Layers of Trauma
I’m recovering from a brain injury. But there’s more to me than that.
I started seeing a trauma counsellor. In my first session, I explained that I have a mysterious illness ever since I did a triathlon race in January 2018. In other words, I said I don’t fit into a box. To which he replied, my methods don’t fit into the box either. As such, I found myself in good company.
Two months later, my blood test results returned from a speciality lab in Germany. They indicated a viral infection at play. Confirmation, at last! I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I could pass on the baton to the next stage: healing the psychological wounds I picked up along the way.
Trauma is the past in the present, the counsellor told me during one session. It is reliving old experiences as if they were still happening. Not entirely understanding his meaning, I felt weighed down, heavy with memories. No doubt the last two years of searching for a diagnosis were peppered with negative encounters and these replayed in my mind constantly. How can I bring myself back to the here and now? What will I find when I peel back the layers?
A year before finding my trauma counsellor, I had a bad episode of POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) during a yoga class. Suddenly dizzy, the blood pooled in my feet, I was unable to think straight. Legs on the bolsters, I relied on gravity to return oxygen to my brain.
While I waited it out, my mind snapped like a magnet to the memory of the triathlon. I had immediate loss of basic bodily functions. I could not hear or regulate my body temperature. My brain went to mush. The sudden onset of my life turning upside terrified me. The fear revisits me mercilessly spinning me out of the yoga room.
Flashbacks haunt me: not being taken seriously by medical people. Feeling so sick like I’m gonna die but on paper “everything is normal”. Crawling out of doctors rooms with vertigo and low blood pressure. Being told an antidepressant will fix everything and stop wasting tax-payers money on unnecessary tests. Brain blackouts. Memory loss. Pain. The crux of it all: being too physically weak to stand up for myself.
To the mat beside me, a friend seeing my distress offers to help. She, calling herself a nondescript energy worker, put her hands on my shoulders, then wrists. Ankles and feet. Here is your body, she said, gently directing my attention to my limbs. You are here, here, and here. She is rehoming me in my body drawing me out of the memory and back to the present.
Unsteadily, I got to my feet. My blood pressure stablised after an hour. My friend commented, I feel your energy, there are three layers to it. The first is a buzz of scattered anxiety. Underneath it, a slow frozen fear. And at the core, a deep strength. My eyes widened, I’d been buried under these layers for years and yet she could still see me. She continued, That’s the you I sense in there under the top two layers. But at the moment you are stuck. Yes I said, breathing out, I am. Like a desperate fly in a spider web.
Encouraged by this experience, it took me the good part of a year to find a trauma counsellor. It seemed a long time, whether I wasn’t ready to do the work or too busy dealing with a host of other medical issues, I got there.
First up, I learn to use mindfulness to find a sense of safety and stability within myself. The goal is to remain present and feel safe enough in the here and now. To free myself from trauma’s tight grip and leave it where’s meant to be: in the past. With his help, I peel back the top layers of anxiety and fear.
Next, my counsellor guides me to identify the felt sense within, the implicit layer of the mind, that is the messages that lie below the conscious mind.
Through several focusing sessions, he teaches me to pay close attention and simply be with it, to listen and be curious about what I find in this layer. He asks, Is there anywhere you can sense that in your body?
I am quiet and still. These are subtle messages from within and I need to be patient. After a while, I perceive a sensation. It’s in my spine, I replied.
How are you experiencing that felt sense in your body? He asked.
Again, I wait for the feeling to emerge. I feel something. I said, unsure at first and then it grew clearer. It’s like a steel rod in my spine.
Now, hold it in your awareness and wait for something more to come. He encouraged me. Remain interested in how it feels in your body.
After a beat, I felt it, a surge of an undercurrent. A force of unfrozen, dynamic energy in my body that flows as strong as it never left me. It feels strong. I exclaim. Powerful. And confident.
A window in my heart opens and a ray of light steals through the darkness. I realise I am whole and complete. Not shattered and broken. Hidden under fears and memories, I had forgotten myself, my steel rod. Like my friend at yoga, who could sense Sarah – the real me – beneath it all, with the tools I learned at counselling, I reconnected with her. It was there all along guiding me towards my diagnosis, never giving up.
During these sessions, I am overjoyed to reconnect with this part of me. I don’t know whether to cry or laugh. Often, I do both.
My counsellors name is Matthew Power. Visit his website Heart Mind Focusing for more info about the work he does.
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