This has been the focus of a lot of my worries recently. So many people have said either to myself or others “move on” or “let it go, it’s in the past”. Although I understand why these words may seem the appropriate response to someone dealing with trauma, it absolutely infuriates me hearing it.
Nobody can pack the bags of trauma into a suitcase and kick it out the door forever, it is not that simple. I’ve seen people respond in many ways, from acting like it never happened to replaying every detail on a loop. I don’t think either one of those is healthy, and I mean for me, if it has worked for you then well done!
My problem, now that I am coming out the tail end of another depressive episode, is that I can cope with amazing strength with a lot of things – until I can’t. My purse was stolen yesterday for example, and I just got on with it, phoning the necessary lines to get my cards blocked and reporting it. If my purse had been stolen a month back, I probably would of had 3 panic attacks and a bout of self loathing with the bully in my head chanting “see, I told you, you are cursed”.
So I can roll with the punches with ease for a long time, but sometimes the negative thoughts get louder and more controlling, my self-esteem hits an all time low and before I know it I’m back in a rut, replaying on a loop the traumatic events that have happened to me. Waves of negative thoughts and feelings totally destroy the happy paradise I have tried so desperately to build, and I can’t see a way out. Although I have came out the other end many times now, each time I get dragged under is like a whole new experience. Then once I am out of the storm, the fear of being dragged back in to depression is sometimes crippling enough to keep me stranded for a month or so, scared to do anything worthwhile incase that too is destroyed.
So do not tell me that I can just simply “move on” – like holding some ritualistic burning of photos/painful memories is going to instantly solve all my worries. (Believe me I have tried).
I can look back now and see what coping mechanisms I have developed. My instant go to’s when I’m stuck in the swamp of depression, sometimes I feel like there is a kindness to my brain and it throws me a lifeline which I cling to.
The first being to have someone who can empathise, or knows you well enough to know what to say or not say. I have a close friend and my partner who both know not to say “move on”, but instead say “you are having a really crappy time right now, but you will get through this and I will be here to help”. Even knowing that someone understands I am struggling can give me comfort. If I take to bed my partner will often come lay with me and ask if I want to talk, sometimes I do and I can cry on him for hours, other times I don’t want to talk and he will just sit and hold me.
Now I’m not that naive to know that some people have nobody they can go to for that kind of support, there have been years where the only people in my life are more hindering to the depression. I truly know how blessed I am to finaly have someone in my life that can support me. In those times where I had no one I found chatting on support forums helpful, nobody needs to know who you are but you have the chance to talk and let it all out.
Secondly having a mantra, I remember sitting in my room as a teenager after an extremely traumatic ordeal and an advert came on with Bob Marley – Dont worry be happy. In that moment my inner voice kicked in and said “life will go on after this, you are not dead and there is a future after this”. Now for whatever reason that stuck, and now when I am really struggling with life that thought pops in my head and allows me to cope. As long as I am still breathing I am surviving, and that is enough.
There are other things which I find helpful, they are more cliché but they do still work. I attended a grief counselling session when my friend died and she said to break down time in to manageable chunks, like plan an hour ahead, or 2 hours etc. I find I still go to this when I’m really struggling, going for a shower and doing my hair will take an hour – I might cry the whole time but it still passes an hour. I have set activities which are manageable and I can asses how bad I am or good depending on what activities I manage. I also know it helps with the endorphins, planning an hour or two around cleaning the house or folding that pile of laundry can feel like I have accomplished Everest.
Also battling negative thoughts with positive ones, as cliché as it sounds. When I am ruminating about traumatic events I try read a good book to take my mind off it. Sometimes that doesnt work however, for example, last time at work, I started thinking “I need to go home or else I am going to completely break down”, before I could get swallowed up I started telling myself a story about an amazing holiday where I was on a beach and had planned to go swimming, who was there etc.. then a colleague started talking to me and before I knew it I was finishing up the last of my jobs and it was home time.
This is just a short list, but those are the most helpful things for me. There are definitely times where I have read self-help books and thought “easy for you to say, hard for me to do”, and times I have felt I can’t get out of bed let alone plan an hour. I find the more coping mechanisms I build the easier it is to deal with the next time around, hopefully I will get to a point where I don’t have to think about the next time around! They also help keep me ticking over when I am not in a state of depression, my mind still wanders to traumatic events of the past every day, but I am able to dismiss them within 30 seconds when I am well.
That is the whole truth of moving on, you cannot just remove such a traumatic life from existence, it won’t just go away and not surface in your mind. What you can do is build around it, so that eventually you can hardly see the warpath that was, and be filled with the new and exciting views of where life takes you.