When I was 6 years old, I used to lie in bed at night and wish that, for just ten seconds, I could be every person in the world. I imagined that overnight the “essence” that was me could whip around the world, assimilating into the mind of every man, woman, and child just long enough to know what it felt like to be him or her. I don’t know where this idea came from, or why I was obsessed with it. Simply, I wanted to be connected to people around the world. Working out the details of the plan was what I did each night before falling asleep.
Needless to say, my plan never materialized, and I began looking for other ways to connect with people outside of my local playground. Two years later I wrote my first “novel.” It was a way I could provide something that could connect with lots of other people all at once. It took me a year to write the book about a family with two kids and a dog, and their adventures. The summer after third grade, I begged my mother to help me find a publisher. Instead she sent me to day camp where, on rainy days, they entertained us with such violent movies I crouched down on the floor behind the seat in front of me, out of view of the screen and not wanting to connect with anyone.
By the summer I was 13, in true adolescent fashion, my focus turned away from the world at large toward the smaller world of myself. I was caught up in hairstyling, clothing trends, and boys, when, just a few weeks before school reopened, I developed an infection for which my doctor – without reading my chart – prescribed a popular antibiotic. Had he taken the time to read my file, the doctor would have seen that the antibiotic he prescribed could possibly be deadly for me. Instead, we all figured that out together as the medication prompted an allergic reaction that turned me into the equivalent of a full-body burn victim. I was hospitalized, quarantined, and tended to by a burn unit team.
The Birth of Trauma
By the time I left the hospital weeks later, I’d lost 100% of my skin. More than that, I’d lost myself. If I was a happy-go-lucky kid before my illness, I was an anxious, angry, insomniac trying to fake being okay afterward. Fear drove my actions, reactions, and emotions all day, every day. Not wanting to look like a coward, and desperately wanting to reclaim the life and self I’d had before, I developed a chipper persona that I used to fake my way through every day.
While I could fool friends and teachers, to my family and me it was clear there was something very wrong. I became enormously depressed, raged if anyone asked me to discuss my hospital stay, and developed a recurring nightmare in which someone was trying to kill me. When I was released from the hospital, the staff made it clear that I would not survive this illness if it occurred again.
Trapped in a body that had betrayed me, and could again at any minute, I set off on over two decades of finding ways to both punish and detach from my body.
Because “posttraumatic stress disorder” was not a popular diagnosis back in the 1980s when my symptoms first emerged, and because I worked hard to hide every symptom and refused to discuss what was wrong, 24 years would pass before I actually began to heal the emotional and psychological damage that my illness caused.
By the time I was in my late 30s, decades of self-destructive behaviors and mental anguish had turned me into an isolated, high-anxiety, out-of-work, mental meltdown with serious physical health complications, including bone, muscle, liver, stomach, and intestinal dysfunction. Finally, I decided to admit the truth: That horrific trauma when I was thirteen had changed me in more ways that I had expected. It was time to learn to change again.
Making Change Happen for Myself
I set out on a healing rampage to find both a diagnosis for what plagued my mind (was I crazy, or was there something seriously wrong for which there was a cure?) and a process to heal my inner landscape as well as my body. The path to identifying the right diagnosis — posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — and healing from it led me to utilize both traditional and alternative methods for recovery.
Starting with talk therapy and cognitive behavior therapy, I also incorporated Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Emotional Freedom Technique, Thought Field Therapy, Tapas Acupressure Technique, acupuncture, and kinesiology. The combination of all of this got me back to functionality. I got out of bed; I went back to work. However, I wasn’t free. My quest continued until dance, hypnosis, and neurolinguistic programming finally pushed me through the last stage of PTSD recovery and out the other side. Today, I am 100% free of PSTD symptoms and have been for several years.
At the time of my recovery I was 40 years old with no job, no career, and none of the other things you might have expected a 40-year-old woman to have acquired, either socially or professionally. Not knowing what to do with myself in this new, PTSD-free world, I immediately felt moved to give back, to connect with trauma survivors of every type and help them on their journeys of recovery. Yes, trauma changes us, but we can change again and I wanted to help pull together information that allowed others to discover their own journey toward healing.
Making Change Happen for Others
With this goal in mind I founded the HealMyPTSD.com website, became trained as a posttrauma coach, launched a radio program that focuses on healing, began speaking about mental illness and health, and published BEFORE THE WORLD INTRUDED: Conquering the Past and Creating the Future, which gives an overview of trauma, PTSD, and the recovery process.
All of this work has put me in touch with people from around the world. In different cultures with varied traumatic experiences, I hear the same refrain from people: “How do you know exactly how I feel?” I always reply, “I don’t. I’m sharing how I feel.”
This connection between what I feel in my own self, and what people around the world feel, both thrills and stuns me. We can feel so alone and disconnected in our experiences and their impacts. The truth, however, is that we are all enormously connected. While we are unique in our traumas and healing paths, we are universal in our posttraumatic experience.
All those years when I was a little girl I thought connecting with the world meant you had to actually be everyone else in order to know them. I didn’t realize that the experiences we all have individually actually connect us globally; while we are unique, we are not special. The pain and grief and sadness and fear I have experienced are the same as so many people on earth. I didn’t have to go outside of myself to connect with those around me. As it turns out, all I had to do was go more deeply inside myself and then share that with the world.
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