Hannah ActonPublished in October 2019 / Updated in January 2021
This is something that lots of us deal with on a daily basis, but we always feel alone in our struggle. As such, this isolating experience can often make it difficult to fully recognise the trauma that we may have undergone as a child.
You hear the word ‘trauma’ as a black and white, dramatically physical word
But it’s more complex than that. Emotional trauma and abuse or manipulation is one of the most difficult things to recognise and look in the eye.
This is largely because our mind acclimatises to living with a certain threshold of pain or suffering. And we don’t even realise that we’ve been gritting our teeth the whole time. Well, something like that. Just because we survived it doesn’t mean we’ve dealt with it. Or that we’ve learnt our lesson or are equipped to move on. The goal with therapy and mental health issues may seem like it’s a quick fix or a ‘cure’. But that’s impossible.
The mind is too nuanced and unpredictable for that
Therefore, we often need someone else or a third party to step back and tell us what they see. They may be correct, they may not be. But it’s the hardest thing to be constantly stuck in our own minds and not realise that we’re trapped in that perspective.
It may be that a grandparent or close relative died very early, and you never properly dealt with it. In fairness, it’s difficult for parents to know how far to expose you to ideas of death, and sometimes it can come too early or too late. Or the message is so confused with the desire to protect you that no one really has a solid basis of how to grieve.
It happens to the best of us, but sometimes you can reflect on a memory and realise that it maybe wasn’t the healthiest mode of grieving. Recalling sitting on the ground and crying and not speaking to anyone when I was younger seems to have aged poorly when I compare it with recent recollections of grieving.
My grandma passed away
It was a time of bewildering emotions and thinking that I was fine. Why is it that we always think we’re the exception to Feeling Things and emotional reactions? We’re not, we’re all human, and we all grieve in different ways. But I compared how I grieved and dealt with it as an adult in comparison with when I was younger and didn’t really understand death.
Then I went over to my best friend’s flat in my pjs to hate-watch Riverdale. I walked in through the door and it was warm and comfortable and there was pity in her eyes but also care. I half smiled and walked in and sat in a pile of blankets and let her talk at me for a few hours. She was reticent to let me go but I needed my own bed and she trusted me. We talked it through when I felt like it, and I let her distract me when I needed it.
That’s the thing about grief and mental health.
We expect it to be like in the movies
There is a concern that we aren’t ‘doing it right’ or dealing with our emotions. Well, you probably aren’t. That’s fine. Emotions are difficult to deal with in the best of times, let alone when you’re feeling alone and confused because one of your favourite persons on the earth have died.
At these moments we must look for consolation, allow ourselves to be comforted, and sometimes, just let the emotions wash over us. We don’t need to overcome everything or overanalyse our trauma.
Sometimes life sucks and it’s tragic and there’s no getting away from that.
But it may not be childhood grief – perhaps it’s pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety. This is a notoriously difficult and misdiagnosed condition in children, particularly girls – where ADHD or general ‘shyness’ masquerades as more worrying conditions if left untreated.
Maybe something in your childhood prompted or intensified these feelings
But you never knew to address it, and you’re left with crippling self doubt and feel entirely alienated from yourself.
The feeling as though you have constantly forgotten something. Or like you have a To Do list as long as your arm and no way of making an in road to it. It can be ultimately summed up as the feeling of your stomach dropping on a rollercoaster. Except you aren’t convinced that you will ever reach the bottom and level out again. That’s the terrifying thing.
It’s not just mental, emotional or psychological, either
It manifests physically in a big way. Twisted stomach, indigestion, vomiting, an all manner of bladder-related complications. These are things that we learn to live with as part of life – we never stop to think of them as symptoms that manifest as part of anxiety – something that might be treatable. Something that the everyday person doesn’t have to think about – it can consume us. As with all forms of mental health, it deteriorates, often without reason or cause, and that can be the most frustrating. When you look around yourself and on paper, life is good. You have a job, a partner, a selection of hobbies that you’re pretty sure satisfy you. And yet.
And there will always be an ‘and yet’ in the distance, Constantly threatened, Always at risk
So my question to you, today, is to sit back. Think. Talk to your friends about your childhoods. Check in with yourselves, and start de-stigmatising the past.
The more we’re avoiding to look our past in the eye, the less we can move on from it.