On reclaiming power in trauma
This post isn’t about Yuri on Ice, believe it or not.
I’m definitely still in my initial stages of exploring this topic for myself, but it helps me to talk out loud, and it helps me to feel like I’m helping other people recognize if they’re in the same boat themselves. I know that’s the case because every time I bring this subject up I’m drowned in comments and emails and notes of people saying, “I feel that way too.”
I’ve not been shy about admitting I haven’t been able to handle the post-election fallout well, and the truth is it very quickly became only a tiny bit about the election itself. Despite all my efforts to use logic, coping mechanisms, and every tool in my not insignificant arsenal to assert self care, since November 9 I have barely eaten, barely slept, experienced frequent (but mild) panic attacks, had decreased interest in usual activities, been irritable, withdrawn from friends and family. I am unable to listen to any news and even a few news stories, even simply Twitter headlines can send me into a terrible spiral. I don’t mean that I’m simply upset. I mean that one story about the CIA can mean I won’t sleep. Sometimes a simple photo of a certain individual who won the electoral college can render my appetite dead for eight hours. In no way am I exaggerating my reactions. They’re intense and upsetting and I am, despite all my efforts, unable to control them. I’m managing them, but I cannot get ahead of them, not in the way that I want. And as December 19 (the day the electoral college votes) approaches, all my anxieties get worse.
I have my coping mechanisms, but they’re bandaids, and I’m very aware of this. So today with great eagerness I went to my new therapist and fifteen minutes into her gentle leading chatter I abruptly took hold of the conversation and said I wanted to talk about something, and I explained what was happening to me. I laid it all out. We’ve already talked about this in my introductory visit, but I really put the whole corpse on the table, and I was honest and calm but also raw about it, and then I said, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to move forward, can you help me?”
I knew she wouldn’t have a magic wand. I didn’t expect her to fix me, but I hoped she could give me a tool or at least some insight so I could move forward or at least not feel so helpless. She did give me something, and it was odd, because it was something I already knew. But it was oddly magical after all, simply having someone else say it to me, to have me lay that all out and then have her name it. See it. Acknowledge it too.
Basically, I’m reliving trauma. This really is PTSD. Old wounds are fresh, past pain returned. It’s shocking and painful to my present self because I thought that was done, gone, but it’s shocking and painful also because that pain is still real. And my reaction this time is to freeze. There’s nothing I can do, and so I am standing still, bleeding out, watching things fall.
I’m working on trying to move. This post is part of it. I don’t like losing control, and I’d rather tell the whole world that I’m having a hard time than slink around quietly pretending otherwise. I’d rather put a pike in the ground with tears down my face bleeding than bleed on the inside and stumble around while people wondered what was wrong with me as I continued to fall more and more spectacularly. Also, I know I’m not the only one having trouble. Apparently therapy offices are full of people like me. Like, full. This fucking election woke up all of us. Some people are angry and fired up, and I love you for that. Please go fight.
Those of you who need to sob and bleed, those of you frozen who can’t move, my hand is up. I’m in this corner, if you need to huddle.
Here’s the thing that I talked about today, the thing that made me sob all the way home, the thing that drove me to blog, that I need to climb on top of so I can find better footing. It’s not just that the man who assaulted me and fucked with my head has merged in my mind with the President Elect, that ever time I see him or hear him or read his name I feel physically ill, the way I did when I was young. It’s that every time I see people who voted for him or discarded the threat of him and protest voted I see enemies and enablers. I see the people who I told and didn’t believe me. I see the people who dismissed me. I see the people who made excuses and didn’t help. I understand intellectually it’s not the same, but the problem is, trauma doesn’t work that way. It’s a reptile response, and at this point when I drive down a road and see a Trump bumper sticker, my brain says, enemy, threat, get out, get out, they hate you, they don’t care what happens to you or anyone you love, they’re monsters. I can’t see people anymore. I see enemies and allies. It’s really exhausting, and I want to quit, but it’s not that simple.
I have been crying pretty much since my appointment, but honestly that’s good. They’re different tears than the ones I cried right after the election. Those were tears of panic, and these are release, mourning. While I drove Sia’s “The Greatest” was playing, and I immediately put it on repeat and cranked it as loud as my eardrums could stand. It’s playing now, so loud the bass is like a heartbeat in my head, Sia entreating me over and over again not to give up, reminding me I’m free to be the greatest and that I have stamina. And at some point a triangle of images formed in my head, three Heidis from three different times of my life when this trauma was sharpest. The time of the incident, which was such a hellish, awful time on so many levels, a Heidi floating on a sea of chaos, barely feeling. The Heidi in her early twenties, returning home and seeing him in town and recoiling in fear, having panic attacks, trauma spilling over until random things triggered her and she melted down at college, ending up in her first real therapy session with the campus pastor, the first person to believe her.
Then there’s the current me, the last leg of the triangle. We stand across time and space, regarding each other, feeling each other’s pain and shock and helplessness. I have tried to send strength to them, showing them where we end up, and they in turn have sent strength back to me, reminding me that we did in fact find a way to go forward, that it hasn’t been that the trauma has been eating us alive all this time. And yet I’m also noticing there’s a need to stand here and acknowledge it, to witness. To say, “this is a thing we are all having, and it is awful and painful and none of us deserve it, whether or not we can endure it. Maybe we are the greatest and have stamina, but this is a shitty thing we have, and we all hate it.”
It’s funny, that’s the thing I resist the most, because it feels like a dark pit, as if acknowledging it sucks is the most dangerous thing, that which will suck me down. And yet every time I join the others in admitting how much this hurts, how much I hate it, how much I am still both of them no matter how old and smart I am, how wise I may have become–every time I jump into what I’m afraid is darkness, that’s when I’m able, even if only for a moment, to sing along with Sia and spin in a spark of light.
I can’t call Senators. I can’t protest or picket. I can’t yell or scream, even though I have in the past. When you see me gleefully tweeting about anime or anything at all, I may be indulging in my privilege to ignore the woes of the world, but it isn’t the case that if I didn’t ignore it I would be out there fighting. The only other choice for me right now is destruction. I hate admitting that, but it’s where I am. If I had to spend my days lobbying politicians and arguing against who we have elected I would last less than a week and then I would need to be hospitalized. Absolutely no hyperbole in that sentence.
That said, I know my way out of this. One, therapy. Lots and lots of fucking therapy. I have so many goddamned appointments, honey, and I’m going to all of them. All of them. Crying is happening too. I’m hoping soon when I wake up at three AM I can come down and cry and journal rather than simply watch Haikyuu! and try to forget the world exists. As soon as the smoke clears on Christmas I’ll be back to full time writing too, and that will help me as well, because work has always calmed and focused me. You can bet your ass this will all bleed into my books, and that’s a good thing. Directly and indirectly, but what will matter is I can create those worlds and feel as if I have control. I am not okay right now. But I know what I need to do in order to get to okay again.
And now we get to the other reason I wrote this post, in addition to it being therapeutic for me to confess. If you read this and you feel this way at all, if you’re having trouble because of this fucking election, whether or not you feel you have a right to feel that way or it’s silly or not or you’re overreacting–if you relate to anything I said here even a little, please, please go find yourself a good talk therapist. They’re not magicians, but they’re wonderful mirrors. Someone to help you see yourself and what you’re doing and where you’re trying to go.
Even if you can’t do that, if you’re having trauma because of this election or for any reason, don’t feel ashamed, and don’t feel alone. And don’t feel powerless. I may be down now, but I’m not felled, not by any measure. It’s not about whether or not you fall. It’s how you get back up again.
I definitely have a mountain to climb. But Sia’s right. I do have stamina. And the hell if I’m giving up. Then, now, or ever.