|Posted on 16 April, 2017 at 16:00|
Bad Things Don't Happen to Good People ..... Or Do They?
At the moment trauma is separated into physical and psychological. But trauma is trauma. It is easier to understand physical trauma, we can see it, we can relate to it but psychological trauma is hidden .... no one can see it, and its much more difficult for others to relate to. Trauma occurs when anevent in your life is so severe, so intense, that it shakes your core beliefs ..... of who you are or how the world works.
Trauma introduced itself to me in the form of a devastating house fire just over six years ago. Fortunately for me I was out with the dog while the fire started, but did have the unfortunate experience of having to return home to find my house engulfed in flames. I remember at the time telling myself that this was not going to be a major event in my life ... a minor blip I called it. Little did I know that this minor blip was about to change the entire course of my life ... for the better.
The next few years were darker than I could have ever imagined. My physical health started to decline. I have a type of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis, and the trauma of the fire caused it to flare up, in a very big way. The pain was intense and unrelenting. I was suffering, sweating, shaking, scared and in high levels of pain in various joints in my body. The treatment was to start injecting myself with potentially cancer causing immunosuppressant therapy. I struggled with so many different things. I struggled with why something so horrible happened to me. I was a good person, I gave to charity, I volunteered my time, I liked to help others. When I couldn't find a 'reason', when I couldn't determine why this happened to me ...... I was left with only one conclusion ...... I must be a bad person. I thought that I was being punished for something that I had done, when I could't find that something .... it had to be me. Bad things don't happen to good people..... Right? WRONG!!!
The trauma really 'scrambled' my brain. It was just too much at once for it to cope with. As I started to understand the brain body connection it made sense to me why all these strange physical symptoms were popping up as well. My brain was so traumatized that when it was communicating with my body .... the message was also of trauma. It's no surprise that physical symptoms also manifested.
Upon reflection, I can see now that what I was struggling with so much change. Change that I didn't want, change that I didn't ask for, and change that I felt I didn't need. At that time I wasn't very good at handling change. I loved my life, I loved my home, my routines, walking the dog, going to the gym, meeting with friends. I was not a 'go with the flow' kind of person. I liked to plan, I liked to organize, and reorganize, and re-plan, and have a contingency plan, and a contingency plan for the contingency plan. I think you get the point. With so many parts of my life being in a state of upheaval, I was desperate to return to the way things were. It took me a number of years to fully comprehend that things would never be the sameagain ..... and that was ok.
Humans need stability. At the same time, we also need to be able to accept & cope with change. I needed to reframe my beliefs about change ..... I can't handle it, I don't like it, things are fine the way they are. How I felt about the change, or what I believed about the change did not impact the change ....... only me. That's right .... my thoughts affected me, but not the situation, and as my thoughts were mostly negative, so was my state of mind, which also affected my physical health and round and round it went. My self esteem and self worth plummeted. I disconnected myself from my friends and my family. Since I was a bad person, anybody that was my friend was going to be 'tainted' by my evil. I woke EVERY morning crying and afraid to go to bed at night. I knew going to bed would mean bad dreams, and having to wake up again the next morning, and re remember everything that was going on. Then the tears would start all over again. I was as low as one could be. When the days turned to years, I realized that I needed to change. Something had to change .... I couldn't continue to live my life like this...... I was only in my 30's, and completely falling apart. I needed to change the way I was living, I needed to change the way I felt about the fire, and the way I felt about my self.
So 'One Day in May' I made a radical decision to leave my job with the government and take my yoga teacher training. I knew for my physical body to heal I needed to keep moving. If I didn't my joints would fuse together and I would lose my mobility. My training was transformational and started me on a path that I had previously not even dreamed of. Through continued studies and practice of yoga, my path was now 'yogic' I've learned to almost embrace change. I no longer view it as something negative anymore. I am better at handling change and look forward to seeing what the change will bring me. I see change as an opportunity for growth. I'm so grateful that I found yoga and it's teachings, principals & ideology. I believe its yoga that helped me heal and continues to help me heal.
In addition to my attitudes around change, I believe that another factor that hindered my healing was the stigma around mental health. That stigma prevents a lot of people from talking openly about what is happening for them, myself included. Immediately after my fire, I didn't want to tell anybody about what happened, because I felt that I had done something wrong. I thought that other people would think I was a bad person or would wonder what I had done to deserve that. Or just assume that I was a bad person. I experienced the pain of this stigma firsthand in my work environment. One Supervisor did not understand at all what was happening. She labelled me as 'stupid', told others she felt so, and continued to treat me as though I didn't deserve to be there. None of my close friends or immediate family treated me any differently, but anyone that didn't know the reason behind my 'erratic' behaviour simply judged .... I felt it.
I understand that mental illness can be fearful for people, but mental illness is a disease, like heart disease or diabetes. We can't will ourselves to get over heart disease , or cheer up and heart disease will go away. Depression, anxiety and many other mental illnesses are a result of a medical condition in which the brain just isn't secreting the same chemicals. Just like a diabetic isn't producing insulin sufficiently. Mental Illness is no more a flaw in character than diabetes.
Mental Illness is not attention seeking behaviour. If one were able to live 'a day in the life' of someone who is experiencing depression or anxiety, it would quickly be understood that mental illness is not something that anyone would choose. As I was experiencing various symptoms of PTSD like mood swings, extreme fear, lack of sleep and tremors, my personality was definitely affected. I sought help via many different avenues only to find that I wasn't 'sick enough' to access services. We have a Mental Health crisis in BC with not enough programs to assist people who are struggling. I was told that if I lost my job then I could access services but there was nothing available to me to help me while I was still struggling to keep my job. I saw a counsellor under my EAP program, but they were not a trauma counsellor and were not effective in assisting me. I felt so alone. I did not have any family in the city I was living in, my work environment was toxic, I had isolated myself from my friends and my physical & mental health were failing. I reached out for help, but was not able to find any.
After I left my job and turned to the yogic path, my life started to improve. I was so grateful to have yoga in my life at the time, and even more grateful that I was able to attract such amazing and wonderful students. I only shared the depth of my pain with a handful of them, but got amazing support and solace just being in group company.
Four years after the fire I had healed quite a bit but was still plagued with a number of symptoms. I found myself completely disconnected from my community. I no longer answered my phone or the door. I didn't invite anybody into my home. I was afraid really to go outside. I just didn't want to leave my house except for work. I felt I had stagnated in my healing and growth. I found that there were so many triggers around me that it was hard for me to let go of the trauma. It was hard for me to move on when I was surrounded by traumatic memories. I decided to leave town and move closer to my folks who lived in Penticton. I continued with my practice, my healing and my training. I was fortunate enough to find my home which had a small studio space attached to it and I opened up Penticton Yoga Therapy.
My goal is to share my story and lead others on their own path to wellness. I provide a safe, warm, and loving sanctuary to welcome anyone who is dealing with emotional trauma, recovering from mental health issues or experiencing physical pain in their bodies.
And now six years on from that event I find myself nearly healed. With regards to my physical health I've managed to calm my nervous system to such a point that I am no longer required to take heavy biologic medication to control my arthritis. This is something that neither my doctor nor my rheumatologist said would ever happen for me. As for my mental health, well I still have some bad days. I am still bothered by the sound of fire engines. I'm still slightly nervous that something is going to happen to the house that I'm in now. I still experience episodes of both depression & anxiety, but I believe most of my PTSD symptoms have subsided. For the most part, I have good days. I am much calmer, more grounded, and more compassionate to myself and others. Though these experiences, I now have an even wider variety of people that I can assist through my yoga therapy.
If you're experiencing any struggles with mental health right now I'd like to let you know that you're not alone. I hope my story is proof that you too can get through this. Physical pain, trauma and mental illness are life changing, but it doesn't have to be in a negative way. Please reach out to someone. If you have someone in your life that has anxiety or depression, talk to them about it, educate yourself, your effort is more appreciated than the result.
Please give others the the benefit of the doubt, if someone is acting 'weird' reserve judgment and ask if they are ok, look out for each other, and remember to have kindness in your thoughts, kindness in your words and kindness in your heart .... Namaste