learned through my journey is irreplaceable. For me, the journey back to wellness is so intrinsic to who I am, and I am bloody proud of me. So are my family. I just wish I had accepted the fact that my trauma, though it appeared trivial to me, totally obliterated my sense of self and I needed to take the time to rebuild that in order to recover.