July 2022: Trauma Trigger
So. For those interested in the follow up to my comment on Facebook about a nasty trauma trigger, here goes.
When I handed my business card to a tradesman so he could have my email address to send me an estimate, he commented on my profession of counselling therapist. When explained what I did, he replied that you just have to have faith. I replied something to the effect that it would nice if it worked that way. He then made a comment about believing in science and made a reference to everything being in the good book.
Now I have heard comments like these my entire life. I was raised in the proverbial “Christian” home. I have even been prayed over in my early twenties and sent many desperate pleas heavenward during my teens to relieve me of my constant depression (read: self-hatred and suicidal thoughts).
I did not receive any help managing my depression until my mid-twenties when I finally had a good medical doctor who sent me for a referral to a psychiatrist and a trial group for women with depression. My diagnosis of dysthymia didn’t help much though. Anti-depressants managed the daily “low mood” but not the dips into major depressive episodes; and I didn’t remain on them long. I also didn’t understand my diagnosis until I studied counselling at the Master’s degree level. Then lights came on and reading about bi-polar resonated with me even though I do not have manic episodes.
Dysthymia is on the bi-polar spectrum, but remains on the depression end. I am at risk for developing manic episodes if I am not careful and must be aware of drugs (including cannabis) that can trigger a manic episode. No, thank you. The depression is enough to contend with along with my other diagnoses of General Anxiety Disorder, OCD, and PTSD. I also have social anxiety that hasn’t been officially labelled, but my symptoms fit the criteria. This last one is likely one of my most disabling mental health conditions that I have had since early childhood (aka pathological shyness). Add to all that my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and you have quite the alphabet soup that impacts my daily functioning.
Anyways. This tradesman’s comments about having faith and everything being in the good book is what triggered me. I am still fighting the internalized shame messages associated with those words. My mental illnesses of depression and anxiety made my life exceptionally difficult during my teens and early twenties. The inner struggle was real. Growing up in a religious environment with an attitude of “the devil made me do it” and satan being blamed for human wrong doing and/or illness added to the pressure. I was led to believe that I wouldn’t have these terrible thoughts and feelings if I wasn’t oppressed by demons or plagued in some way. I was cursed due to some unconfessed sin or lack of faith. Didn’t matter how hard I prayed or good I tried to be or to “get it right” (still a compulsion of mine), my thoughts and feelings didn’t improve. Worsened in fact.
It took a long time before I finally had the right doctor who recognized symptoms and took action. It also took more trauma. After my dog, Gracie, died, I spiralled downward. Functioning was seriously impaired. I was working as a therapist at this point already. I had seen psychologists as part of my training (plus one in my early twenties and participated in that depression group). I could not get anyone to take me seriously or follow my train of thought. One therapist mistook my anxiety body language for anger and declared I was an angry young woman and beyond help.
Anyways. My point is, science has been my life saver. If psychopharmacology hadn’t developed effective medications to treat depression, anxiety, and OCD, I wouldn’t be here. I’d either be in the loony bin (pardon the expression) or dead. And don’t start me down the path of “if faith could’ve saved my mother…” The science of mental health wasn’t developed enough in the 1970s to help her either. I, thankfully, have been more fortunate.
I must add that I am very much a woman of faith. But does my faith look like that of my childhood? Not in the slightest. I had to open my mind (which I was able to do thanks to meds) and my heart to explore my faith deeper and in different directions. I don’t use the religious language of my childhood and adolescence (it is, in fact, triggering). I have found words that reflect my spiritual existence much more accurately and add to my life rather than detract. I no longer feel like a worthless, hopeless sinner (aka piece of shit). Although yesterday’s encounter certainly brought up all those old thoughts and feelings of not being good enough and never able to get it right. The emotional turmoil is indescribable to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Utter anguish and despair is a start.
But “blessings-and-curses” is an archaic worldview that does not reflect what we know in today’s technological age. And what we believe now will likely have to adapt for future discoveries. Theological arguments during Jesus’ time on earth were already about older versus newer ways of thinking. Open minded people even have to accept that what Darwin believed is outdated and reflective of another day and age. Think the Dark Ages and the Renaissance. Worldviews are in constant flux.
Anyways. How does any of this help you to understand my trauma trigger yesterday? In a nutshell, those closed-minded and judgemental comments triggered a shit storm of dormant messages in my psyche that rose like a many-headed beast. I have to remind myself that I am a whole and complete person, capable of making my own decisions about my life and what I want to do with it. I am not all those things that I was led to believe in my youth. And I have to remind my amygdala that I am not in any danger. That’s a tough one when faced with dangerous, closed-minded thinking. I am still working on helping my amygdala recognize I make my own choices that do not include those old thought patterns.
I have braved the storm of a faith crisis and surfaced with a deeper faith that looks nothing like its origins. It will not be understood by many. Only by those who have braved similar storms and surfaced as well. When what we hold to be true contradicts lived experience, we experience a faith crisis. My world was filled with these paradoxes. It took a long time to let many of them go and embrace the Great Mystery. Then “the world” and the bible and my faith began to make more sense.
Your faith journey will be your own. Kind of like the hero’s quest. By the way, I watched the movie Rango last night. Always a pick me up. And your encounter with the Great Mystery will be unique to you and provide just what you need—if you’re open to it. I also worked out what I could say the next time some man tells me my profession is useless and one just needs faith.
“Before we have a discussion on faith or theology, you might want to know that I have a Bachelor’s degree from a bible college and a Master’s degree from a seminary. I have read the bible in its entirety at least twice, front to back. I might be willing to listen to what your faith means to you, but not to your thoughts on mine or my life’s work.”
Now will I have the courage to actually say it when it happens again? And it will. I have no doubt of that. I do need to own my power, my life experience, and my education. One of my triggering responses to shaming messages is to shut up and back off. So I will have to work on that next time. I had a blog on feistiness ready to go for July. I need to tap into that when it comes to trauma triggers which shut me down. Something to ponder and process. ‘Til next time (and the blog on feistiness)…..Barb