Trauma and its Ugly Reactions

Trauma means different things to different people, so to start I’d like to define the word “trauma.” According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary it is:

a : “ an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent”

b :  “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury”

There are other definitions, but these two are what I would like to focus on for today.

According to definition “a” trauma is caused by something external, something not of one’s self. And definition “b” says that things in or psyche can be messed up due to external stress or even a physical injury.

Why is it when we see someone suffering the long lasting effects of trauma do we say, “Why don’t you just get over it?” Or, “It is what it is.”

It isn’t that easy, our hearts, our minds, and our spirits are not washed by the wind; our soul does not want to, or have to accept that we can do nothing about past traumas. Sure, we aren’t time travelers, we can’t go back to reverse these traumatic curses, but we do have the ability to remember these things that have happened. The things that have taught us the true meaning of suffering. We have the ability to replay these things in our mind’s eye, to see them through, to wish for a better ending … a happily ever after.

Our brains are kind of weird though, sometimes they replay traumatic memories with no identifiable reason for the replay. Worse, our brains can react to minor stress in a big way, causing us to hyperventilate, lose sleep, sleep all of the time, and our brains even have a way of tricking us into thinking the trauma will happen again, thus being hyper vigilant and causing us unnecessary stress.

How do we “fix” this?

I have some sad news for you: we don’t fix this, we feel it. We feel every painful thought, we process it, we “feel it fully” as Dr. Donna LaMar would say. It is in that process of feeling that we enlighten ourselves with the wisdom we have learned through such trauma.

I have often been told that we can’t control others, only our reaction to them, but wait, there’s more to that. My brain reacts subconsciously to perceived threats … I have little control over that because I have yet to feel my traumas fully.

In the summer of 2006, I was diagnosed with bipolar by a physician’s assistant armed with a paper questionnaire about my moods. We did not discuss traumas, the past, we didn’t discuss anything more than my symptoms. I was medicated for and labeled with bipolar. For nine years this diagnosis has followed me and the mental health community has always approached me with skills that I need to change to effectively live life to its fullest without dragging others down with me. Until five weeks ago, no one has ever done trauma work with me.

Often times, after I get to know someone I will share my diagnosis with them the response is often the same, “Really? You? Bipolar? I never would have guessed.”

And my response is, “I’m well medicated.”

Maybe I need to reconsider my response? Maybe I’m not bipolar, maybe I’m a healing survivor whose brain fears the very breath that I breathe? Maybe trauma has destroyed me, over and over again, but my brain is working to keep me safe with little or no logical input?

I think it is time for me to put on some Kevlar, fight for myself, and pray that I can beat trauma.


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