Trauma is in the eye of the beholder


What do people really think about you? What are you showing them? Well what they think depends on how they frame it in their minds anyway. So much subjectivity, so much interpretation and assumption.

I’ve become increasingly interested in my doctors varying opinions of my mood lately and how it applies to my future. As most of you know, as soon as you have “Psych” history on your record, it can be difficult to get medical attention without doctors telling you how you feel and that somehow trauma and depression are actually causing the issues, not anything they can solve, and you end up with another referral for therapy.

If you have an “extensive Psych” history like mine, it is almost impossible.

I started comparing notes.

My back surgeon notes that I am pleasant and upbeat, cheerful, even 3 weeks post surgery when my pain level was still quite high.

But the neuropsych team inote, flat affect, appears to be severely depressed, speaking noticeably slowly, moved to tears.

Let’s see what is the difference here? It’s not just that the psych team is looking for it, I’m not saying that, I am behaving differently in these appointments. Hmmm, I wonder why? Seriously. That was snarky if you couldn’t tell. OK let me spell it out by giving you a glimpse of the conversations.

When I am talking with my back surgeon, I am grateful, he has changed my life, reduced my pain, restored strength and balance to my weak leg. He see me as strong, able, resilient, and able to do whatever I want to do. He knows nothing about my traumatic past and never has asked about it. He expects me to heal, because nerves, bones and muscles heal at an expected rate.

When I am talking with the psych team, they continually poke and prod about the relationship with my parents and brothers and husband. They force me to relive and retell some of the worst moments of my life. Usually I am meeting someone new, forced to tell my story to someone I do not fully trust for them to make another assessment of my condition. My flat affect is me trying to remain calm and choose my words carefully, knowing I am being judged. My tears are me, reacting to pain in the moment, recalling my sorrow.

But I don’t live there in that sorrow. Each doctor is only seeing a snapshot of me, a moment of me, not all of me, not how I function each day all day, not my life. I wonder how many people can retell their worst fears and memories without appearing traumatized. Even if you weren’t abused, I bet if you spent 3 hours describing every pet that died, how you miss your grandparents, maybe you were bullied, your boyfriend broke your heart in high school, your friend died in a car crash or overdose, your parents split up – whatever – life is full of heartache and tragic moments that we don’t call abuse. I bet if you made a list of them and described them out loud, that any “normal” person would appear depressed and traumatized and dysfunctional.

I don’t think its me that needs realistic expectations, I think it is the medical community. I almost want to prove my theory by starting over with a new doctor, stating I have a brain injury from purely physical means, caught in a shockwave perhaps and see I still have the same sad “Sorry but we can’t help you, you’ve been through too much to get better at this point in your life” story. I bet I would get sent to rehab and expected to heal if I didn’t have a psych history.

Well I expect more of myself, always have. Yeah, I got knocked down. But I’ve been down before, so what. I am out there jogging you guys. It isn’t beautiful, I mean I won’t win any medals, but I am not using a cane and both feet leave the ground at a pace faster than walking. I know I am healing. I know what I can do. I can do more.

I don’t care about my history, its irrelevant at this point. My brain doesn’t care. I am no longer being traumatized. I am sleeping, eating well, exercising, going to therapy, doing brain training games, pushing towards creative thought – why can’t I expect healing to happen? I don’t have a bunch of faith, but I’ve always believed in resiliency, set a goal, make a path, and eventually you get there.

My therapist thinks my lack of creativity is tied more to grief than brain damage. I’m starting to think she is right. My mom was my constant cheerleader, so supportive of my artwork and writing. I always shared my ideas and progress with her, always created for her, and she poured on the constant praise, sometimes annoyingly so, and almost over the top. I think I depended on that more than I ever knew though. Without her daily comments on my blogs, her multiple emails, I have no one else cheering me on, encouraging me to draw something today, asking what my next project will be, asking me to make something for her. She kept me going. I see this now. So at some point I will have to draw through the tears, and just keep going, until I am drawing for myself and the world, and show her that her years of support were enough to keep me going even after she is gone. I need to feel this pain of missing her and draw anyway. Somehow with my teary eyes and shaky hands I know this is the next step I need to take. An empty page has never been so frightening.

4 thoughts on “Trauma is in the eye of the beholder

  1. I had the opposite expectation, that I could heal completely. It was very depressing when I found that I couldn’t shake the PTSD completely out of my life. But, like the trauma, eventually I adapted.

    If, in the 40 years before diagnosis, I’d had people telling me I couldn’t do it, no matter what, I probably would have quit/committed suicide. What kept me sane, striving, etc. was my determination: I was going to prove my abuser WRONG and wipe her out of my skull!

    I proved her wrong to my satisfaction, but unfortunately, she’s still there, though she’s shoved into a tiny corner these days.

    Have you tried The Artists’ Way? I don’t know anything about your creative life. I hope the suggestion is not insulting. Since I don’t know you IRL, it’s impossible sometimes to guess if there’s likely to be any value in my comments!

    I hope you find your path that goes the direction you want it to — soon.

  2. Do you have to have a psych team? When I started therapy I walked away from all medical intervention in my trauma healing, they just didn’t help me but made me feel very dependent on them. It takes courage to walk away but could therapy provide you with all the support you need?
    Just some thoughts based on my own experience.
    I hope you win over that empty page and get your art back into your life.

  3. One of the many books I read said that you have to reach the point where you can say, “Yeah, it happened. So what?” I’m reaching that point. Unfortunately, new friends who haven’t heard the stories are still knocked sideways. However, it’s my story. I lived it. They’re only hearing about it. I’m learning to re-frame the stories, not lie but ease the edge/intensity.

    You described the different reactions with doctors exactly right! My doctor didn’t classify me as depressed because I appreciated his efforts to help me, and I was “on” when we talked. It wasn’t until I had to do some typing for me regarding depression tests, and I realized I’d always answered from the point of view of best moments. It was a whole different picture when I answered from worst moments. I had to acknowledge that I live in a mix of both.

    Keep fighting for you! I understand the terror of the blank page, only mine’s starting a story. Put a single line down and then another. It’s also okay to still be mourning. Take care of you.

    Go you!

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