How it started
I am a human being. And until recently I didn’t really know what that meant. This is my story of discovery and recovery.
There is a traumatizing moment in my childhood where the playful curiosity immediately faded and I began carrying the backpack of PTSD. From this day forward I layered on expectations, judgments, and trauma responses to my life, brick by brick being added to my backpack. Year after year, decade after decade I was creating and carrying my backpack of bricks.
Each moment of my life was witnessed, experienced, and engaged with my backpack on. These expectations on myself, judgments on myself and others, and trauma responses were part of every breath I took. I carried it through moments of joy, and moments of suffering. When I set goals, in my personal life and business, it came from judgments and expectations. When I succeeded, I saw only the imperfection, and when I failed, I again added new bricks to my backpack.
Each moment the backpack became heavier and heavier, harder and harder to carry. Eventually, it became impossible.
As you can imagine the load got heavier and heavier, and when I could no longer carry this load I fell, backpack and all. It was like falling down a mountainside. Leaving me bruised, disorientated, lost, and exhausted. My mind told me to give up, that I couldn’t carry on.
It was here that I first experienced my humility and humanity. I had spent all that time thinking it was my job to carry that load. That I couldn’t put it down. Like I was some machine that just needed to work harder to get the job done. That if only I was enough, I wouldn’t be suffering. That something was wrong with me since everyone else was doing ok. Even though logically, I knew this wasn’t true.
The irony is how much I worked to prevent others from this same fate. I took on the work of others, trying to make their lives easier. I took on work in my community that was not mine. Because I didn’t matter.
Breaking through the surface
The moment of surrender felt like giving up to me. I had lived SO long thinking all of this was mine to bear and bear alone. And to surrender meant sharing how I saw myself with someone who could help. Something I had resisted for decades. Allowing my broken self to be seen exactly as I am and exactly as I am not.
This took every ounce I had left in me. I never thought I would make it. And yet, each moment I found just what was needed to take another baby step forward.
It is here that I learned that I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This is the first time in my life that I didn’t add a new brick to my backpack. Instead I asked for help. For the first time in my life, I went back to that playful child and allowed my curiosity to take over of what could be different if I didn’t do all of this alone. It is through this help, the therapy that followed that one by one, I took the bricks out of the backpack. Allowing myself to look at each one newly, playfully, and with curiosity.
Over 10 months of EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), talk therapy, reflection, and looking for the gold in each brick, slowly and with love I emptied the backpack. Each time looking at all of my layers of self (in Sanskrit this is Kosha a term which means sheaths and acknowledges our physical, emotional, wisdom, energetic, and bliss self). How had this brick been formed? Was it a story of the mind? A way I had chosen to cope? What was the impact of the brick on my body, my emotions, my mind, my energy, and my ability to experience self and joy? And most importantly, how was it impacting who I saw myself as and allowed myself to be?
This took time, love, care, space, and support. It was not a process to be rushed or pushed through. I could take my time, learn, understand, and discover how I became me. I could take breaks, putting the work down whenever I wanted or needed to.
Each time, the weight of my past, my mental health, my physical self became easier to be with. I could work with who I am, not against me. I learned to be playful, to cry, to laugh, to let go, to celebrate, and to pause in a healthy balance.
I am not resilient
In our society, there is a great push to be resilient, to let go, reframe, make it positive, and move past things. To be okay all the time. And I bought it hook line and sinker. In fact, I almost drowned in this expectation.
When you look up resilient it means “to able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.”
Why does it matter? Really, why does it matter that it takes time to recover? When did we become so hard on ourselves?
Setting an expectation that we need to recover and quickly simply makes recovery harder. And for many it suggests that no matter what horrible stuff happens to you, especially if it is repeated trauma that we should focus on getting over it.
People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people.
Living with PTSD is hard, shitty, and painful. The work to recover from our traumas can take lifetimes.
Telling me I should be able to withstand and recovery quickly from this is pretty gross. Some things are simply not withstandable!
I am a human being. This means that I have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to my experiences that last long after an event has ended. I may relive an event; I may feel sadness, fear, or anger; and I may feel detached or estranged from other people.
Being a human being means that life moves through me. The fun moments, the sad ones, and the hard ones.
I do not need to be resilient. I do not need to withstand it or recover quickly. I can take the time I need. I can allow myself to be supported, take pauses, and care for myself fully. And I can take all the time I need to recover.
You may be wondering if I still carry my backpack. The answer is… of course I do, I am human. This means I have a mind that makes up stories to understand and deal with scary things, that leads with fear-filled thinking, and I continue to allow the speaking of society to impact me.
The difference is that I now have the tools to clean it out whenever I want to, or it gets too heavy. Sometimes I forget it is there or I forget that I can empty it. And that is ok. I am human. I have set a trail of breadcrumbs for myself to remember my tools.
My breadcrumbs are reminders in my calendar to take time for me, schedule self-care, time with my loved ones, time in nature, and time held for absolutely no reason at all. I have learned to fill my backpack to support me each day, sometimes it is filled with gear for hiking, others a good book, and a blanket.
I am human
What I learned is to be human is a balancing act between two opposites. Between hard work and rest, between strengths and weakness, between the inner experience and the outer experience. Being human means I am a living, breathing, and evolving being. That I will make mistakes and have great successes, and both are perfectly me.