The Trauma Inherent in Mental Illness
I wrote yesterday's blog post after work, hoping I wouldn't have to worry about getting it done after the kids went to bed. Then I reread what I'd written as I rocked the baby to sleep, and found it disjointed and dissatisfying. No narrative; just a collection of random thoughts.
Remembering it now, a day later, I feel a mix of annoyance and relief. Annoyance that the post wasn't better. Relief that I let it go. There's an implicit permission in that, a freedom.
I woke up anxious this morning. I couldn't stop stewing over my faux pas with a client a few days ago. I tried to journal about the feelings earlier, to reframe them as I've done a million times before. But those thoughts hadn't left; they'd just been lying in wait on the other side of sleep, ready to catch me off guard.
Don't you know I'm trying? I wanted to yell at my brain. Can't you work with me a little? Cut me some damn slack?
And that's why I'm so fascinated with Bessel van der Kolk's work lately. Because it's helping me understand that cognitive behavior therapy and pharmaceuticals are only part of the equation. Current psychiatric trends and western culture's distrust in alternative treatments have led me to believe they're the only parts. And so I've been avoiding my body all these years. Trying to solve everything in my head, and stubbornly blocking out all the rest.
When I realized the similarities between my symptoms and the symptoms of trauma, I felt both hopeful and understood. Maybe this mental illness is a trauma in itself, and by honoring that, I might find a way to take more control. I might find a way to make meditation work. I might find a way to release my grip on sugar and stop sabotaging my physical health. To release the crutches I've leaned on for too many years and start fully engaging with the world again.
That's what I was trying to say in yesterday's blog post. It took me a couple of days to find the words.
Today I reached out to a therapist who specializes in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, better known as EMDR. It's an unusual treatment that's been proven surprisingly effective at healing post traumatic stress disorder. I also found a Feldenkrais class down the road—something else Van der Kolk recommends. If those don't work, perhaps I'll try massage. Or acupuncture. Yoga. Suddenly I have a wealth of options in front of me, and I'm curious about them all.