Finally, after one hour of breastfeeding and singing, my son fell asleep. I was ready to do the same, but by now I was too awake to fall into the Land of dreaming myself. So, I put on an audiobook, as I often do when I have the opportunity and continued listening to a biography about Anne Grete Solberg. It is fascinating reading. Solberg was shot by her ex-husband and lost her arm and almost died. She was also shot in her hip, but did fortunately not loose her foot. At the beginning of her stay in hospital she felt terrible, like her life was over. But, she had worked as a couch for many years and decided to apply the principles to herself. She wanted to set a goal that would make sense to here, and landed on becoming the coolest woman in Norway with one hand.
This goal became her motivator and savior. Every time she felt sorry for herself, she remembered how a cool woman would handle the situation and got herself together. With that goal in sight she gradually built herself up again; She learned to eat with one hand, decided to eat healthy, took a shower as soon as possible, even if that meant wrapping herself in a ‘suit’ so that water wouldn’t touch her wounds, and started to exercise. Ultimately, she also decided to participate in a marathon, a goal that seemed impossible until she did it.
Solberg is an example of how far we can come, no matter our circumstances. She used her thoughts and visualization technique to cheer herself on, and allied herself with people who wanted to fight with her, to achieve her goals. She felt all kinds of emotions, but did not dwell on them until she became depressed, she acknowledged them but then moved on.
Trauma can happen to all of us. Life will throw challenges on us all, I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t suffered some loss. Building yourself up again is never easy, but it was good to listen to a story about somebody who did it.
There are a lot of good books about trauma, and this is one I really found helpful and interesting. I would recommend it for survivors and helpers, since everyone will find useful information and tips in it.
Video presentation of the book can be found here
“I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that paints such a complex and accurate landscape of what it is like to live with the legacy of trauma as this book does, while offering a comprehensive approach to healing.”
–from the foreword by Bessel van der Kolk
A pioneering researcher gives us a new understanding of stress and trauma, as well as the tools to heal and thrive
Stress is our internal response to an experience that our brain perceives as threatening or challenging. Trauma is our response to an experience in which we feel powerless or lacking agency. Until now, researchers have treated these conditions as different, but they actually lie along a continuum. Dr. Elizabeth Stanley explains the significance of this continuum, how it affects our resilience in the face of challenge, and why an event that’s stressful for one person can be traumatizing for another.
This groundbreaking book examines the cultural norms that impede resilience in America, especially our collective tendency to disconnect stress from its potentially extreme consequences and override our need to recover. It explains the science of how to direct our attention to perform under stress and recover from trauma.
With training, we can access agency, even in extreme-stress environments. In fact, any maladaptive behavior or response conditioned through stress or trauma can, with intentionality and understanding, be reconditioned and healed. The key is to use strategies that access not just the thinking brain but also the survival brain.
By directing our attention in particular ways, we can widen the window within which our thinking brain and survival brain work together cooperatively. When we use awareness to regulate our biology this way, we can access our best, uniquely human qualities: our compassion, courage, curiosity, creativity, and connection with others. By building our resilience, we can train ourselves to make wise decisions and access choice–even during times of incredible stress, uncertainty, and change.
With stories from men and women Dr. Stanley has trained in settings as varied as military bases, healthcare facilities, and Capitol Hill, as well as her own striking experiences with stress and trauma, she gives readers hands-on strategies they can use themselves, whether they want to perform under pressure or heal from traumatic experience, while at the same time pointing our understanding in a new direction.
” Widen the Window is a comprehensive overview of stress and trauma, responses to it, and tools for healing and thriving. It’s not only for those in high-intensity work, but for everyone.” –Mindful Magazine
“This high-octane book could give you back your life. When we experience dysregulation, we have to reclaim our core capacities and develop them to serve our health, performance, and quality of life. Liz Stanley expertly maps an inner adventure through training our attention and ability to stay grounded in highly stressful situations. Time to live the life that is yours to live, one hundred percent.”— Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., author of Full Catastrophe Living and creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
“Our ‘suck it up and drive on’ culture has seriously impaired both our country and ourselves. It is imperative that we find a way to heal so that we don’t just survive but thrive. Liz Stanley give us the tools we need to create a better way of being, both individually and collectively. This book is a must-read for everyone who cares about our future.” — Congressman Tim Ryan, author of Healing America
“Our frantic culture generates trauma and stress that limit our capacity to live full and healthy lives. Widen The Window is a clearly written guide into our shocked physiology and a time-tested, practical method of regaining power over it, through awareness and attention.” —Gabor Maté M.D., author of When The Body Says No: Exploring The Stress-Disease Connection and In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts
“Like all things in life, it is how we manage—not just cope—with the pressures that envelop us all. Dr. Stanley has written an exceptional book of understanding, relating to and controlling stress and trauma.” —Chuck Hagel, 24th Secretary of Defense
About the Author
Elizabeth A. Stanley, PhD, is an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University. She is the creator of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT)®, taught to thousands in civilian and military high-stress environments. MMFT® research has been featured on 60 Minutes, ABC Evening News, NPR, and inTime magazine and many other media outlets. An award-winning author and U.S. Army veteran with service in Asia and Europe, she holds degrees from Yale, Harvard, and MIT. She’s also is a certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing, a body-based trauma therapy.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In the summer of 2002, I worked incessantly to complete my Ph.D. dissertation on deadline. My faculty advisors at Harvard had already set my defense date so I could begin a prestigious fellowship starting in September. Everything seemed on track for a successful start to my academic career. Well, everything except for that one minor detail I’d neglected to share with my committee: Of the ten chapters and appendixes in my dissertation, I still needed to write seven of them.
In mid-June, I finally quit my full-time job to finish it. Early one August morning, after weeks of pushing myself to write sixteen hours a day without any days off, I carried my coffee mug into my study and turned on the computer. I opened my draft, reread the paragraph I’d finished late the night before, and started writing.
I was halfway through my first sentence when I puked all over the keyboard.
After running for paper towels to clean up my mess, it quickly became apparent that my vomit was permanently lodged under some of the keys. (The space bar was especially hard hit.) No amount of wiping it up could rectify the situation.
I brushed my teeth, washed my spew-speckled arms, and found my shoes and my wallet. Outside, I threw the keyboard into the trash can and climbed into the car. I drove to a shopping center and parked. It was seven fifty in the morning. When Staples opened at eight, I was the first one in the door.
New keyboard in hand, I was back at my computer finishing that first sentence of the morning by eight thirty.
SUCK IT UP AND DRIVE ON
To be clear, I didn’t have a stomach bug or food poisoning. Rather, I’d been living for years with relentless bouts of nausea and lack of appetite.
Here’s a snapshot of me-and my overscheduled, extremely compartmentalized, and rigorously well-organized life-circa 2002: I was compulsively driven to achieve. I was addicted to demanding workouts, to maintain my body’s physical prowess. I was incessantly cheerful at work, while experiencing radical mood swings and crying jags at home. My mind raced with thoughts about my never-ending to-do list and “what-if” worst-case scenarios. My body was hypervigilant and tense from projecting an external aura of self-confidence while internally bracing against when the other shoe would drop. I was severely claustrophobic and hypersensitive to crowds, traffic, loud noises, and bright lights. Between insomnia and terrible nightmares, I rarely slept.
In retrospect, I see that the message that my body transmitted to me that morning was clever, dramatic, and spot on: At that moment, I was literally sick of this (expletive here) project and I desperately needed a break.
However, I didn’t have the time to think about that right then. I had a dissertation to finish, and I was running out of time.
And so I overrode this rather extreme signal from my body and just kept writing.
I delivered my completed manuscript by deadline. I successfully defended my Ph.D. dissertation and started my fellowship on schedule that fall.
I was also an anxious, workaholic wreck.
So how did I get here? How did I end up literally puking out a Harvard Ph.D. dissertation? Why did my body present me with such an extreme signal that morning? And why was my (mostly unconscious) default response simply to ignore and override that signal and keep pushing?
In many ways, finding answers to these questions has motivated my work over the last fifteen years. Perhaps not surprising, since I’m a political scientist who teaches about international security, in 2002 I made sense of the Keyboard Incident as my body waging an insurgency against my mind’s drive to perform and succeed. Of course, inherent in this explanation is its own recommended cure: counterinsurgency. In other words, just dig in, access deep wells of willpower and determination, and power through. Otherwise, it’s just mental weakness and laziness, right?
For many decades, I considered my capacity to ignore and override my body and my emotions in this way to be a good thing-a sign of strength, self-discipline, and determination. And from one perspective, it was. But as I’ll explain in this book, from another perspective, this default strategy was actually undermining my performance and well-being.
Of course, I’m not alone in this conditioning. It’s a common way of relating to experience that many people call “suck it up and drive on” or “powering through.” Contemporary American culture in general-and warrior culture in particular-prizes this approach to life. We’ve all heard and perhaps even admire stories of people overcoming extreme adversity or simply pushing through challenges and setbacks with perseverance to succeed. And, as I’ll explain shortly, many conveniences of our modern world exist almost entirely to facilitate our suck-it-up-and-drive-on addictions. Nonetheless, although the self-determination to power through stressors in this way can be admirable-and during certain immediate life-or-death situations is absolutely critical for survival-this way of approaching life can have some dark consequences over the longer term.
In my life, my habitual reliance on suck it up and drive on not only allowed me to meet my dissertation deadline. To name just a few other examples, it also allowed me to achieve a top-5-percent ranking at a physically demanding military qualification course while still recovering from a massive injury to my Achilles tendon; run a marathon in just over four hours (in barely-above-freezing rain, of course!) seven days after accidentally impaling the claw end of a hammer one inch into my right heel; and attain basic proficiency in a new foreign language while working 120-hour weeks before my U.S. Army unit deployed to Bosnia after the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.
At the same time, I lived for many years an awkward double life: the outward appearance of success (as our society usually defines it) and the inner sense that I was a failure, struggling secretly with symptoms and barely holding it together. As willful as I was, it would eventually take losing my eyesight and leaving a marriage to finally understand that there’s an easier way. This book is about how I healed that division in myself-and how you can do the same.
THE GOALS OF THIS BOOK
In the course of my personal quest to understand my self-described mind-body insurgency and the devastating effects it was having on my life, I detoured into a parallel professional quest to understand how life adversity, prolonged stress exposure, and trauma affect us-and influence our decision making and performance. Along the way, I created a resilience training program for people working in high-stress environments, called Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), about which I’ll say much more later in the book. I also collaborated with neuroscientists and stress researchers to test MMFT’s efficacy among troops as they prepared to deploy to combat, through four research studies funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and other foundations. In addition to training and certifying others to teach MMFT, I’ve taught MMFT (pronounced “M-fit”) to hundreds of troops before their combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many other military leaders, service-members, and veterans. I’ve also taught MMFT concepts and skills to thousands of individuals in other high-stress environments, including healthcare providers, intelligence agents, firefighters, police officers and other law enforcement agents, lawyers, diplomats, social workers, students, teachers and academics, inmates at a maximum-security prison, disaster relief workers, athletes, members of Congress, senior government officials, and corporate executives.
On my journey to wholeness, I engaged in many different tools and therapeutic techniques, including several kinds of therapy, yoga, meditation, and shamanic and mind training. Since late 2002, I’ve maintained a daily mindfulness practice. I’ve also completed many long, intensive periods of silent practice, including time as a Buddhist nun at a monastery in Burma. Finally, I sought several years of clinical training and supervision, culminating with certification as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, perhaps the best known of the body-based trauma therapies.
Despite this wealth of experience, I often found that no one could explain to me, concisely and coherently, how or why particular techniques worked (or didn’t)-or why my responses to them often differed significantly from others’.
Thus, my original intention in creating MMFT-and the first goal of this book-is to share the road map that I discovered with you. I aim to share some of the core scientific and intellectual concepts that undergird MMFT. To be clear, however, this book is not the MMFT course-it covers additional topics not addressed directly in MMFT, but also by necessity it can’t replicate all of MMFT’s experiential practices. I’ll draw on recent scientific findings to explain how to train yourself to be more resilient before, during, and after stressful and traumatic events. My hope is that after finishing this book, you’ll understand your own neurobiology better and thereby make better decisions-without experiencing unnecessary anxiety and without criticizing your imperfections or choices along the way.
Part of why my journey took years is that there is no quick-fix way to achieve these transformations. Rewiring the brain and body to improve our performance and build resilience requires an integrated training regimen and consistent practice over time. Just as muscle growth and improved cardiovascular functioning require months of consistent physical exercise, the benefits that can result from mind fitness training require consistent practice over time, too. With consistent practice, we usually see some shifts relatively quickly, while others take longer to manifest. However, you can’t just achieve them from reading this book. Thus, I don’t want you to take my word for anything in this book-I want you to practice and observe these dynamics in your own life. Rewiring the brain and body is an embodied, experiential process. These are basic laws of nature; there are no shortcuts.
This book draws on a lot of evidence from high-stress occupations, such as the military, firefighters, police, medical personnel, and other first responders. That’s because much of the peer-reviewed empirical research about stress, resilience, performance, and decision making has been conducted with these groups. Likewise, at other points the book may seem a little heavy with clinical findings about people who’ve experienced abuse or trauma. Nonetheless, especially if you don’t work in a high-stress profession or don’t believe you have a history of trauma-and may not feel particularly connected to either category-I want to emphasize: If you are a human being living in today’s world, this book still pertains to you. Scientific evidence about how our minds and bodies work, and how we make decisions before, during, and after stress and trauma, applies to everyone.
However, I don’t just want this book to help you understand and manage your stress better. My second goal is to engage you in a wider reflection about the way that we, individually and collectively, approach stress and trauma. As I’ve noted, the mind-body insurgency I experienced in 2002 was an outgrowth of my conditioning-and thus, it embodied some deep familial, societal, and cultural beliefs, values, coping strategies, and habits. In this book, I hope to expose such underlying structures, which aggravate our stress and trauma and undermine our performance and well-being. These underlying structures not only affect the strategies we individually rely on to cope with our stress-or not. They also affect the way we interact in our families and relationships; nurture and educate our children; train, incentivize, and reward our employees; and organize our companies and public institutions. They even affect the way our nation interacts with the rest of the world.
Are these strategies aligned with and capable of delivering the desired results? Our culture seems to want it both ways: We want better performance, resilience, and even happiness, yet we don’t want to examine the wider blind spots that impede their development. Some of this wanting it both ways manifests in how many of us feel like we don’t have choice-that we’re powerless in the face of job stress, health problems, rapid technological change, or toxicity in the news. Yet it’s possible to change how we interact with these things, to relate to them from a more empowered stance. Ultimately, to feel like we have agency requires clear intentions, consistent practice of the skills that help us develop awareness and self-regulation, and deliberate choices about how we prioritize different aspects of our lives.
Trigger warning: This Post might be triggering for some, please do not continue if you are very upset at the moment.
As a therapist. I want to help others, ultimately healing wounds. But, healing isn’t always easy. Getting better is complicated and sometimes scary. To look back at what caused the hurt, means going there again, risking the old feelings flooding you.
For that reason, it can help to prepare as much as possible. Before going back, it’s necessary to be sure that the memories won’t overwhelm you . When fear arises, there are ways to make going back safer:
First: The body and mind does everything it can to protect itself, and no matter the circumstances, you have survived so far . Second: You do not have to face the past all at once: it’s possible to work with some things and see how that goes before digging deeper. For example, if you have several traumatic memories you might start with a memory you’re aware of, that is unpleasant to think about, but not so much so that you can’t imagine thinking about it. In some cases it is recommended to think about the worse scenario, like when someone with OCD thinks about touching a dirty toilet, but with complex PTSD there is usually several traumas that hasn’t been integrated yet, and therefore taking it slowly might be wiser.
Third: It is possible to learn tools and test if they will help you cope with challenges in the now. Every time you use a new coping mechanism, it will be easier to use it next time, so by practicing new skills again and again, it can feels safer to work with underlying issues. Also: fear is normal, it wants to protect us. It’s good to know that something inside of you only wants the best for you, that fear has had its function and still will be there to protect you. It is no shame in withdrawing every now and again, sometimes it’s okay to rest and not do everything at once.
This is a reblog from the blog lets queer things up.
Sam Dylan Finch is the blogger behind Let’s Queer Things Up!, where he writes about mental health, body positivity, and LGBTQ+ identity. He’s also the Editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline.
Last month, I wrote about the fourth type of trauma response — not fight, flight, or even freeze, but fawn.
The term was first coined by therapist and survivor Pete Walker, who wrote about it in his groundbreaking book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.” And let me tell you, as a concept, it thoroughly changed the game for me.
In a nutshell, “fawning” is the use of people-pleasing to diffuse conflict, feel more secure in relationships, and earn the approval of others.
It’s a maladaptive way of creating safety in our connections with others by essentially mirroring the imagined expectations and desires of other people.
Often times, it stems from traumatic experiences early on in life, as I described in last month’s article.
It resonated with so many you, and since then, I’ve gotten a lot of questions on how to recognize this type of response in ourselves, particularly in our day-to-day interactions.
I can only speak from personal experience, but there are a number of commonalities among “fawn” types that I think are worth noting.
I’m going to share seven struggles that a lot of us seem to experience as people-pleasers. If it sounds familiar, you, my friend, probably know a thing or two about fawning.
1. YOU STRUGGLE TO FEEL ‘SEEN’ BY OTHERS.
If you’re a fawn type, you’re likely very focused on showing up in in a way that makes those around you feel comfortable, and in more toxic relationships, to avoid conflict.
But the downside to this is that you’re not necessarily being your most authentic self. The more you fawn and appease others, the more likely you are to feel unknown to others, even in your close relationships.
If no one sees your authentic self, it can lead to feelings of being misunderstood, and even resenting the fact that no one really “sees” you.
The painful irony is that often times, you’re the one obscuring their ability to see you in the first place.
2. YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO SAY ‘NO’ TO PEOPLE.
Fawn types are almost always stretched thin. This is because we’re so eager to make others happy, we blurt out “of course!” and “yes!” before it even occurs to us to say “I can’t right now” or “no thanks.”
Your catchphrase might even be something like “it’s no trouble at all, really!”
Meanwhile, you’re silently dreading the mountain of favors you’ve signed up for — a list that only seems to get longer as the day wears on.
You’ve got a love/hate relationship with being helpful, and no matter how many times you try to break up with the word “yes,” saying “no” just doesn’t come naturally to you.
3. YOU’RE EITHER SPEWING EMOTIONS OUT OF NOWHERE OR UNLOADING THEM ONTO DISTANT STRANGERS.
This might seem paradoxical, but it’s not, if you really think about it.
You want to make those closest to you happy, which means you’re reluctant to open up when you’re struggling — so you only do so when you’re on the brink of totally breaking down, because you’ve held it all in for far too long.
On the other hand, distance makes it easier to have feelings, too.
Which is why people we’ve just met can suddenly become as intimate as a best friend in a single conversation (and why I became a blogger, let’s be real).
A kind stranger in a bar? Sure, I’ll tell you all about my trauma. Oh, here’s a Twitter thread about the worst thing that ever happened to me. Here’s a frightening Facebook SOS— I mean, status.
We need an outlet for our emotions, but having emotions can be sooo off-putting, right? So we unload them onto people we aren’t yet invested in, that we won’t see again, or where a safe distance (like on social media) is in place.
That way, if someone bails on us for being messy or “too much” — otherwise known as being human — it stings less, and the stakes don’t feel as high.
4. YOU FEEL GUILTY WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY AT OTHER PEOPLE.
You might make a lot of excuses for the lousy behavior of other people, defaulting to self-blame. You might get angry, only to feel like an Actual Monster for having feelings at all five minutes later. You might even feel like you’re not “allowed” to be upset with other people.
I did this just recently when I was almost hit by a car, and immediately went to a place of wondering if I’d simply misunderstood what happened.
It’s pretty hard to “misunderstand” someone hitting the gas pedal when you’re crossing in front of their car, but I was convinced that somehow, some way, it had to be my fault.
If you struggle to get mad at people, opting instead to blame yourself or justify someone’s cruddy behavior, you’re actually fawning — because you’re pushing your feelings down, and rewriting the story, all in an effort to appease the other person involved.
5. YOU FEEL RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S REACTIONS.
Whenever I recommend a restaurant or a book to someone, there’s a moment or two of intense panic. “What if they hate it?” I wonder. “What if it’s not as good as I remember?”
Sometimes I just let other people make decisions on where we go and what we do together, because if something goes awry, it won’t be because I “failed” to make a good choice.
I once felt guilty because a friend of mine spent thirty minutes looking for parking near the cafe I chose to meet them at. As if I somehow control whether or not a parking space is available.
It’s a little nuts if you think about it, right? Because you can’t arrange someone else’s tastebuds, magically know their book preferences, or anticipate whether or not that art exhibit you want to see is actually worth going to.
Yet I take a ridiculous amount of responsibility for whether or not people are having a good time — so much so that I forget that I’m supposed to be enjoying myself, too.
This is just another sneaky manifestation of the “fawn” response in action (and a dash of codependency added in there, for good measure).
We’re trying to anticipate someone else’s happiness, because deep down, we feel responsible for it — and are trying everything in our power to ensure that the people we care about aren’t disappointed.
6. YOU FIND YOURSELF COMPROMISING YOUR VALUES.
This can be difficult to notice at first. You might think of yourself as being agreeable, good at compromise, easy to get along with. But if you pay attention to the conversations you’re having, you might notice you’re a little too agreeable — to the point of validating viewpoints that you don’t really, fully agree with.
Sometimes it’s benign things, like saying you don’t have a preference for where you get dinner when you actually do. Other times it’s a deeper issue, like validating a perspective or behavior that you don’t agree with.
“Sure, the sexism in that movie really only bothered me a little bit, but you’re so right, the cinematography was top-notch.” “Oh yeah, she probably isn’t being a good friend to you, I can see why you sent that angry text.”
If you find yourself sitting on the fence as not to upset anyone, you’re likely fawning to some degree — and it might be time to self-reflect on whether or not you feel okay continuing to do so.
7. YOU SOMETIMES DISSOCIATE IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS.
Fawning often requires that we shut down emotionally. The less we have distinct feelings of our own, the easier it is to adapt to and accommodate the emotions of other people.
Sometimes this can lead to dissociating, where we disconnect emotionally. This can show up as daydreaming, spacing out, withdrawing, or even “going blank” when we’re overwhelmed in social situations.
This is also why fawn types can relate so much to other trauma responses, like flight or freeze.
If we feel that “fawning” is failing us in an argument, that it won’t work with a particular person, or that we just don’t know how to please someone, we might check out emotionally, or rely on other “escapist” mechanisms so that we no longer have to engage.
We’re more prone to anything that involves dissociation because we’re already distancing ourselves from our own emotions for the sake of others.
I think I need to put “Fawning Isn’t Fun” on a t-shirt or something, because it’s true: It sucks.
It can be painful to constantly silence yourself and push your emotions away, all while working overtime to anticipate the emotions of other people.
A number of people have asked of fawning, “Isn’t this manipulative?” But I think that misses the point. It’s disempowering, it stems from pain, and guilt is simply not an effective way of motivating people to unpack their trauma and show up differently for the people they care about.
But hopefully, if you start by noticing these patterns in your life, and have the opportunity to work with an awesome therapist, you can begin to reorient yourself toward a more authentic, fulfilling way of connecting with others.
LOOKING FOR MORE?
If you’re looking for more about fawning and how to challenge it, in addition to reading Pete’s book and the articles I’ve published around this, I also put together a zine for my patrons on Patreon that offers some actionable advice!
The zine includes writing prompts and guidance on how to notice this mechanism as it relates to your own life. And it’s really pretty, so if you’re a design nerd like me, you’ll probably appreciate it.
A lot of you have asked if you could chip in to support my work. Supporting me on Patreon is the best way to ensure that I can keep creating free mental health resources, so hop on over if you’re interested!
Either way, please know that I’m right there with you in this messy, complicated journey. It does get easier, though — I can promise you that.
And for what it’s worth, I’m proud of every one of you for taking steps to show up differently. It’s tough work, but you deserve to feel whole and seen in every relationship you have.
You work so hard to offer that compassion to others — why not offer that to yourself?
Sam Dylan Finch is the blogger behind Let’s Queer Things Up!, where he writes about mental health, body positivity, and LGBTQ+ identity. He’s also the Editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline.
This week has been calm at work. I haven’t had many client conversations, but one of them has been very much on my mind. Usually I don’t think too much about my clients between sessions, but when I get worried about a client it’s hard not to. The client has dissociative identify disorder, and one of the parts is suicidal. The part is young and doesn’t trust other humans, understandably so. Life has been unsafe and unpredictable, so the part has done what everyone would do in a similar situation: keeping its guard up. I asked this part if he is familiar with the people in my clients life today, and my client told me he knows about them, but he doesn’t connect with them emotionally. My client has been in therapy for many years, and even if things are somewhat better, my client still suffers every day. Nightmares, lack of sleep, daily dissociative episodes, and at the moment, a feeling of hopelessness.
I wonder, how can I help this part to recognize that his circumstances are different now? That he has people in his life who care and would be shattered if he disappeared for good? How can we work together on ways to regulate the intense pain he lives with everyday, when he has no experience with coping when things gets too much?
You stand there. From one moment to the next, an ordinarily day is turned into a nightmare. The earth starts shaking. Objects are falling down, shattering when they hit the floor. You freeze, trying to not move. Your heart thumps, terrified. Will you survive this earthquake ?