Today is one of them, the really tough days when my legs and stomach ache from the struggle I go through with my PTSD symptoms and when I sit quietly with my hands on my body in the painful places, grief like an ocean rises up. My symptoms seem to have flared up after a treatment yesterday with a body worker, it has taken me five hours to get out of bed, have a shower (huge panic attack while in the shower which seems to trigger all my pain), make breakfast, feed the dog, clear up dishes and get dressed. Its now nearly 2 pm and I woke at 7.15 am.
On these days life seems too hard. Yesterday I touched base with the feelings of profound sadness, fear, desperation and powerlessness I experienced following the bike accident in 2005 when I went over the handlebars and hit my head open on the iron foundry on a busy Cambridge street. I didn’t remember the impact, just awoke some hour later with an ambulance officer looming over me and most horrible pain in my head and nausea running all through me. For the astrologically minded of you it happened when transiting Chiron was conjunct my natal Mars, Saturn, Moon in the 6th house on the first anniversary of my husbands decision to walk away from our marriage.
I had gone back to Cambridge hoping to start a new life there, where we had tried to settle three years before. I was boarding with a family who would only allow me access to the kitchen and bathroom, not the living areas of their home. I don’t know why I settled for this arrangement and later when I started to express some of the grief I was undergoing they made it clear such feelings were not acceptable in their home. Their daughter had lost a best friend to addiction a few years before and they didn’t want her faced with any additional sadness. It was an old familiar dynamic. Anyway I ended up having this crash and it was plain to me they were not prepared to offer any support so I took myself off to a retreat in Glastonbury.
Its a far longer story. I spent a lot of my time in severe disorientation due to my PTSD and I spent a lot of time crying. I did make some supportive friends and I joined a Five Rhythms dance group where I could express my feelings in free form dance. I look back at that time and see the pain was precursor to a potentially new life, but I felt too far flung out into space with no safety net, so about 6 months after my accident I made the decision to return to Australia.
What came up for me yesterday were all the feelings of powerlessness, compassion for myself at having been treated with lack of compassion by that family and the compassion of the therapist who shared with me how much she feels for people who suffer a traumatic accident which ruptures the fabric of a person’s physical integrity and leaves huge psychological scars. I know that if you have not been through trauma its impossible to understand how it affects you. The loss of continuity, the difficulty feeling real, the sense of profound displacement and the strange impact on the body where the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems get forced into full flung hyper arousal that cant be quietened over time.
This week I have been reading about the neurobiology of trauma in Babette Rothschild’s book The Body Remembers : The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment. What strikes me is the nightmarish quality of it all and the powerlessness we sufferers experience as the body takes over launching us into a world of painful symptoms which are difficult to understand and manage. Then the double wound which hurts even more deeply when we as sufferers are faced with the lack of empathy and understanding we meet when others don’t want to be bothered by our pain which is seen as a hindrance and the lack of proper emotional support which leaves us so very isolated and alone.
Profound feelings of rage can be one consequence and I know these led me to abort two previous attempts at body work and trauma healing. I am now with a body therapist who is able to contain this rage and see that it is a symptoms of powerlessness, not a cause to punish me further. I have compassion for the pain that underlies it.
Writing this is, I now understand, a way for me to manage the pain I feel on the really tough days. Speaking about it, even just to a blank page helps. I long to connect with other sufferers as I know they would understand me and I would understand them. I feel isolated at times. I have few friends who are willing to understand. I have a house to cope with and manage while trying to manage all my symptoms. Some days I cope but on others like today I find it really hard.
One interesting thing that I have read in Babette’s book is that trauma affects the ability of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps us to make sense of events, in an adverse way. It can shut the hippocampus down when it is severe while it amps up the limbic system, that part of the brain that has profound control over body function, enervation of nerves and muscles and over emotional reactions. Healing involves engaging the hippocampus through story telling, therapy, writing and other methods which help us to make sense of the trauma and its impact on our lives.
I am only a short way into the book and will share about it more later as I learn more. For today I need to go gently on myself, to have compassion for the traumatised self who sometimes judges herself by standards that relate to the non traumatised. I didn’t choose this and at times it feels like a curse, but I have to live with it. As the Sun and Mercury have passed in opposition to my natal Chiron in the seventh house which aspects Mars, Saturn and Moon, while conjunct natal Pluto in my first I am reminded that this is part of my destiny. Chiron was wounded in the ankle by a poison arrow left lying around by Hercules after he had fought the nine headed Hydra in one of his major labours. The pain of the loss of my husband drove me on a quest and I got injured as a result. Chiron never healed his wound but he did become a teacher and healer himself with profound insight into the nature of the wound and how to tend it, lovingly. I take this insight to heart today as I consider the loving thing to do on one of the really tough days.
Also I am questioning today whether it might be advisable to give the body work a break for a time. After my accident I went to an astrology consultation with the astrologer Melanie Reinhardt who explores the mythology and psychology of Chiron in the lives and stories of people and places. She advised me at that time that I would gain most by living a quiet, interior and centred life in which I developed compassion and understanding into the nature of my wound. Melanie also came close to death following an accident (as I did in an early accident at 17) and she explained to me that such a trauma leaves and imprint few, even many therapists fully understand. She mentioned that one of the dangers of reliving the trauma over was in being stuck there. Being stuck is such a big part of PTSD anyway, especially as the freeze or immobility state is one of the response to life threatening trauma.
How to come out of freeze? Firstly to know when we are in that state, feeling trapped, holding our breath, making poor decisions due to trauma. Going for a walk, even if we don’t feel like it. Choosing to engage even if may feel dangerous, loving ourselves even when frozen and feeling compassion, may all be ways. Writing about it, talking about it, understanding it. Not as something to be ashamed of that makes us less than but something that even in being painful is a form of education of the soul..