Anyone who has endured mental trauma — the overwhelming of your ability to cope and emotionally process stress — or any level of situational or clinical mental disorder will know that finding something to cling to, is vital to survival. This can be a pleasant memory, an object, a color, a room, a place, a moment, a sensation, an activity, etc. Because the trauma will cling to its own spaces in your mind. That is why flashbacks are crippling. The wound is hidden but open, actively fighting to survive, just as you are. It makes it difficult to control the presence of memory in your everyday interactions with the world. I remember the entire night under a blue filter, and through poetry I unpacked the events to find the truth without compromising the safety of that blue memory. I can’t piece through every minute, where I was, exactly what I did, but I now what happened. I know what I did after.
I used my story to get through.
In the act of illuminating my wounds, I discovered that I had done what I thought was right. I modeled how we as a society hide our wounds. In the moments I described in growth, I was unable to find words until after the fact. Explaining to an audience helped stitch the wounds. It healed me to dignify my flaws, and finally adjust my trajectory toward cleaning up the mess of the past five years of my life. Reading my collection is not triggering for me. I can see clearly how deeply I dug my nails into the writing process. Holding onto a rocket as it blasted through a vacuum where the solutions were unclear. All I see is healing. All I feel is grateful to be alive, love for those words, and drive to prevent myself from ever falling that far again.
We all reach a trauma point in our lives. It’s a moment without a reaction. One does not remark on the beauty of the sun while staring directly at it, the pain is overwhelming, and the damage lasts. Your body freezes, time ceases to exist. You find the meaning after the fact. But you frantically search for it during the storm. In moments, I cried instead of breathing, as my body was unclear on what to do. There were no emotions for it to latch on to. My base processes that keep me alive were overcome by my disorder, and I ultimately was severed from my body. Nearly ending my life ripped my mind back down to Earth, and left it to clean up the injury. So I returned to writing poetry.
I never once sat down and considered what I was doing. Writing was incoherent sentences yelling at the back of my mind right as I sat down to go to bed, or during a class. It was inconvenient, but I took the time to pause and transcribe. Inspiration is not an action or a skill, it’s a moment. You can develop your receptivity to be able to find inspiration in unconventional ways, or to effectively channel that voice in your mind. The most important thing to do, is to capture whatever inspiration has been thrown your way in a rough manner. Then you go back and correct it at a different time. In overcorrecting ourselves we forget the central idea as if we had moved on from the thought and tried to return to it later.
I wanted to forget and move on, as I had done with my previous panic attacks and depressive episodes. In my attempts to kill my anxiety, I allowed it to recuperate and manifest as an insidious phantom. My legs were filled with pain, my muscles filled with tension. It collided with years of depression and boiled over like hot tar. Slowly moving, burning, covering.
Clinging to my story meant continuing that story and, most important, wanting to continue that story. I continued to capture my story, feeling more need in this world than ever for the mending of wounds we all have unfortunately been marked by. Across all traumatic situations, there are situations that exert an influence great enough to break and re-break us.
Nothing filled me with more conviction than looking out into a relatively small community and seeing traces or worse symptoms than mine. Than seeing the direct exercise of the belief that silence is the best reaction to pain. Seeing the expression of symptoms ruin and take lives because those individuals were unable to recognize or be recognized as needing help. The belief that there are not enough hours in the day or the barriers are too numerous and monumental to overcome is a toxic padlock preventing success. So is assigning immense monetary value to mental heath care and shellacking on the stigma. We keep losing people to their pain, to the two forms of trauma that often act together. The trauma we create in ourselves by improperly preparing ourselves for and mitigating stress, and stress enacted on us by forces outside our control. We should take responsibility for the solution, as finding the strength in ourselves to overcome, often not alone, is empowering.
We destroy each other when we assign blame for the cause. Beating yourself up for mistakes or for the inhumanity of others is never healthy. It is vital to believe in yourself when some force has burned what you built in life to the ground. I like to think of it as building a house out of charcoal, a house you keep rebuilding and refurnishing as the world around you sinks back into order.
My dream is for someone to feel okay, for even a moment to be at peace with their progress, and able to find the source of energy inside to continue. It strikes me so deeply, seeing stories of people who ended their lives. I always feel pain deep inside, even if I didn’t know the person, because I know that brutal situation. I think it strikes us deeply as humans also when trauma survivors share their stories. It awakens the remnants of or still active wounds in us all to see pain. It makes us feel less alone. It inspires us to see survival. There is so much work to do to support each other fundamentally through trauma, even those we do not like. We also have to improve mental health care and the access to it, and prevent the societal silence we extensively force upon trauma. There are still days when I do not feel okay. Breathless moments when I feel the anxiety rising inside. Times when I just need to cry. Through therapy and poetry I am developing skills and failing in other areas.
The power of a story is the shockwaves it sends into the silence, breaking through the crying of souls not unique to any culture or geography. In my own community, I find it hard to think of anyone that is truly content with their life. Acting upon love to make those around you feel worthy, acting to make yourself feel worthy, and breaking cycles will always help, even when you aren’t actively combatting trauma. I want people to feel that they are a story that matters, likely to someone they do not know. If I am able to help anyone with my words, that is the ultimate dream. Too many of us suffer for too long before we find our way to a new mindset. We cannot find the time to take care of the warning signs, until the breaking point makes us unable to carry on with the same path. It does not have to be this way.
We only advance ourselves along the trajectory we set toward a dream, by setting goals and taking what life gives us, and making it into something. Positivity is not a state of constant happiness or success. It’s a movement onward and upward. Sometimes that momentum is generated by a good, healthy cry. It is hindered when we get lost in the tears. I have dreamed of being a writer since I was six years old. I set goals to never stop my creative ventures. Life gave me a mental disorder that I am still learning to live with. In a process I could never have predicted, I achieved my childhood dream of being a writer.
I turned pain into poetry, and would like to turn those words into change in the collective mental health of my community.
–Originally Published on medium.com/tbjwrites