Trauma

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.

Memory

There is a whole academic area in the humanities about memory. I don’t have that many profound things to say about it except that I have a poor one.

One of my life goals is to write a memoir. The problem with writing a memoir is that you need to remember your life events. While I am not saying I can’t remember any of them, I have forgot about a lot of them and others are quite hazy. Some things I don’t want to remember. It’s like how our mind will make us forget our dreams as a protective mechanism. I think some things I don’t remember or don’t remember well because my psyche is trying to protect me from negative or even traumatic memories.

But what I would like to say about memory is that it is always already filtered. Unless there is a videotaped copy, our memories always exist within particular limitations. Even if it is videotaped, there is no pureness when it comes to interpretation. Memory, to my mind, is unstable, incoherent and socially constructed. Although memory is unframed, people purposely try to put a frame around a particular memory. Often this is to make it more positive or to take some of the grit or trauma right out of it.

From an early age, I was taught “show don’t tell” when it comes to writing. When I write my memoir, I will be doing very little “showing.” I just don’t have that kind of strong memory. I don’t see anything wrong with telling. It still can be interesting even if it is not as finely detailed. It also brings to me the question of the line between a novel and a memoir. Obviously they are different genres and I don’t mean to render them identical at all. But they are closer than many of us think. To put it bluntly, people lie. Or to put it slightly more softly, people fib. Often they don’t even mean to. Memory is filtered and sometimes people remember what they want to remember rather than what actually happened. Even what “actually happened” can change based on different people’s reports or vantage points. There have been some high-profile cases of people who wrote “non-fiction” that turned out to be wholly or largely fabricated. “Creative” non-fiction is well named because the creative aspect often means a stretching of the truth. Sometimes a novel can be more truthful than an autobiography.

I guess what I am trying to get at is that there is no mechanism to represent absolute truth. As I approach my memoir, I do want to be as truthful as possible. I will not be making things up out of whole cloth. But I will also be very upfront in the beginning that this is a series of events from my own, limited vantage point and that absolute “truth” is irretrievable. Different people may well see it differently. I am limited by my own memory. There will be gaps in the story simply because they are things I don’t recall or things I see as uninteresting or unnecessary. Memory is an interesting thing. It will be something I will greatly rely on to write my memoir. But I will also rely on my analytical and critical skills because my “memoir” will be very political because that is how my brain works!

We need to re-think memory. The memory is not a computer. It is a fragile and vulnerable mechanism that is, above all, human and subject to human error, interpretation and intentional revision. Since memory is not a mere recorder, I don’t see this as a problem, but as something that makes memory infinitely more interesting and complex.