Childhood Trauma Series | The Beginning

Defining childhood trauma

Childhood trauma refers to a frightening, dangerous or distressing event that threatens a child’s life or bodily integrity. This can also include being a witness to a loved ones suffering or pain (vicarious trauma). Events like natural disasters, emotional, physical or sexual abuse can have long-term effects on developing minds and bodies.

A trip down memory lane

It was a normal school day (besides my slipping attendance, which was not new). The year-level coordinator approached me after lunch. I was somewhat nervous but also oblivious to the conversation that would ensue. He asked me a series of questions regarding my lateness, whether I’d lost weight etc. After telling him a small portion of what was happening in my life, he used the word ‘abuse’ to describe what I had mentioned. This was a shock. How was I going through abuse? Wasn’t every other student experiencing this too? When he’d ask how I was faring from then on, I would assure him I was okay, even though I wasn’t. As a teenager, I thought I was right (typically) and it couldn’t be possible that what he said was true. Little did I know, pushing him away (as well as my pain), would cause an emotional overload, years down the track.

A few years later, I was studying Art Therapy. There was a particular module in the course based on The Inner Child. Most modules consisted of theory coupled with practical work. This practical exercise required us to trace the outline of our own body onto large butcher paper. Then, we needed to draw or create an item our inner child needed. I stared at my outline for quite some time. Eventually, I drew a heart shape and coloured it in with a marker. The flood gates had been opened… the next year or so would be one of the biggest struggles of my life.

Throughout my time studying Art Therapy, other peers would share their experiences and I felt somewhat detached. I felt sorry for them but I didn’t have the capacity to truly sympathise. It was like my brain switched off the department to feel pain for others. Including for myself. I began struggling to concentrate. I started skipping class. I didn’t want to do the practical work for fear of all the “shit” coming up in front of my peers. Feeling caged, and somehow ‘in danger’, I didn’t want to face it… face what? Class? Other students? The trainers? I was so confused. What was happening to me? I felt like I wanted to cry most of the time. My personal life was also affected: I was working in a toxic environment that caused panic attacks; my living circumstances were unstable; I had no one to turn to because I withdrew myself. Everything was overwhelming. 

The beginning of healing and discovery

At first, I wanted to see an Art Therapist to shed some light on what was going on. I completed one session but didn’t feel better. I started seeing a counsellor. As I was unravelling my childhood memories however, she mentioned something that made future sessions feel impossible. The college I was at, offered me a list of mental health professionals I could contact for further support. Going through the list, I searched each name on the web. After a few attempts, I came across a counsellor who was located in the city. I read through her website which 1. looked professional and 2. had a calming vibe. Her client reviews seemed positive too, which was great. That was the beginning of discovery and healing for me. 

This counsellor helped me through some harrowing times, past trauma and suppressed emotions. I learned from her how to care, be patient and acknowledge my emotions. I can’t thank her enough for her ability to hold space and offer unconditional support. It was exactly what I needed to begin healing. After a long time with C*, I noticed a ‘heaviness’ that I couldn’t shake – despite all the growth and learning that occurred. I knew then, it was time to find a new mental health professional. 

On-going self-work

A mutual friend suggested I see a specific psychologist that lived nearby. At the first consultation, the psychologist pointed out a possible ‘conflict’ that could hinder progress, if we were to work together. I was then referred on to my current psychologist, N*. 

Since I’ve started seeing N, I’ve grown and learnt SO much. I’ve noticed my thinking has changed a little over this time: I’ve begun thinking critically rather than reacting emotionally. Although my personality traits (that include being emotional) won’t change, I have been enjoying this shift in thinking patterns. Not every action requires a reaction! Sometimes all we need to do is put our ‘thinking cap’ on, and find ways to solve the problem at hand. Give ourselves space to feel what we’re feeling, and when we are able to, get to work on changing what needs to be changed! The power is in our hands. The power, is in our mind.

For me, talk therapy has been really helpful. Perhaps for you, other avenues like creativity coupled with talk therapy could be more helpful. Treatment isn’t a one-shoe-fits-all. What works for me, may not work for you and vice-versa.

Advice for anyone beginning the healing journey or going through it currently.

It may take a few (or more) tries to find a mental health professional that you feel safe with and connect with. Trust the process and be patient. Remember that healing isn’t overnight. Childhood trauma (or any trauma for that matter) can be complex, so be prepared for difficult days and nights. When we experience things during our childhood that shape our beliefs and values we hold, it can be terrifying to sift through memories. I know, I’ve been there. I’m still there. But with what I’ve worked through so far, it’s been the best choice in my life to ask for help and commit to doing the work. It’s time to move forward!

Another piece of advice I wish I had: make a tangible list of coping strategies that help you stay calm and centred in-between appointments. It can be scary, feeling overwhelmed from past memories. However, there is research out there that suggests techniques that help manage symptoms before your next appointment. Things that have helped me (and STILL do): yoga/general exercise, breathing exercises, guided meditations on YouTube, reading self-help books, learning about mental health and treatment, listening to podcasts and seeing friends/loved ones.

If you have any personal questions, contact me here. Please remember, there are people that care about you. Reach out to a trusted person or online community.

Here is a list of organisations that are here to help you:

  • blueknot helpline 1300 657 380 – complex trauma
  • beyondblue.org.au 1300 22 4636 – depression/anxiety awareness
  • kidshelpline.com.au 1800 55 1800 – private, confidential counselling
  • lifeline.org.au 13 11 14 – crisis support, suicide prevention
  • qlife.org.au 1800 184 527 – LGBTI support site
  • vvcs.gov.au 1800 011 046 – veteran, war-related support
  • ReachOut – youth mental health community support

 This kind of self-work is not easy, but worth it to move forward in life.

Stay well friends! x

*Names have been omitted for privacy reasons.
*Some words are hyperlinked for further information/learning.

Image by just_shot_of_jameson.


3 Ways to Manage Anxiety in the Morning.

One Saturday morning, I woke to memories of a bad dream I had. Feelings of worry and anxiousness lingered. As the morning continued, I felt worse and worse. I couldn’t sit still. I almost made the decision to get up from where I was sitting to distract myself – either clean the lounge, tidy the bedroom or sort out the laundry. But I didn’t. I felt paralysed.

Plans I had that afternoon were cancelled. I was relieved. I had this strange feeling that something bad might happen if I left the house.

Looking back, there was a cycle that was occurring: I had worrisome thoughts, which set-off anxiousness that fed into fear. Thoughts>anxiousness>fear. My thoughts reinforced my emotions. I’m learning that to shift my emotions, I must be aware of my thoughts. I know, waking up anxious can leave us feeling like the day is doomed, but different approaches can help turn it around! 

What was my approach this time? YouTube. Yep. Good old social media.  I’ve found that in times of need, watching educational videos or listening to podcasts about what I’m feeling/going through really helps. So I typed into the YouTube search bar something like, “waking up anxious”. I found a channel called The Anxiety Guy (Dennis Simsek) and decided to let the video play in the background while I sat still and breathed. I quietly reminded myself that I was safe and that things would be okay; I’ve gone through this before, I’ll get through it again.

The Anxiety Guy’s 3 Steps: 

1. Negativity journal. The first point he made was to write into a negativity journal in the first 2 minutes in the morning. This immediately inspired me to write this post. So I typed out the worry and fear. Releasing how I felt  helped. Maybe a journal and pen by your bed would be handy, or a private blog if you’d prefer to type it out. No matter the method, expressing how you feel can be a source of catharsis and relief. 

2. Gratitude/stretch. The Anxiety Guy then shared how gratitude can shift our focus. In the past, lists have helped me to arrange my thoughts and gain clarity. I do my best at the end of every night, to list things I’m grateful for. On this particular morning however, I admit, instead of focusing on what I was grateful for, I tried to find reasons for the anxiousness. Shifting your focus from fear to gratitude can be a powerful tool. I will do my best to try this in the future.

As for stretching/yoga, I haven’t done that in a while. When I used to practice yoga, it helped me feel grounded; I would definitely recommend it if you feel inclined. Even walking with a friend around the city/neighbourhood is a form of exercise. So ask a friend to join you!

3. Magic mirror exercise. Now, imagine you are looking at your future self in the mirror, and think of 3 questions to ask. E.g. Instead of asking, “Why me?” flip it and ask, “How did you overcome your fears?”. Switch the negativity into positivity!

“Life is about the questions you ask yourself.” 

The Anxiety Guy

I often speak about my future self having overcome my current fears/worries. I am hopeful that once I’ve worked through unresolved situations, my fears/worries will fade.

An important thing to note, is that we all have personality traits which predispose us to certain emotions. For instance, I have scored high in neuroticism (which include emotions related to anxiety, worry, anger etc) and I am learning how to manage it. Personality traits tend to remain stable throughout our lives, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t find ways to manage it if it affects us greatly. That has been a key learning point for me: there is always a way to manage life’s struggles and that’s what matters!

So, if you wake up anxious, try and take a few minutes to yourself to firstly write down/type out your fears. Second, remind yourself of the things you’re grateful for – shift your focus from fear to gratitude. Lastly, reframe negative questions into positive ones. Change can be difficult but it is totally possible. I believe in you!

I hope this post has helped you today and given you a few ways to manage anxiousness in the morning.

Remember, you’re not alone. Thank you for being here. 

Stay well friends! x

Image by Lena Bell.



 

Psychology Sessions | “I’m not good enough.”

Psychology Sessions | “I’m not good enough.”

I wanted to start a series of “Psychology Sessions”, where you can have a glimpse into what I have gone through with my psychologist/past counsellors.

I want to use this platform to be open and honest about how self-improvement happens. It’s not just waking up one day and feeling different. It’s difficult, emotionally-laboured work that takes time and dedication everyday. If anything resonates with you, please let me know in the comments.

*Be aware that there may be distressing/triggering content.*


Let’s begin The Session.

What is a belief? A belief is something considered to be fact.

Where do beliefs come from? Beliefs come from the environment around us (external). It can also be formed by our own thoughts and sensory experience (internal).

The thought, “I’m not good enough” can be experienced by most of us at some point in our lives. For some, it is more prevalent if we have had past experiences that ingrain this kind of thinking. It can affect our self-esteem, confidence and progress in self-improvement.

The good news is, beliefs can be changed!

My psychologist drew up a table of two lists on her whiteboard. She asked me to list evidence for why I was good enough and why I wasn’t.

Listing evidence for why I wasn’t good enough was easy. My psychologist and I then spent about five minutes expanding each piece of evidence – what was the circumstance? How did that lead to the belief? Was this evidence substantial enough? I realised: instead of moving forward, I forced myself to take fear with me from my childhood and adolescence and used the events of my past as justification.

Listing evidence for being good enough was not as easy. Slowly though, achievements came to the surface. It affirmed that there were positive things I have accomplished. For example, I moved out at 18, I learned how to save money and I learned how to budget. I realised that many things I have done in the past, required skills and sometimes, strategic thinking!

What I learned.

I learned that if I didn’t achieve things to a ‘perfect standard’ or made a mistake, I was automatically ‘not good’. As well as an avalanche of other negative thoughts/beliefs toward myself.

Some may wonder, “Well Angela, if it did you harm, why couldn’t you just forget this belief?” Let’s go back to the beginning. There’s this thing called egocentrism. As children, we are unable to process situations or events from another person’s perspective. As a result, we attribute another’s hurtful actions to ourselves, thinking, “I must be bad/stupid/dumb” (which is what happened to me).

So, how can we change our beliefs?

1. First, we need to know what our beliefs are. 
Self-work is not an easy journey but it is absolutely worth it.  To know what beliefs we have, we could take inventory of thoughts that come up. Whether it’s a positive one like “I can do anything I set my mind to!” or “I never do anything good…” – it could be worth identifying and changing if it does not serve you.

2. Make a list of accomplishments.
I love utilising lists to get a clear sense of tasks, goals or ideas. My strategy for changing this belief will be writing a list of all my life’s achievements. As time goes on, my list will evolve and grow. So whenever this belief creeps back in (which I have been guaranteed that it will) I can look at this list and remind myself, “You know what? Yes, I have made mistakes but I am good enough!”.

3. Remember that we all make mistakes.
There is a difference between taking responsibility and acknowledging a mistake and punishing ourselves over everything. Sometimes, we are our own worst critic! You don’t necessarily have to experience disturbing trauma to be hard on yourself. We all have a drive that pushes us forward. Just remind yourself of positive motivators too!

4. Be patient with yourself. 
Changing a belief is not easy. Same goes for mastering a talent, technique or academic topic. All of these have something in common: TIME. It takes time to change or learn something new. It takes time to improve a skill. So be patient.

Beliefs once formed, are ingrained and can be difficult/confronting to change – as you saw with my struggle. However, with support, patience and strategies, it is possible to live a life based on positive truth rather than self-deprecating lies.

That concludes our session today.
Thank you for being here.
Stay well! x

Image by Thu.

Psychologists and counsellors: are they helpful?

Psychologists and counsellors: are they helpful?

Today, I want to break the stigma of seeing a mental health professional. Yes, it is more accepted in today’s society but there are still negative thoughts out there. This post is for those people who are afraid to be judged. This post is for those who have earned their degree, honours and masters. This post is for those who are curious as to how a professional can help them.

My experience

During high school, I saw a counsellor for the first time. I was losing motivation as each week passed and my teacher was concerned. Unfortunately, I had trust issues with most adults – the school counsellor included.  I could barely muster up words to describe how I was feeling. Albeit I was conditioned to ignore my emotions… I was so afraid that he would judge me or “turn against me” somehow. I saw this counsellor once and never returned.

Throughout the next 5 years, I struggled with negative thoughts and had trouble sleeping. I saw a few counsellors which helped to a point. Even though I got along with these people, still, I felt the same: I had a heavy chest and a sadness that wouldn’t go away. Eventually, I scraped up the courage to see a psychologist. It was the best decision I ever made. Although it was very costly (as I am a student and work casually), it was worth it. My boyfriend would always remind me, “Your mental health is more important” – this finally clicked. I couldn’t push my needs to the side any longer. I longed to move forward with my life. I made it my mission to allow for psychology sessions in my budget. If I didn’t have enough to pay for it, I’d either borrow money from someone and pay it back or reschedule the appointment until I could afford it. It became a worthwhile priority in my life!

Counsellor or psychologist?

First, let’s define these occupations. Both counsellors and psychologists can help with mental health issues and personal problems. However, the main distinction is that a psychologist has a protected title that only those who are specifically qualified can use. This involves more than six years of tertiary studies.

As I mentioned before, I have seen both counsellors and psychologists. I found that a counsellor’s fee was more affordable than a psychology session. To this day, I assume it’s because of the difference in education and a psychologists protected title.

What’s important however, is whether or not you get along with the professional. The first couple counsellors I saw, didn’t seem like people I could ‘click’ with. Eventually, I met a counsellor who was amazing and really helped me through some harrowing times. She was kind, genuine and encouraging – qualities that I was lacking in myself/around my immediate social circle at that time in my life.

Steps to seeing a mental health professional.

  1.  Do your research. Read about each counsellor/psychologists profile if that’s available. Find their website and read, read, read! Once you’re certain about having the first initial consult, send an email.
  2. Attend the consultation. The mental health professional should then contact you and organise a consultation. This is usually a orientation session to talk about what your goals are, medical history and emergency contacts.
  3. First session. This can be nerve-racking even though you’ve already had the initial consultation. But remember – this is the first step to overcoming the hurdles you’ve been experiencing. It’s okay to be nervous. It’s normal. Being vulnerable is difficult. It may not seem like it, but it will be worth it.
  4. Self-reflection. You’ve completed your first session. Well done. Now, you can take the next 7-14 days to think whether or not you would like to continue with this counsellor/psychologist. Do they respond to you in a way that makes you feel supported? Do you feel safe being vulnerable with them? Do you feel you could learn a lot from them? Expression is hugely cathartic but it’s also important that you are able to openly learn, and improve your life. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, let the counsellor know that you won’t be continuing. Go back to Step 1 and do your research. Maybe ask friends/family you trust about professionals they may have seen.
  5. Continue counselling sessions. You’ve now made the next decision to either continue or find another professional. Remember, healing isn’t linear. You may have a breakthrough and another hurdle comes along. It’s okay. Like Dory says, “Just keep swimming!”.

Seeing a professional can be daunting and even terrifying. But if talking to friends or trusted adults aren’t improving your situation, take that step to seek help. Don’t wait. Waiting may exacerbate your symptoms.

Mental illness can be so isolating. Reach out. And if you know someone who is struggling, send them a message. Give them a call. Visit them. You never know what battle someone may be facing. Don’t wait until it’s too late to show your kindness. Don’t wait to spread love to those closest.

It’s okay to ask for help. We are stronger together.

Image from last years trip to New Zealand.

5 Ways to Function through a Depressive Slump

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Taking notice.

Nothing in particular has been overwhelming. Yet strangely, I have noticed a decline in my motivation, I’ve been struggling to sleep at night and I haven’t been able to concentrate during the day. As I type this, exhaustion is ensuing. All I want to do, is sleep. I’ve felt like this for the last month or so.

But, hope is not lost!

Over the years, I have found outlets for the days when depression is all I see.

I have listed these below:

1. Create a private blog.

I have been blogging privately for years. I use Tumblr, as it is password protected. The motion of posting allows me to express my concerns, without worrying about what words I use or how I say it. Even though there is no audience, I am satisfied by letting those feelings go.

Documenting day-to-day how I’m feeling, helps me process my emotions. Whether it’s online or in a notebook you can keep in a safe place… try it out. Expression may be hugely cathartic for you.

2. Watch YouTube videos.

This may sound weird. But for me, YouTube allows me to connect with people around the world who have a motivating mindset. These days, mental health awareness is in abundance. Topics on depression, anxiety, personality disorders, trauma… many topics are available to us thanks to the internet and the world of YouTube. There are also videos to help with business, finance, emotional intelligence and even videos about day-to-day lives of others.

What are you usually interested in?

I know it can be difficult to do anything in a depressive slump. However, if you decide to stay home and don’t want to be with other people – YouTube is the next best thing. Humans need connection. If you can find helpful, connecting videos online, it’s better than going the road alone.

3. Make a comforting meal for yourself.

I know that it can be draining to even think of cooking when you’re in a slump. At times, I barely have the energy or even hunger to eat. However, improving your diet (even taking one step) may improve your mood. According to a study based on diet and risk of depression, red meat, processed meat as well as high-fat dairy products were found to increase risk of depression. High-sugar intake also increased risk of depression as it effected endorphin levels.

So, try to eat a good meal at least once a day. Add fresh fruits and vegetables to your meals! If you’re on a budget like I am (student life), buy frozen produce. I make fruit/vegetable smoothies or a simple pasta dish with broccoli/carrot/zucchini – whatever veggies I have on hand.

Small efforts to look after ourselves are stepping stones to successfully treating our mental health issues.

4. Focus on urgent tasks.

If you are a student like me, then you probably have assignments and due-dates coming up. Or, you may work full-time/part-time/casually and have your own responsibilities.

Advice: try to focus on the tasks that are most important, FIRST.

This might mean:

  • Lectures taking the back-burner until you’re at least up to date on an assignment.
  • Laundry being done on Sunday instead of doing it on Friday.
  • Not making your bed in the morning so you can catch up on sleep before you leave for university or work.
  • Asking for help from those around you: take out bins, wash the dishes and so on. 4 hands are better than 2!

Think about steps you can take to make your daily life more manageable during this time.

5. Find someone to talk to.

I kept this tip for last, because I know how hard it can be to gain the courage to speak up about struggling. When I do speak up however, I find it to be so healing. I have mentioned this a few times now, because speaking up is another form of expression and has been proven to aid in successfully treating depression.

This may not work for everyone, but if you do find value in talking with someone you trust, let them know you’re not travelling so well. In this age of technology, we can set up phone calls, video calls, voice messages and Messenger calls. We have the opportunity to open up to support and advice.

If you have a friend or family member who struggles with a mental health issue, please reach out to them. Call and ask how they’re doing, make plans to get out of the house or even plan a visit.

Thank you for being here. The world wouldn’t be the same without you.

Beautiful image by Dani @_bydanimae
Thank you so much for letting me use your art!