This article was originally published on The Mighty.
Photos of Heidi and her friend Rachel from over the years, used with permission.
Way back in the olden days of the early 2000s, I sat a friend down and let her know I needed to speak with her about something important. Then, for the first time, I shared with another human- pieces of the past traumas I had experienced. I felt as though the Earth was about to swallow me whole, and that life as I knew it was about to disappear. Since I’m writing here today, I suppose you’ve guessed I survived. The roads I’ve gone down, though, have been anything but smooth.
Where I’m standing now, there are things I wish I could tell my past self about the trauma recovery journey I was about to embark on. It would have helped me to know this information, as it would have lessened some of the ambiguity and distress. I also know I will need these reminders again in the future. If you, too, are on a healing path, I hope these words can also support you or someone you care about with a similar journey.
1. It doesn’t feel very good (most of the time).
That may sound obvious, but I swear it isn’t. Recovery is at times portrayed as some sort of ethereal jaunt through six sessions of magical therapy that culminate in a fantastic meltdown right next to some marvellous resolution. Well, at least that’s how it goes in the movies.
Spoiler alert, this ain’t it. There will be months of being wrapped in blankets, years of weekly therapy, and pain you can only express in abstract art. Yet, you will make it through it all, and realize you are stronger than you think. It’s not that it’s a constant drag either; it’s not all misery. You will laugh, you will perfect the art of dark humour, and yes, you may even skip your way home after some therapy. The maddening truth is it would likely be worrisome if wading through trauma were pleasant.
2. The journey never stops.
This matches up with the above concept, and I also blame Hollywood for stopping you from realizing this sooner. There will be points where you think you are “cured,” “healed” or “ready to move on.” It’s more than OK to enjoy periods of calm and stability, those do come and they are worth celebrating. Yet, don’t be surprised when things are activated again, because it will happen, and it’s rarely convenient.
“Leveling-up” may be a more useful concept for you. Much like 1980s “Super Mario Bros.” — you’ll find yourself battling that stupid old dragon turtle more than you’d hope, but each time you do so, you’ll have new skills (and muscle memory). Be prepared; healing is not a “one and done,” and don’t allow this fact to convince you that you are somehow a failure. You aren’t. It’s normal to face triggers, reevaluate, learn new skills, have things stirred up and erroneously go back to old ways of coping. This is all OK.
3. Healing involves mystery.
Expect the unexpected, or at least take comfort in knowing it exists. The universe will surprise you. New people will come into your life just as you need them, some even just for a short while, but exactly as long as they are needed. You’ll see a movie and it’ll perfectly align with something you’ve been trying to explain in therapy. A new medication will influence a shift in your mind you didn’t think was possible. So, perhaps you do get some of those ethereal moments after all.
I don’t want to spoil it for you, but some of your long-held dreams eventually do come true. Longings you whispered to friends and cried about in therapy, arrive in the strangest of ways, sometimes 10 years later. Hold onto and believe in this when everything seems clouded in darkness.
4. Keep an eye out for that newfangled diagnosis: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).
You can read all about C-PTSD and your journey with it here. The short version of it is this is a new diagnosis, and it would have helped you to learn about it sooner.
Nearly 15 years later when I first spoke to that friend, I am still walking on that healing journey. That path has taken me on all sorts of winding trails. I’ve faced many dark moments. I’ve found amazing support. I’ve changed, grown, fallen backward, reached new lows and found my way out of them. I’ve been let down and hurt. I’ve been completely surprised by some folks’ ability to be present with me in my pain. There have been too many “Star Wars” moments to count. There have been oceans of tears, and canyons of laughter. It really, truly has been quite a symphony with all sorts of noisy parts.
There is goodness within the process, those happy triumphs and shifted views. Getting to those points is often a long, emotional and tiresome process. It takes a lot of courage and stamina. Having the right diagnosis and conceptualization is indeed particularly advantageous. These are the things I didn’t know, but I wish I had.
I’ve shared this today in the hope my knowledge may be a guide for others and a reminder to myself. Have my thoughts stirred something in you? Do you have something you’d also like to tell your past self? Please share in the comments.
If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.
Heidi Fischer is a mental health advocate who lives in Saskatoon, Canada. Heidi enjoys writing about her personal experience with C-PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety. Heidi is the creator of a popular mental health Instagram called @mentalhealthyxe and can also be found on her website mentalhealthyxe.com.