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slept, experienced frequent (but mild) panic attacks, had decreased interest in usual activities, been irritable, withdrawn from friends and family.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.

12 Comments on “On reclaiming power in trauma

  1. OMG…you’re absolutely right. That’s what I’ve been feeling, too. I didn’t think of it as more PTSD being dragged to the surface. I also see/hear “ghosts from the past” in “that person” when they speak. I want to shake people and say, CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S NPD???? Because I hear a certain voice in EVERYTHING that person says, and it’s like being thrust back into a situation I had to fight like hell to escape.

    *gobsmacked*

    ((HUGS)) Thank you for this. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

    • Yeah, I have hated admitting it, but there’s a lot more power in acknowledging than hiding from the truth. I’m all about my power. He doesn’t get any of it. Ever.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I’m sitting here at work trying not to cry because you’ve articulated everything I’ve been feeling so eloquently.

  3. You’re definitely not alone, Heidi. I’ve been waking up at night thinking of the election, (probably after nightmares about it that, thank goodness, I can’t recall) and I’ve been angry at the media for treating that bastard like a joke and enabling him throughout the election. I’m angry at those in our nation’s security who knew our election was being hacked by a foreign government and essentially did nothing and allowed it to happen, and I’m really pissed off at the people who stand there, after proudly voting for ‘der Gropenfuhrer’ and say they’re not racist, homophobic bigoted misogynists.

    Because, dammit, they are.

    I keep hoping that our congress, especially those conservatives who have put party over people and country, will grow some balls and do the right thing for a change, but I doubt that’s going to happen. For years my husband has commented, when stupid things happen in politics (all the time) that we’re very much like the Roman Empire and due for a fall, and that scares me most of all. It would take very little for our country to devolve into the kind of chaos we’re seeing around the world.

    I live in California and we’re pretty liberal out here, but spouse and I went to dinner the other night with a group he’s a member of (an activity for old, retired farts) and everyone at our table suddenly started talking about how great things were going to be when the new president was sworn in. Spouse and I never said a word, but when we left (early) we decided we’re never attending another of their events. I felt physically ill, that people I’ve long thought of as friends were cheering for the idiot. And yes, that’s an easy way to end a friendship, because personal values are important.

    I applaud you for taking the positive steps you are, but your’e certainly not alone in your feelings. I doubt there’s a woman alive who hasn’t dealt with someone with the lack of morals that our president elect has, but being faced with it on a daily basis has left me feeling anxious and angry. And until he takes the oath of office, I’m going to keep hoping for a miracle. There are electors who are refusing to cast their vote for him. Just keep hoping that enough of them choose to do the right thing.

  4. Gods this post. I kept wondering how I haven’t been traumatized for over 20 yrs by my assault. I rarely thought about it. For a long time I didn’t even think about it as an assault because at the time we were a couple. Then after that video clip & the last (I can’t even remember now) 2 debates, last debate? I started having some panic attacks which had never even happened before when I actually was assaulted. Then I was completely dismissed by my family when I expressed concerns about my son’s safety. I feel fortunate that I haven’t had to go back on meds or worse. It still could be a possibility though. I’ve been channeling my upset into activism & rage donations. And making a vague plan for an exit strategy with my son if necessary.

  5. I’ve been through lots of elections (I’m 53), and I’ve never reacted the way I did to this one. I cried, several times. I tried to sleep, again several times, but couldn’t; I dragged myself to work the next day after crying into my cat’s fur at 2:00 a.m. The One Who Shall Not Be Named reminds me very much of my ex-husband (if my ex had money, power and fame).

    I was married for six years, and by the end, I blamed myself for *everything*. Once I was away from his toxic personality for a couple of months, I began to see how he was a perpetual victim who never took responsibility for anything and made me think I was the crazy one.

    The antipathy I have towards our PE is very real, and I also can’t stand looking at him, listening to him. I’m hoping and praying either the Electoral College will step up, or that impeachment proceedings will begin the same week he takes the oath.

    I’m so sorry that you’re experiencing PTSD. You can get through this; I very much doubt we’ll have to suffer through this for the next four years. In the meantime, I hope your therapy will be helpful! You’re such an inspiration; I look forward to reading your new books!

    • FWIW, I’m with you on hoping for impeachment hearings, and maybe a lawsuit or two. I hate seeing a man with power and money who also appears to have a teflon coating when it comes to the crap he keeps getting away with. I’ve seen a lot of presidents come and go (getting close to 70 so that’s part of the package) but have never witnessed the kind of crap we’re seeing with this idiot.

  6. Thank you so much for this. It’s totally true for me, it’s true for my best friend (who isn’t American but who still has to watch this ass strut all over the world stage acting out all the worst traits of the one who wounded her and getting rewarded for it), it’s true for so many of us. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s something else going on as well… the tendency of so many of us who oppose him to insist on painting the future in shades of darkest doom and despair. The world’s going to end, democracy is finished, civil rights will never recover. Not to say no bad things are going to happen… but in the atmosphere our friends and allies have created, self-care feels like treason. Doing what we need to not lose ourselves completely feels like delusion, like desertion. Just trying to see the good in the world and other people feels like criminal negligence. I’m back into therapy on Monday morning for the first time in years…. should have gone sooner.

  7. Taking care of yourself is the opposite of giving power to the Hate Cheeto. I turn fear and pain into anger as an ancient reflex, thus have been spending a LOT of time angry and a lot of energy talking myself down since the election. Usually less successfully than I’d like. It’s kept me less articulate too. PTSD is a bitch on wheels. Biggest hugs and love to you.

  8. “I can’t see people anymore. I see enemies and allies.” I feel a lot of what you are saying. I am getting ready for Christmas feeling like I am just going through the motions. I don’t even have a past trauma that I’m associating all this with, and I can barely function. I just keep thinking of everyone who will be hurt by not just trump, but the trifecta of terrorism that will be taking over all three branches of government. I think of all the people whom I once thought I knew and how they voted to declare war on my daughters.

    Wishing you all the best. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Thank you, bless you, peace be with you, and I am so fucking proud of you as both a writer and a survivor! You and your books always make me feel better, even in this whole sucky situation right now. Thank you for continuing to breathe and talk and write, because that IS the way you fight back against idiocy. So…thank you!

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