It’s an ominous word, isn’t it?
By itself, it has the ability to fill you with dread as you wonder: What type of trauma?
Because that’s what you’re all thinking of.
If you’ve suffered a trauma, your memory’s probably flitting to that moment already.
If you’re a police officer or a paramedic, you’ve more than likely been on more trauma scenes than your brain wants to remember, and you’re mind’s probably already flitting there.
None of these things are incorrect.
Breaking an ankle is devastating for anyone; but it’s traumatic for someone like a dancer, whose entire career could be potentially ruined forever by such an injury.
Depending on the person and the event, different events can be more or less traumatic for a person, making trauma infinitely difficult to pinpoint – hence why, particularly with mental illness, many people don’t understand the long-term consequences as a result (this includes medical professionals. Any decent medical professional will tell you that the brain is unique, and no one can explain everything about a brain yet. Just think about how much insight we’ve gained into things like depression and anxiety recently, and they’re mental illnesses that are usually reasonably easy to identify – comparatively, obviously. If a medical professional is claiming that they know everything about the brain, they’re either way too arrogant and you need to be seeing someone else, or they’re a fool, which you should be seeing someone else, anyway).
If I said ‘PTSD’, however, your minds would most likely flit to soldiers returning from war, whether or not you’re reasonably well-educated on the actual topic of PTSD. It’s symbolic, natural.
But it’s also too simple.
I suffer from PTSD (although my therapist reminds me that it’s actually referred to as PTSS now).
Before I can start my journey of mindfulness, I need to start at the beginning of my trauma. For the past two months, in particular, I have been carefully cultivating out certain sections of my past, in preparation for these Mindful posts.
It’s important, you see, because some of these things might seem extreme and unnecessary to many readers, especially if they don’t suffer from extreme anxiety-related disorders and therefore might be unable to fully appreciate what it means to not be neuro-typical. Hopefully, I will be able to balance it nicely so that even if you’ve no idea what it’s like to suffer from a mental illness, you can still very much understand and appreciate mindfulness.
I’ve had so many traumas over my life – some greater than others.
During all those times, I was able to bounce back. Sometimes it was harder, and sometimes it took longer, but I was able to bounce back.
While you can definitely read about them – and they definitely are instrumental to who I am as a person – that isn’t quite the beginning I want to talk about.
I want to talk about the first time I realised something, health-wise, was wrong. That is my beginning, and the most fitting start for this journey.
I’ve mentioned the story before: I contracted glandular fever at some point during my final term of teaching, but things would get a lot worse before I was aware I was even sick.
During that last term, Term 4, I remember being so tired. So very, very exhausted. I was confused, because the term before I’d been going to gym, Zumba dance classes, boxing, and going out on a regular basis, and somehow, now, I barely had the energy.
Below: Pat, who I mentioned in the finale of Sex, Marriage and Lies, Jasmine, and some random who I used to work with.
I brushed it off as it being ‘the end of term’ and everything catching up with me. I’d been pretty exhausted and lethargic before, and usually, when it struck like this, it meant that my body was fighting off a bug and I’d spend my first week of holidays sick in bed as my body tried to recover from all the bugs and germs.
I honestly wasn’t too worried. Things weren’t so bad that I wasn’t doing anything – I was just doing less than I had the term before.
I flew back to Brisbane, saw Taylor Swift in concert, and then went up to my parents’ place for the Christmas. I had my impacted wisdom teeth surgically removed pretty much immediately – my wisdom teeth were badly impacted, and causing damage to my jaw. It was meant to be excruciatingly painful – most people who have what I had will tell you – but it wasn’t that painful for me. I’d complain when my wisdom teeth moved, but I used to pass out every month from endometrial pain, so contrary to what you might think, I can handle pain like a fucking champ.
I’m not fucking kidding.
I didn’t have any pain medication – not even Panadol – for twenty-fours leading up to my appendix bursting.
In fact, my high-pain tolerance levels are actually part of why I’m frequently misdiagnosed – I grew up in the country where you sucked it up and you only went to the doctor if you absolutely had to, and when you’re regularly passing out from pain from endometriosis from about fifteen onwards, you start having to adapt and adjust.
Seriously. Ask my high school mates how many times I was sick. Ask them about the time the pain was so bad I passed out and my friends had to alert the teachers to call my parents and I was then hospitalised because one of the cysts on my ovaries had burst.
Ask my uni mates, like Melinda, who I’d sometimes disappear from our class because by then I’d learnt to always go to a disabled toilet, because if you pass out in stalls, it can cause mass panic, and as losing consciousness isn’t something one often chooses on a public bathroom floor, you start having to have contingency plans. I’d pass out, and when I’d regain consciousness – usually anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour if I had my Panadol Forte on me, but that was something was sadly taken away years ago – I’d fix myself up, rinse my mouth and pat my cheeks with cold water. I’d steady myself and return to class.
Before you say, ‘That’s not normal’, I am aware of that. There’s just not always many alternatives, and people who aren’t in chronic pain cannot possibly comprehend what I mean. It’s legitimately something you cannot understand unless you’ve been there. As I don’t want to spend my entire life doped up to my eyeballs, I also try and practice a lot of other, alternative therapies (some of which you can read and follow in these Wednesday’s Mindful Journey posts).
So I did what I always did when things weren’t bad enough – I sucked that shit up. I was concerned, yes, but I was a Good Girl and I soldiered on, because no one likes anyone who complains and isn’t happy all the time.
And, if I ever had a chance to doubt that fact, my parents would remind me very firmly that I needed to get better as quickly as possible because Scott “wouldn’t want to be with a sick person”, because apparently being sick is not only a choice, but when you fall ill, if you don’t get better, some people seem to believe that makes you unloveable.
And, with the stories I’ve written, it’s not like you can pretend that some people don’t think that.
After my wisdom teeth were removed, I was definitely far more sick, but the discharge sheets said that would happen. Most people who’d had impacted teeth seemed to fare worse than I had, and after hearing a few horror stories about how long it’d taken some people to recover I figured I was doing pretty damn good, so again, I ignored it.
I spent that Christmas, my very first one, with my now-husband’s family.
I was still sick. I remember after meeting with his friends, I had to ask him to pull over so I could vomit. I said it was still common after the surgery but a lot of people said it ‘wasn’t that’ big of a deal. I was mostly embarrassed, because it seemed like every time I went anywhere, I’d vomit and I thought of myself as weak.
You’re welcome to judge that; I’ve learnt that I’m anything but weak.
Then it was our friend’s wedding.
It was interstate, and it did take a little toll, but that was when I knew, for certain, that something was very wrong.
The night before the wedding, I was speaking with my friend’s younger brother and a bunch of other people. I remember being worried because he was in high school, and younger than us, and I didn’t want him to feel excluded because he’d seemed shy. Lovely, but shy.
What would my friend think?
What would my boyfriend, who was sitting right next to me, think?
I wasn’t trying to hit on a boy, I just wanted to be nice! (He was literally a boy. I think he was in Year 12, so the extra OMFG came from the fact that he was a student, and I was a teacher, so if a flirty line had accidentally came out at someone else, I strongly doubt I would’ve panicked so much.)
Already halfway through the sentence, and panicking, I just decided to end with …. “….Friends?”
I asked, “So, do you have ….. friends?”
I remember feeling like I was blushing so hard because that wasn’t what I meant, not the way it was said, not the tone, not anything, but everyone was laughing, so I laughed, too.
I can’t remember the second thing I said to him, but I was trying to make up for it, and I tried asking him what he did for fun.
I can’t remember how it came out, but it was just as bad as the first.
Everyone laughed, and I played it off as me being a floozy who’d had a few too many drinks, but it wasn’t that.
I knew it wasn’t that.
My brain had felt like it was on fire. I remember feeling so hot that entire weekend, and the more my mind would get confused, the hotter my head seemed to get. It was the way my body and my brain were acting after I said something stupid – it was like there was some massive disconnect. Like that thing in medical shows where people have Aphasia or something, so they something weird like, ‘Donut Plate’ but they mean ‘How are you’ or some bullshit. (I don’t know how Aphasia actually works beyond knowing the wrong words come out. However, if you’ve ever had any experience with Aphasia, or have studied it, I’d be very interested to read about it in the comments!)
Look, I’m not a doctor. The only medical show I’ve ever really liked is Grey’s – I hate House with a passion – and I never watched ER or anything like that and I can’t think of any other medical shows.
My mum’s a nurse and I grew up on a farm, so basic first aid has been pretty mandatory, but that’s all I got. If you need more, you’re gonna have to Google Aphasia.
My point is, that night I knew something was wrong, in a way I hadn’t before.
I knew what it was like to be sick, and to not get better immediately. It’d happened more than once, especially in my first year, of teaching.
I knew what it was like to have foot-in-mouth disease where you squirm because it was awkward and maybe even not nice, but explainable.
The thing was, I knew that wasn’t it.
I knew, in that moment, that something was wrong.
I just didn’t want to listen to what my body was telling me.