As my lymphedema gently nudged me awake from my slumber this morning, I suddenly realized that today is a huge mental load. Today is exactly two years from the day I bolted awake with a feeling of dread, a big lump on my neck and the unconfirmed knowledge that something was horribly wrong. Even though my diagnosis was not confirmed until about two months later, that is where my journey truly started. I should have realized it was coming. On the surface, I was suppressing the memory, but my body knew better. I haven’t felt like myself in days. I had some random panic attacks. My fibromyalgia was flaring like nobody’s business and I got my first migraine in a long time. Now it all makes sense. I was refusing to acknowledge my internal ptsd out loud, but my body was doing it for me.
It occurs to me, now, two years later, that I really need to change my strategy. I have made it my mission since cancer to just keep swimming and pushing and to let nothing hold me up or get in my way anymore. I am always in motion, even if I don’t feel well. I sometimes ignore the need to take a break, because I am afraid that it will slow me down enough that I will start to dwell even more on everything that has happened to me. I also spend too much time chastizing myself for my own thoughts because I assume that my trauma clearly wasn’t as severe as a lot of other people’s.
And where is that getting me? NOWHERE! That gets me panic attacks and prolonged fibromyalgia flares and even more missed time doing what I love. I’ve got it all wrong and I need to change my strategy from constant movement to actual acknowledgement. I need to process and acknowledge/accept? what has happened. Otherwise I cannot really move forward. I read a great article in GoodTherapy magazine from May of 2011 written by Susanne Dillman, PsyD. She said that true acknowledgement of trauma is absolutely necessary for healing to begin. She points out that there is no real hierarchy of pain. Trauma is not scalable. This is a belief that is more flawed than accurate. So, me trying to downplay my trauma and compare it to others is getting me nowhere and I need to stop. She says that trauma lies at the utmost extreme of human experience and there is nothing ordinary or expected about it form the individual’s perspective. You cannot compare the danger, horror and fear involved, regardless of the content. The experience is your own. Once something is extreme, trying to rank how extreme it is is useless.
She also points out that you are literally blocking your healing journey by not acknowledging your trauma because you are denying yourself any sense of self compassion. Healing is the only way to truly detoxify trauma. I don’t think she is talking about sitting back and completely wallowing for weeks at a time. She is just saying that you need to realize that it is real and allow yourself to feel in order to get truly past it.