Recovering from trauma and depression is not unlike trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle: one made of thousands of tiny shards of a diamond. Sometimes those broken pieces are blatantly obvious, while others are almost invisible and you just can’t find ’em for quids no matter how hard you look. That is, until you end up slicing open your foot, blood everywhere.
There’s always, it seems, more to do. More to heal. Unravel. Soothe. Re-program. Sure, the pieces you recover might get smaller and smaller, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important.
Time moves on and regardless of when the initial impact occurred, you’re still picking up the pieces for years and years, because they hide in the darnedest places.
The half-life of trauma habits
2009 was huge for me. So much happened! I became a yoga teacher, was unemployed for almost four months and took enormous leaps in healing my PTSD. At the same time, I very nearly succumbed to a most heinous and black-natured episode of depression.
In 2010, life was still up and down a whole bunch but gradually a sense of lightness encroached on the territory previously staked out and defended vigilantly by trauma. I felt rather absurd in my enjoyment of life, with the stark comparison of blacker times in my very recent history. But it was all good because those feelings of lightness kept coming back!
Okay, maybe they didn’t come back every day, and maybe there was plenty of hard work still going on. But suddenly I felt supported in my struggle. For every crappy time where I still wondered if stepping in front of a bus was a viable alternative to my empty, pathetic life… there was a yoga class that drastically re-organised my inner world, or a beautiful sunset that entranced me.
Despite my improving state of mind I was still barely coping with the bad habits that trauma had engraved deeply into my life: bad eating, sleeping too much and being quite hopeless at getting anywhere on time. Others were more subtle: withdrawing from being around people, avoiding conflict at all costs, and let’s not forget that broken stress reaction that causes anxiety attacks over a storm in a teacup.
It seemed grossly unfair. PTSD and depression had moved in, trashed the joint and even though they’d been evicted, they hung around outside a lot, yelling abuse and getting drunk in the driveway. And of course, they left behind one hell of a mess.
Thankfully, a couple of those habits have recently begun to break down. Kinda. I mean, I’m still not entirely in the clear. But things are better, y’know?
The first is food
Eating regularly and properly. For a good long while after that initial impact, I had no interest in or capacity for cooking whatsoever. And because I lived alone there wasn’t anyone around who noticed, and I certainly didn’t.
I’d eat ice-cream for dinner for weeks on end. Or cheese and crackers. Or grilled vegemite and cheese. Or nothing.
Occasionally I’d get my shit together and make a huge pot of soup. I ate a lot of take-out and really boring, repetitive meals because I hadn’t the energy or appetite for anything better. Comfort food was a staple, as long as it was easy to prepare or order.
Of course, I’d still pretend to eat well – buying groceries and then regretfully throwing most of them out. I didn’t care though really. It was all just more of the same as far as I was concerned: more days of trauma and fear that left me wishing life would just call time.
So you could say that caring about what I ate was very low on my agenda.
It’s still hard. I’ve gotten out of the habit of making food for myself and it’s not like the cat is going to encourage me. I reckon I still eat too much take-out, and I keep “convenience” meals around, like rice cakes and tuna to substitute for a “real lunch”.
I sure as heck eat far less ice-cream and cheese than I used to – they give me a belly ache anyway. And I’m working on encouraging myself, which generally boils down to making sure I have plenty of time to prepare my food.
Dammit, I used to be the Salad Queen! I made completely EPIC salads, full of tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds, herbs and all kinds of crunchy green goodness. I’d make them day after day, varying the contents or the dressing. And I loved them!
And I’d be all over making simple but tasty evening meals as well. Meals that I now struggle to find the energy or time for. But hey, I have plenty of time for other things, just not making my own food.
Good news, kids: the Salad Queen is making a comeback. It’s kind of on the quiet side, but it is happening.
The second is time and/or getting out of bed
The seductiveness of spending hours or days in bed, barely moving. Comforting. Safe. It’s a rough gig when you feel that awful and still need to be somewhere on time. Like your regular 9-5 day job, for example.
Granted, I had something of an issue with time before all this happened, but that was more to do with being young and irresponsible.
Depression changed all of that and for a long time the only way to feel safe was in my bed (well mostly, anyway).
Waking up was like trying to stop myself from falling. Impossible to do, balanced on a precipice and desperate to hold on to that relatively painless state of mind, ensconced in a bubble of beautiful disassociation. Nothing hurt there, when the nightmares were at bay. It was worse than the time I had glandular fever which left me deathly exhausted from merely walking up a short flight of stairs. Worse than that. Way worse, because at least with glandular fever, I wanted to try.
Leaving the house to go anywhere was an enormous act of will. It still kind of is. That feeling of home as my fox hole is very strong, and it’s very easy to spend all day there if I don’t have anywhere to be. Perhaps that’d be okay if I lived with other people, but as a solo act it’s pretty anti-social, right?
Structure is what I need to keep my weekends operational. Places I’m expected to be, things I’ve gotta do. I’ll write a list to remember what has to happen (buy extortionately expensive cat food, fix my bike etc) and then string those activities off whatever structure I’ve managed to form in order to do stuff and not waste an entire day, again.
Though, these days I’m naturally waking up earlier. There’s more of an impulse to leave the fox hole – gasp – just for a walk in the sun, with nowhere in particular to be. More often than not I can even get places on time – having to show up to teach yoga classes has strongly influenced my time management skills.
And heck yeah, having these things in some sort of order is kinda nice.
Smacking down those habits!
The shrugging off of trauma habits moves perhaps as slowly as everything else has. Piece by piece, and I notice another non-operational part only when I see it. It feels disabling to still be lumped with habits formed for reasons that are no longer valid, but it’s exciting to know that I’m now in a position to do something about them.
Yeah, I used to be the Salad Queen
The Salad Queen!
The Salad Queen!
Once upon a time, that was then
That’s right, I used to be the Salad Queen
The Salad Queen!
The Salad Queen!
And I’m coming back for my crown once again!