Trauma has a profound effect on human beings. Human beings are not machines. They are not robots. They are vulnerable assemblages of skin, blood, organs and bone. Violence is done not only to our bodies but to our psyches. I have seen trauma in my own life but I have also seen tremendous trauma in other people. I have seen the burden this takes on people. We live in a sado-society where violence, cruelty and degradation are the norm. It is frightening when I think of how many people I know who have trauma and how many people I know who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. Contrary to popular belief, it is not only veterans who get PTSD. Some of us are soldiers of other kinds of battles and wars. I have many battle scars and I don’t even know the extent to which they have impacted me.
The death of a dog and two of my best friends have been incredibly traumatic. Severe bullying through most of K-12 has been extremely traumatic. I will go into these traumas in future posts. But right now I want to talk about how these make me feel.
Obviously, they contribute greatly to depression. I can’t tell you how sad I feel about the loss of innocence in my youth and the loss of stability in my adulthood. Fuck people who say this makes you stronger. In a better world, these things would not happen. This is not some kind of revolutionary utopianism. It is basic dignity and decency. I would give anything to not have to go through the mental torture that my multiple traumas have brought me.
I am triggered on a regular basis. Triggered by bullying, triggered by suicide, triggered by hospitalizations, triggered by transphobia. I never know when it is going to hit. I never know how severe it is going to be. I never know if a Klonopin or two is going to be enough to walk me off the ledge. What does triggering cause?
For me at least it causes anxiety. I become anxious when triggered, sometimes to the level of a full-on panic attack. These episodes of anxiety are terrifying. And of course there are the nightmares. Waking up from horrible dreams and feeling like you have lived the trauma all over again.
For me, trauma also causes dissociation. I rarely talk about this because it is so incredibly stigmatized. It is stigmatizing enough to have depression, anxiety and PTSD, but when you add dissociation to the mix people really think you are full-on “crazy.” I worry about the added stigma I will face from my multiple psych diagnoses. I worry about the added stigma I will face from my multiple targeted/oppressed identities intersecting with the mental illnesses. Trauma is a key element that binds the different diagnoses together and also affects my multiple identities like being trans, fat, crip, queer and low income.
Trauma can also cause problems with relationships and self-esteem. Loved ones in the circle of the trauma sufferer may not know how to react. They may not have the tools to help the trauma victim/survivor. This could cause misunderstandings and strained relationships. I think trauma hurts self-esteem. This is particularly true for childhood trauma. We are undermined at the very time in our life when our personhood is in development. I know that the bullies made me feel like shit. They still make me feel like shit, despite years of therapy. It is easy to say: “Don’t let them rob you of your happiness.” How about: they should not have abused you in the first place. My self-esteem has suffered dire consequences from my trauma. With the suicide of my best friend, it made me more susceptible to suicide. With the death of my other best friend from medical transphobia, it made me terrified of encounters with medical “professionals.”
According to the APA, trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”
The main point or take-away from this blog entry is that trauma is horrendous. The treatments for it are often limited and ineffective, at least the mainstream ones. I have suffered horribly as have many of my friends. Compassion is key, as is understanding. Realize that people with trauma will go through a range of physical, psychological and emotional symptoms. There is no cure and people should not be told to “just get over it.” It is a long-term struggle and people need to understand the impact. While emotions can be managed, they cannot be fully controlled. Patience, endurance, perseverance and strength are required to deal with trauma, and usually for a lifetime.