Trauma recovery and disability

I have tried to write this piece almost ten times now. I have two versions sitting on my laptop. One is the version no one will perhaps ever see; it bares everything. And then there are another eight that I have started, finished and deleted. Writing is always a fine line. The line teeters between what you desperately want to say, what you should say, and then a combination of both.

Everyone on the face of the planet also has multiple sides to themselves. The one they present to the world, and then the side that no one sees, which only reveals itself late at night when the house is quiet. It’s full of messy thoughts, anger, resentment, confusion, self-consciousness, self-doubt, self-hatred, grief.

No one dares to show that side to the world. Because the world wants you always to appear strong, confident and outgoing. Society tells you that you must always put on a brave face and never show anyone you are anything less than a beacon of light. In basic terms, never show that you are in pain, and never under any circumstances talk or reveal your trauma.

I firmly believe that everyone’s life is a complicated mess of weaves and patterns like a tapestry, full of magical moments and character-defining moments: the moments we want to relive repeatedly and where we want to bury the hatchet.

Comparison is a tricky game to play, and I don’t want to be the person to say that a disability life is more complicated than the life of someone who doesn’t have a disability. In saying that, however, the patterns and weaves of a disability are added to the tapestry of life, which then becomes even more complicated.

Not only are you having to deal with the ‘normal’ highs and lows of life: births, marriages, success, love, heartbreak, grief, funerals, and careers. You are also having to deal with potentially even more uncertainty and grief, rapidly declining health and often isolation.

In my life, adding a disability to the tapestry of life has created its fair share of trauma.

The ever so faithful dictionary defines trauma as ‘a profoundly distressing or disturbing event’. Safe to say, many of us go through some form of trauma, and you don’t realise it.

For those of us with a disability, I feel it safe to say that our odds of experiencing extra trauma are heightened.

Each negative experience: doctor’s rooms, unfavourable medical news, bullying, abuse, neglect, isolation, surgeries, rehabilitation, watching friends pass from the same illness, and watching yourself decline, are often incredibly confronting and distressing things to have to go through.

At times, it can feel like the trauma is swallowing you up, and each event strips a little more of who you are away with it.

That added onto an ‘average’ life often means that trauma is engrained into your every being.

Unfortunately, I am no exception to the rule. I have experienced my fair share of trauma in my 24 years on this earth. Some are disability-related, and others are just part of an ‘average’ life.

Having to deal with trauma from an incredibly early age, particularly watching myself get weaker and weaker, losing the ability to run, climb, and keep up with my friends at school, combined with watching loved ones pass to cancer and dementia before I was even a teenager, and having to carry that before you are an adult, is an incredible amount to take. There are a host of other traumatic experiences that I have experienced over my life, but for now, they are just too raw to discuss. And perhaps will never discuss.

Some situations have cut me to my core and made me question what my purpose was in life with my disability—I tried to hope and wish my problem away. It took me 13 years to deal with the trauma and my feelings surrounding my grandfather’s passing. It’s taken me 24 years (literally my whole life) to deal with accepting my disability and the trauma and life lessons that come alongside it.

But they have all, in some way though, shaped me into who I am. Having no choice in the matter in essentially all of these events, I had to step up and push through it.

That isn’t to say that it hasn’t left its mark. I am still actively seeking counselling and therapy. I know in time, they will heal, and I can reflect without wanting to scream or cry or feel sick to my core.

The trauma I have experienced in my life created a host of side effects. Like heightened anxiety, extra vigilance, trust issues, attachment issues, issues with food and body image, increased self-loathing, conflict avoidance and emotional shut down.

There have even been times that something as simple as someone looking down at their phone when it goes off would almost make me physically ill, or the smell of a hospital would make me incredibly anxious and would almost have a meltdown.

I know that my heightened anxiety over my experiences with trauma will start to disappear over time through lots of self-care, love, compassion, and helping hands from those around me to lift me up (sometimes physically) when I simply can’t, and urge me to keep pushing.

That may be shocking because ‘shouldn’t a life coach have their life together?’. No way. We are all human and we all have their demons they have to fight on a daily.

Speaking up and admitting that things are not okay or that you are struggling with trauma isn’t a sign of weakness or shame. It takes immense vulnerability and courage to acknowledge that you have experienced trauma and that you are a work in progress to live your life in spite of it.

Disability or not, we are all experiencing some form of trauma. It isn’t up to others to tell you what is and isn’t traumatic. Trauma for one person isn’t trauma for another. That’s why no two lives are the same.

Even though we may not all be the same, I feel that trauma often bonds us all together. I have spent many late nights talking to people who experienced similar traumas. We lean on each other, support one another and tell each other that we are not crazy for feeling our feelings.

We all have wounds and stories we are too ashamed to admit or talk to others about. But they all form part of our unique tapestry, a life travelled, survived and thrived.

We all know the saying ‘life goes on’. And that is honestly the truth. Over time, we learn how to live alongside our traumas and disabilities and start to push forward and embrace and appreciate all the highlights that life has to offer. More often than not, trauma teaches us to enjoy life for what it is, to continue to use our trauma as a way of helping others, and to become better versions of ourselves.

My life’s tapestry is littered with trauma, but even though they have hurt, and at times will continue to hurt, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. Even if takes 24 or more years to overcome and make peace with it, I know that everything will be okay in its own time.

Trauma is universal but not equal. And neither is recovery. Everyone’s trauma is different. No events are the same. But the feelings are pretty much the same. Once you realise how much trauma has kept you away from being your true self, that is when the healing begins. You slowly start to put the puzzle pieces together. But not in the same puzzle as before. It becomes a new, more stronger, puzzle. Full of healing, self-love, strength, peace, confidence and self-determination.

You promise yourself that you will no longer bow down to trauma. You grow despite it. You use it as a way to create a life that you could never have imagined. Your trauma will never completely go away, but the wounds will become silver scars that you wear with humility and courage, knowing you survived it. Therefore, you can survive anything.

I hope for you, dear reader, that if you are going through something traumatic or in the middle of trauma recovery, you find a way to find some peace, even if for a moment, and find little pleasures and moments of hope to inspire you to continue making your tapestry. Speak to professionals, friends, family, and journal. Please do whatever you have to do to overcome it. Because, quite simply, the world is better with you in it. Remember that.

Till next week,


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