The title is true but also a little tongue in cheek. I don't think I am a jerk any longer (or at least I am not as bad as I was) regarding the subject matter we will be discussing. However, I know I am still a jerk in soooo many other ways. I guess there is always room for growth and luckily, perfection isn't the goal since it is unattainable. Boy, does that take some of the pressure off....Whew!
This post was inspired by a conversation that I had online with someone else who has battled Covid and what they experienced. The thing that really stood out to me when they were sharing their story were the words they used. I think they hit the nail on the head but many people may not recognize things for what they truly are. This person mentioned that the isolation during treatment and some of their other experiences were traumatizing. They definitely are! And what is more unfortunate, we are all exposed to trauma in so many different ways. I think trauma is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue many people are facing regarding their health and quality of life.
Several years ago, I would not have been very understanding or compassionate with what I wrote above. I would have thought that "Life is hard sometimes, just get over it." That's all warm and fuzzy, isn't it? I am ashamed that that is how I thought and I know there were people that I hurt with those thoughts. They needed help, but I just poured salt on their wounds. I wish I knew each and every person that I offended, hurt, etc. I would love to have the opportunity to apologize. Unfortunately, I don't think that is possible, but maybe this will be able to repair some of that damage.
Life truly is hard sometimes. But we don't need to just get over it. We need to keep moving and keep living. We need to be around our loved ones, to laugh, love and cry! As I mentioned in another post, struggle is important in life. It provides growth and learning opportunities for us. Even when life is a huge mess, there is still some good to be found. Even in my Covid experience, there was one bad experience and hundreds of good experiences. And that is what I choose to focus on! Without the struggle, without the bad, we can't recognize the beauty and the joy.
More on Trauma
There are a lot of things in life that are traumatic. The bad news is that they are pretty common and many people don't recognize them for what they are. Since they are common, they seem normal but it is anything but normal....it is trauma! Many experts that deal with trauma often refer to it in two ways; little t(rauma) and Big T(rauma). The Big Ts are easily noticed but the little ts may be missed. And the bad news is that they can pile up quickly and surpass the effect of the Big Ts.
So, what are some examples? How about the death of loved one. A major illness or injury. The loss of what you feel identifies who you are. What about receiving multiple phone calls with bad news back to back. Waiting for the next thing to not work out right. This list could go on and on forever. I am sure that you had certain ideas pop into your head regarding the trauma and difficulties you have experienced and faced.
Let's Get Physical
So far we have been discussing things that are more abstract, emotional or mental. How does that actually affect our health? It's fairly easy to see how it could affect quality of life but the physical effects may be a little more elusive.
Trauma, whether physical, emotional, mental, etc. leads to a stress response from our body. Our body will mobilize different resources to help us deal with whatever we are facing. It will mobilize energy so that we can run away or fight something off. It will mobilize that same amount of energy even if it feels that the best way to survive is to freeze and not move. All of this is done to protect us and it is a learned response from our body. (here are some links to articles that go into stress much more in depth: stress 1, stress 2, stress 3) If the strategy the body decides to use to protect us is effective, it makes a note of that and will most likely use that same strategy the next time it needs to protect us. This is a form of plasticity. This can be effective and helpful, but it can also backfire. What happens if the strategy isn't effective in a different circumstance? Or it wasn't the most effective strategy in the first place?
What I have noticed when that happens, is that person in that situation feels like their body is fighting against them. It does that seem that way but it is helpful to remember that that is not the body's intent. It's intent is to protect you and keep you safe...it just doesn't know how to anymore. Luckily, that can change however....remember plasticity!
Let's try to make plasticity understandable. Many people have heard the phrase, "neurons that fire together wire together." But what if we think about it more like a path. Every step you take on the path helps to make the path more clear, more distinct. When you are trying to get to a certain destination, or you have an effective protective strategy, this helps tremendously. You know where you are going and more importantly, how to get there easily. Unfortunately, you can keep making that path more clear and distinct even when it's not a productive strategy; uh-oh, "Danger Will Robinson". But here's the good thing, what happens when you stay off the path? It starts to regrow and become faint. It's hard to see and follow. This provides you with an opportunity to develop and cultivate a new path. One that is effective and helpful. There is always HOPE!!!
Get a Helping Hand
Please don't try to deal with trauma on your own. You need other people, you need community! You may need to see a licensed professional. They know what they are doing and they can help guide you through the process and it can take many forms. Most people are familiar with "talk therapy", how did that make you feel? etc. (I know it is also different than that but a little humor may be helpful right about now). It can and has helped many people. But did you know that some people when they have experienced trauma, the part of their brain that can process and talk about what happened goes "offline"? It does not happen to everyone but it does happen to some. They will not be able to discuss what happened. Not because they don't want to but because when they are stressed or reexperiencing the trauma, they physically cannot do it. In this case, talk therapy may not be the best option. It may be a start or it may be something that you come back to later. Fortunately, there are many other forms of therapy that can help you deal with and process the trauma without having to talk about it or reexperience it. Some examples include EMDR, art therapy (drawing, etc.) and Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). There are many more options that you can find and figure out what is going to be the best for you. I hope that helps you to feel EMPOWERED!
I want to close this post by sharing a story of an Initial Consultation that I had a couple of years ago with a client. It shows that I had grown some but I still had a lot to learn. During the consultation, it was clear that this person had experienced some form of trauma previously. I wanted more information because I felt this information would probably be vital in determining their treatment plan. BUT I did not read the room well. My probing and questions made them uncomfortable and it took me wwwaaaayyyy tttooo lllloooonnnggg to realize that. I eventually did, at least I am not a total dunce, but I could have really made things worse for them.
They emailed me a day or two later and discussed what had happened and said that I made them uncomfortable. Boy were they right. I was grateful for their email and apologized. I also let them know that I think boundaries are going to play a key role in their health journey and those boundaries apply to me as well, maybe even more so! I am fortunate that they are still working with me and are a client. I consider them more than a client, though, I have another friend! I have seen how much they have grown and how hard they are working to improve their health. We have not gotten to the end goal yet, but they have made great strides. Hopefully one day they will recognize the amazing things that they have done and how much they have taught me!