As a trauma survivor, some days are more manageable than others. I am learning the long, slow process of better recognizing ways to prevent overwhelm and ways to better care for myself when I am overwhelmed. Even so, sometimes it comes on so fast, I can’t deescalate. For me, feelings of stress and anxiety can quickly morph into panic, sometimes without an obvious trigger. It could be triggered from the gradual build up of a stressful week, or it could be triggered simply walking into a noisy room. Sometimes, just the general sense of overwhelm itself can be the trigger to an even more intense emotional flashback.
Part of the reason for this is that therapy causes the goal posts to keep moving. I have made a lot of progress. I am re-wiring my brain. I don’t relate in the same way to things that previously bothered me. This is all great news, but the reality is that this process of taking all the fuses out of my mental fuse box and rewiring them means there is still much to do. Many of my fuses are left exposed. Rewiring parts of my brain means creating new pathways which are not fully formed. And guess what? Completely re-assessing and redesigning every thought and impulse is an overwhelming task.
This is a week full of triggers and subsequent meltdowns. I was in the uncomfortable spot of experiencing a sudden emotional flashback while I was speaking in front of a room full of people. My thoughts scrambled, my throat suddenly ran dry, and I could barely choke any words out. I felt my face flush, and the feeling of my audiences’ stares boring in to me as I tried not to panic even more. I recovered, but it was alarming how sudden it came on. It was not a place where I could out myself or what was happening, so I tried to brush it off, asking for some water and blaming my weird, sudden fumbles on cold season. The white lie got me through the moment, but it was a sober reminder how vulnerable I can be. Deconstructing the event, I can put together why it triggered me. Of course, it’s related to something I’m currently working on in therapy. What’s disturbing to me though, is that what triggers me now didn’t trigger me before. Hopefully, I’ll work through it and move on, but it makes me nervous to wonder what else will be unearthed. I am living life in a constant state of flux, and I often don’t know how my body will respond. Sometimes, I’m fine. Sometimes, I don’t realize I need special care until I’m in the middle of a meltdown.
Sometimes, the process of therapy itself is triggering. Trauma-trained therapists know this, and are typically good at proceeding with caution. I believe that the overall process of taking better ownership of one’s self is worth it, but the road to get there is harrowing. I’m at a place right now where anticipating a therapy appointment is about as pleasant as anticipating a root canal. I have an excellent therapist, and I believe in the work, but oftentimes, the work is simply not fun. It’s inconvenient to a lifestyle where one has to sometimes stand in front of others and act like they are not experiencing a traumatic emotional flashback.
I have come to accept this is the work of a trauma survivor. We are like bullfighters in the arena, waving our little red capes at a giant, unpredictable, deadly beast. We dance and dodge for our survival, hoping our stamina outlasts what wants to do us in. Even though we are exhausted, the rules of the game dictate that only one of us can survive. And so we press on.