Category Archives: Trauma

Can any good come out of the Covid 19 pandemic?

Photo by cottonbro

By nature, I am a positive and very optimistic person. The glass half – full type. But I can’t lie to you. The Covid 19 pandemic has raised my hackles and I have reigned myself in on multiple occasions to prevent a panic attack triggered by the latest apocalypse style news. I live in the UK and have watched as the world, piece by piece is shutting down, entire countries going into lock-down with a police or military presence preventing unnecessary movement. Here, although in lock down we are told to practice social distancing keeping 2 metres apart from others when out on our assigned daily exercise and avoid unnecessary movement. Schools have closed and parents are trying to figure out how to home educate while surviving the health risks, while isolating, while trying to change their businesses into online ones, while dealing with the uncertainty and financial implications. Panic shopping has seen empty shelves worthy of war like scenarios and fights breaking out over toilet paper. Who would have thought?

It’s easy to look at all this and go into shut down mode. I worry most about people with learning difficulties that can’t understand, people with mental illness already battling to manage, at-risk children and spouses in domestic violence or abusive situations being forced to stay in with their perpetrators. Alzheimer’s patients, children and adults with conditions that make them vulnerable, the elderly (have they not been through enough?), those with underlying health conditions and hence more vulnerable. I have friends undergoing chemotherapy, one who just had open heart surgery. Our family lives in Cyprus, currently in lock down. My mother in law was discharged from hospital after a serious illness only days before Covid 19 hit. We can only hope that all will be well and soon we’ll be tasting grandmas’ delicious dolmades and playing with cousins on the beach.

In the meantime, we have to ride it out. As another friend recently reflected, her parents were teenagers during World War 2 and they spent the best parts of their youth working in ammunition factories and farms, surviving but never really living. Their answer to how they coped “We just got on with it.”

That is certainly one way to look at it, but I believe there is another. We may feel like helpless pawns in some big game orchestrated by nature or bio hacking or the 5G invasion messing with our bodies’ natural electrical current. Whatever it is, we can look at it a different way.

Photo by Korhan Erdol

We can use this crisis as a personal opportunity to reflect on how we once lived, naïve, dependant on the state or on world systems to look after us, trusting and faithfully working as cogs in someone else’s wheel. We trust a medical system that in time of crisis can’t cope, can’t help, and due to a lack of resources has to decide who it will allow to live and who must die for the benefit of the younger fitter cogs.

We trust an education system that raises cogs only to find that its perfectly designed formula is putting children at risk of infection and has washed its hands off. It has sent children back home to be cared for, protected and educated by their parents, the people it has convinced us for so long were unable to educate their children. We have been led to believe that only conventional schools, institutionalisation could achieve what no parent could. And yet, it is parents who are now expected to pick up the reigns and ride on regardless even with impossible odds and frustrating limitations.

We trust supermarkets to always provide, that they have systems in place to handle any crisis especially since warnings in the form of previous outbreaks have been around for years. We trust that we will always be fed and watered and sustained, only to find chaos, lack of management, hoarding, fighting and empty shelves.

Reflecting brings awareness, lessons learned and new realisations. Aha moments that lead to new perception, different ways of thinking and creativity unleashed. Usually it begins with looking at ourselves, how we rely on outside sources to feel safe, content, happy. When all is taken away, can we still feel safe, content, happy?

Perhaps we will start to grow our own food in pots or gardens. I saw a video the other day of a woman growing food on a tiled floor and in the crevices of the garden walls. Food scarcity may motivate us to try new recipes using leftovers or less ingredients. A friend sent me a recipe for flat bread with just 4 ingredients. Water, flour, salt and oil. We may become less wasteful, more mindful when eating. The realisation that when all is said and done, the best weapon against illness is our own body, will lead us to take better care of it. Feed it nutritiously, build its immunity, love on it more, hate on it and judge it less.

The coronavirus crisis has forced us to physically socialise less, spend more time at home, more time with our families if we live with others, more creative socialisation online or by phone.

In times past, for many communities, life was isolating with homes miles apart and no phone or internet communication. Visitors from neighbouring villages provided a rare exciting break to the day to day life of those communities. Back then, men worked out in the fields, farms, workshops, mines, sea fishing, or running small shops while women mostly stayed at home working hard to wash by hand, clean with natural cleaners like vinegar. They may have walked miles to fetch clean water (as still happens in communities around the world), feed the animals kept for milk, eggs or food, sew clothes for the family, repair old ones, grind flour, prepare food from scratch since no convenience foods were available. They may have earned extra money sewing for others, making crafts to sell, weaving baskets, making jewellery or make- up from natural resources. They may have foraged for food or natural materials to create items for the home. There wasn’t much time to ‘socialise’.

Children would have possibly and rarely attended some sort of school or outdoor class with one teacher, or even learned at home as their ancestors would have done for hundreds of years before. They would have participated in all chores and jobs helping both parents. And then, there would have been some break, a little time to play and ‘socialise’. This may have been a kick about with a ball with a few local friends, the women would make tea or coffee and have a quick gossip between chores if they happened to live near each other. Men would converse while working or at a gathering in the village. Most socialising over the course of history was a natural part of living, while shopping, doing chores, among family and rarely with lots of people.

Today we think socialising is something that has to be forced, manipulated, facilitated. We bring about hundreds of children together in institutions and time them against the clock to play according to our rules while micromanaged by adults.

Now, we are going back to how it was. Back to using time creatively, productively in our homes, reconnecting with family members, working as a team, taking responsibilities, laughing and playing together and enjoying some safe contact with others. What we may find through this is that our conversations are longer, deeper, more meaningful. That we call people we haven’t seen for years and have those conversations we shelved due to lack of time. That we learn to enjoy our own company, and be comfortable in our own skin.

As home educators, socialisation has been a natural part of life. Of course, we haven’t been shut at home all the time, but we haven’t been mixing with lots of people in a manufactured attempt to socialise either. We have simply been doing life and learning to be content with time alone, or in small intimate gatherings.

Conversely, another benefit from this social distancing or lock-down will be the quietness. Our world had become outrageously noisy. Noise pollution is real. As someone who has battled PTSD for most of my life, noise is painful, confusing, overwhelming. There are many people with sensory issues, autism, Asperger’s, PTSD and other reasons to struggle with noise. Crowded shops and cafes, crowded playgrounds, crowded streets. I’ve given up on so many dates with my husband because I simply could not hear him over the noise of music layered on top of noise from diners. Screaming children make playcentres impossible even for my children who can’t understand why other kids need to scream to have fun. Interesting. Even drying our hands in public toilets is an assault on our hearing with incredibly loud high-pressured air forced through machines. There is scientific proof that the noise level exceeds the legal limit and is harmful to children especially those lower down and thus nearer the output of the hand dryer. Noise noise everywhere. But not anymore, at least not for a time. The world is getting quieter. And we need it. We all need it.

Gratitude and appreciation. We have taken so many luxuries for granted for far too long. History books tell us that nothing is forever, nothing is guaranteed, or secure. We have seen devastating wars, unjustified, making no sense whatsoever, turn stunning tourist hot spots into rubble and millions of people fleeing to safety only to find they are not wanted anywhere. Those that once graced their beaches, enjoyed luxury spas in their hotels, shopped from their markets and enthused in the beauty of their country, now turn their backs on the very people who once served them and made their holiday unforgettable. Now, with their status changed to refugees, they are stranded, unwanted, uncared for with nothing to help them survive harsh winters, dangerous human predators, disease, starvation. Are you safe in your home right now? Be grateful.

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

We know that in our lifetimes, in this day and age, fires can wipe out entire countries, famine and disease can wipe out entire generations. Floods, tsunamis, viruses, cancer, malnutrition, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcano eruptions. They are all real and dangerous and possible yet if we haven’t been touched by it, we don’t care. Each to their own. But now, when we are all affected, we suddenly have woken up to something that is reality for people in third world countries all the time. Lack of clean water, food, sanitation, toilet paper, medicine. Yet they get on with it. They find ways, solutions.

We see now. We truly see and as such we may no longer take for granted our freedom of movement, social gatherings, material possessions, abundance of food in our shops, concerts, cinemas, theatres, shopping malls, central heating, air conditioning, safe homes, cars, fuel, technology, free healthcare (in the UK).

We may now be more conscious of our temporary state of existing, our mortality, our fragility and how we are all in this together not apart. Distance is no longer relevant. We haven’t avoided this crisis, it has come to find us in every country, every community no matter how much we tried to get on with our lives. We are all part of the bigger picture, each of us relevant and connected. We are suddenly seeing this connection and cultivating empathy, compassion.

The uncertainty is also turning our attention to the higher power, our spirit nature, the rest of the story when this chapter is over. Whatever it is, the universe, God, our inner being, we know there is more, this can’t be it. We are too amazing, intricate, extraordinary for this life to be it. No, there’s so much more. This experience has purpose and we are now considering it, ruminating on it, gleaning wisdom from it, faith growing stronger.

We are finding meaning. What once seemed important, critical, worrying, challenging may have paled into insignificance as bigger and more worrying things have taken their place. Just weeks ago we stressed over meeting deadlines, that promotion, paying for the holiday, what to do with the kids during Spring break, why little Jimmy didn’t get invited to the class birthday party, why little Annie didn’t get picked for the team again. Now, we watch as the world is getting infected with an unknown virus and we are herded and prodded and investigated, quarantined and scared for our lives and those of our loved ones, not least because the healthcare system can’t cope. A scenario worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, in fact it won’t be long before one is out.

Photo by Anna Shvets

What once felt like a breaking point, showed us that we are stronger and more resilient when bigger threats are on the horizon.  In ‘Man’s search for meaning’ Viktor Frankl documents his experience as a psychiatrist sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. He describes the challenges and how differently prisoners tried to survive. The conspiracies, betrayals for a piece of bread, the fights but also the hope, the faith, the instinct to survive, the compassion, camaraderie and sacrifice. In a place where they had no freedom, no food, no warm clothing, no medicine and were beaten, tortured and degraded constantly, those who focused on positive thinking, on loved ones, on dreams, on their faith, on the future, on those they cared about in that place, had the best chance of survival.

At one point in the book Viktor describes how he felt the presence of his wife. He had no idea if she had died or was still alive (she was in fact dead), but he felt her presence powerfully and would speak with her all the time while labouring away on the railway tracks in the snow. At night he would dream, and his dreams provided an escape from the reality of daytime suffering. In fact, he looked forward to sleep so that he could escape through his dreams. Humour existed even in those dire circumstances. No one could take those things from him. No one can take that from us now.

Recently in the documentary ‘The story of us’ with Morgan Freeman, I watched Albert Woodfox who was convicted to solitary confinement, describe the moment he decided he was free. He spent 23 hours of each day in a 6×9 cell alone for 43 years. He watched men he had become close friends with, go insane in their cells. And yet for him it all changed when he simply made a decision that no one could take away the freedom of his mind. His body may have been imprisoned but his mind and spirit were free. With that knowledge, he passed the hours and years until his release. The remainder of his life is being invested in teaching others, inspiring younger generations to be a force for good. Would he have dedicated these years to such an important purpose had it not been for his experience? I doubt it. Something took place in the confinement, a transformation.

How will you use your time in self-isolation or social distancing or quarantine?

“I realized that, even in prison, my schedule and time were in my control. Unlike my fellow inmates who spent their time playing cards, watching TV and “shucking and jiving” all day, I focused on training my mind. In those two years: I read 197 books. I wrote two books. I learned a new language (Korean). I taught my fellow inmates all about business and start-ups. I studied physics and history. I wrote every single day for two years straight. I incessantly trained and disciplined my mind. My routine became the saving grace that allowed me to relentlessly train my mind.” Andrew Medal (www.entrepreneur.com)

So, in summary these are the key take – away’s for this season we are in. My own reflections, conclusions, tools. Add your own. Edit mine. Go deep. Don’t be afraid.

  • Keep positive and focus on your mindset. Catch negative thoughts before they take root and replace them with positive ones.
  • Reflect and learn the lessons. What do you need to change going forward?
  • Use the opportunity. What new ideas can you develop? What old ones can you pick back up? What new skills can you learn?
  • Slow down. Take longer over tasks you used to rush through and become present, living in the moment, connecting deeper.
  • Practice gratitude and forgiveness. This is the perfect time to develop a gratitude habit. Journal it, write things you are grateful each day and place them in a jar. Consider people in your life that you need to forgive and cleanse your soul. This will benefit your health and boost your immunity too.
  • Dream, visualise, plan for the future. Make a vision board, write it on a piece of paper, visualise it daily in your mind and walk through it as if you were doing it. Amazingly, your brain can’t tell the difference, it believes you are actually doing it and will set in motion the means by which to make it reality.
  • Find meaning even in the smallest things. I once read a book called ‘one thousand gifts’. A journey of gratitude. The author even listed being grateful for the soap suds on her hands as she washed dishes and the rainbow colours reflected in it from the sunlight through the window. The soap suds represented all that she had in her life, children to wash dishes for, food to cook and plates to clean, their farm. The simplest things can speak volumes to our hearts. Don’t miss them.

Its OK to worry and be afraid but don’t stay there. I go through those moments too. We are human. Right now, many hospitals are filled with Covid 19 patients fighting for their lives. I am not being naive or trying to be insensitive. But if anything, the traumatic experiences of my past have taught me to always look for the bigger picture, to look for the good in every situation, to do what is within my ability, to trust for what I cannot understand and to believe that there is more to this life, more to this situation and that I don’t have to have every detail resolved. To see each day for the gift it is and to focus on the now while trusting for the tomorrow.

Losing my mother, the start of trauma.

January 2020.

I published the piece below around the 19th or 20th of November 2019. It was automatically sent out to the blog subscribers some of whom contacted me to comment, some posted their feedback on the site itself. Then, one day just like that, the post disappeared and in its place was an older draft unfinished version. What happened is as much your guess as mine and to make matters worse it was the second time in less than 4 months that this happened. WordPress tried to salvage it but like the time before, had absolutely no record of its existence. Strange but true.

Frustrated and demoralised, I decided to just let it be and leave it at that. The weeks that followed since then have marked a continuation of the journey that began back in August 2019, a critical piece of the puzzle that is my life. What started then and continues today, is the uncovering of the effect trauma had on my mind, brain, and body.

I realised that the blog has been part of this uncovering, as I process when I write and putting things out there publicly has helped me allow myself to be vulnerable as well as to receive feedback from others who identify with what I write, who have been or still are travelling their own trauma journey.

I decided to republish the post about my mother so for those who receive this twice, I apologise. Bear with me as I navigate the undesirable yet necessary tech world before me.

The 18th of November was the anniversary of my mother’s suicide.

I had no recollection of the date until I stumbled across an old notepad in which I’d written the date of her passing and the date of my father’s birthday (19th of November).

Some months before, my mother had lost her husband – my father – to a freak sea accident. Clearly, for her, the pain was intolerable. I was five years old when she died, and this was her third and final attempt to end her life.

Finding this date scribbled in the old notepad served to remind me of the season I’m in right now.

A few months ago, I started to become aware of feelings I had suppressed over the years but could no longer hide from. I say ‘suppressed’, but maybe it’s more accurate to describe these feelings as a force that was recognised but disconnected from me. It might be that I was in denial.

There were signs, of course, such as being overprotective of my kids. The truth is, I have lived in constant fear of anything happening to them; that they might be taken from me or they would somehow lose me, their mother. This was a very real fear and it triggered a serious bout of depression in me a few years ago. Living in a continuous, gruelling state of hyper vigilance, I would think of every possibility, at every moment, that could bring them to harm, and it was exhausting. Even sleep meant taking my eye off the ball; leaving them unprotected. So, I slept fitfully, semi-aware of every turn they made in bed because there was every possibility (in my mind) they may suffocate while sleeping.

Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

Clearly, something had to give and ultimately my body protested – leaving me screaming in agony from an old condition called fibromyalgia. This is a condition that can start after serious trauma and my symptoms started after my mother’s death, only it took 17 years to get the diagnosis and I still suffer the effects today, aged 45.

Other ‘milder’ impacts of my mother’s loss include being affected to the point of grief by any movies with orphans in it – Heidi, Annie, Storks, Ballerina – all of which means watching family movies with my kids can be a traumatic experience because I relive the loss and all its carnage as I battle silently with reawakening trauma.

As a child, it was not uncommon for me to get lost in daydreams, pretending my mother would suddenly turn up at school and knock on my classroom door. I also remember the hours I spent hidden in my grandparents’ wardrobe clutching my mother’s handbag and inhaling her smell that remained long after she had gone. I would wear her clothes and shoes and role play being her for hours. My grandparents didn’t protest. They were going through their own ravaging grief of losing their son months before and now their daughter in law.

But on the flip side, this trauma made me a very devoted, hands-on mother who has always been present for her children, helping them to make memories, allowing them to be themselves and offering hugs and kisses at every opportunity. The trauma has also seen my husband and I consciously craft our lives in such a way so as not to have any regrets later on. We will not be absent during our children’s growing years and we will be fully available to protect them and to fight their corner while equipping them with the agency to be themselves. This promise has led to us throwing out the rule book. In short, we will not allow others to tell us how to raise our kids. From sleeping techniques to potty training and schooling, we have done it our way and given them the freedom to grow at their own pace, in their own time, without anyone holding a yard stick against them. In some circles it is called unschooling, free range learning, gentle parenting, self-directed education. Whatever.

Of course, I make tons of mistakes, all the time. I’m absent minded, overloaded, fighting a chronic illness, forgetful, fatigued. I space out and dissociate frequently through my day and momentarily disengage or disconnect while still being aware of my surroundings. It’s almost a superpower, as if I’m there, but not there; detached.

I’ve taken the children for weekends with family members who live hours away only to find we’ve gone on the wrong weekend and we’ve had to drive all the way back again. I’ve taken them to birthday parties at the wrong venue or on the wrong day. I’ve shouted at them and then dropped to my knees apologising. I’ve raged at my husband, vile, frightening, out of control anger. And I’ve been so absorbed in surviving that I’ve not always noticed things. My forgetfulness due to PTSD and fibromyalgia means I don’t remember my children’s first words or accidents or illnesses they’ve suffered. If the memory isn’t written down, it’s gone. As a result, I constantly take pictures to capture as many moments as possible so that if my brain deletes it, I have evidence. The fear of losing the memory triggers anxiety attacks and on and on we go in a vicious unending cycle.

Currently, I’m studying for a counselling qualification at evening class. I’ve waited and waited for the right time, for when I am healed, for when there is more time, money, energy. In the end I realised that I don’t need to be in a perfect situation in order to live, to pursue dreams and to make a difference to others. So, I went for it and enrolled. It has been transformative.

During lessons, we take part in exercises designed to equip us with the skills to counsel others. These exercises have been paramount to my own journey of healing. I never planned it, I never even considered the fact that the course would inadvertently help me, but there you have it. God (or whatever higher power you believe in) knows what we need and when we need it. For me, it’s now. My time has come.

Each week I drive home from the class reflecting on the nugget of a revelation I have gained that evening. Every session brings something new – or rather, old – popping up, like toast waiting to be buttered while warm. And it’s while these memories are warm that I want to address the issues they represent. The realisation that I am still profoundly affected by the loss of my mother is one such prevalent issue.

During one class, I talked about the panic attacks I suffer whenever I’m faced with a child in distress. I spoke of the times I have abandoned my shopping in the middle of supermarkets because I could hear a child crying in a pram or having a meltdown or a tantrum. It’s the sound of distress that causes my panic attacks. Heart palpitations, cold sweats, strangling anxiety and a need to escape all surge through my body within seconds and I simply have to get out. Interestingly, I never named this reaction – a panic attack -because it didn’t fit the movie-like panic attacks I am aware of, hyperventilating and breathing in a paper bag. I don’t get that. I get every nerve in my body fully alert, every muscle, adrenaline, energy, pow. It was my fellow students who put a name to it and led me to an epiphany of what takes place.

Paradoxically, I had never made the connection that this behaviour might be connected to the loss of my mother. I never saw it from that perspective; that I feel what I perceive the child is experiencing, chiefly a need for comfort in their distress and a cuddle. When one of my fellow student counsellors pointed out the connection, the lightbulb came on. I realised that when the distressed child is being comforted by its mother, I don’t have a panic attack. I cope just fine. But when a child is distressed, kicking in their pram, crying to be let out or for attention and the mother ignores the child or shouts at it, I am completely overwhelmed, and I run for my life.

These moments of creeping connection all came to a head when I met a visiting Christian preacher working with a healing ministry a few months ago. She came from the USA, she was free, and many people were testifying to her prophetic insight and healing abilities. Never one to turn down a possibility for healing, I arranged to meet her. We had half an hour, that was all she could afford as her day was packed with others like me, eager for answers, insight, hope.

The preacher knew nothing about me, only my name. We sat down together, and she asked me to give her five minutes to pray. She then unfurled a roll of knowledge about me and my situation and I was so astounded I could hardly breathe. She said God had shown her two particular ages in my life where there was serious trauma and for which I still needed healing. Age 3-4 and age 15-16. As time was of the essence, we focused on me aged 3 to 4 and the loss of my parents. I immediately knew the trauma experienced at both those ages but as I said, we focused on age 3-4.

It was in the months between 3-4 that my father was killed (or disappeared after the accident), and my mother dived into depression. Over those months she made two suicide attempts, one landing her in the Aglantzia mental asylum, outside of Nicosia, Cyprus. An uncle would take me to visit and hold my hand while she stood on the other side of a chicken wire fence. He would say to her “Annette, look at her, look at your child, is she not worth living for?” She would reply that she wasn’t a good enough mother for me, she didn’t deserve me, and I didn’t deserve a mother like her. Despite the fact her third attempt at suicide was when I turned 5, the months between the age 3-4 were probably the most traumatic as I lost my father and was then brutally separated from my mother, often within inches from her yet unable to be held, comforted, reassured. The last memory of her – the only memory of her – is of me finding her dead after her third attempt.

 Linda (the healing minister), asked me a question that would reveal the true depth of this open, festering wound in my soul. She took two pillows and placed them in front of me. Pointing at each one she said.

“This is your mum, and this is your dad”. What would you like to say to them?

Ignoring ‘my dad’ I looked at the ‘mum’ colourful striped brushed cotton cushion and without even taking a second to consider or even process the question I blurted

“Why did you do it? Was I not worth living for?”

And with that I broke down. It was time.

It was time to recognise the pain I still felt – the rejection, the sense of abandonment and what it has meant throughout the decades of my life – and it was time to let that pain go. That question allowed me to fully see patterns in my behaviour that were borne from a place of insecurity, fear, abandonment and hurt.

Since then, I have welcomed every opportunity to allow the healing process to take place. And it is taking place. In the past, I would shut the process down, prioritising my duty to my marriage, my kids, the debts and all of life’s demands and expectations of me. Now I am openly allowing my healing to happen.

I mocked myself when I told my husband that here I was, 45 years old and aching for my mother. He looked at me with calm, serious eyes and said, “What does age have to do with it? Loss is loss.” He is right. There is no shame.

We need to open our hearts and receive that which will clean out the wound, disinfect it, pour medicine into it and allow it to heal, leaving a clean scar. The scar will then be a constant reminder of what was, but without the pus, the stink of death or the rotting flesh. All what will remain will be the result of the process, grace, love, acceptance, presence and healing.

This is the way to arrive at peace, a reclaiming of our identity and a certainty in who we are and our worth. Lessons are learned and our hearts are shaped softer, healthier and ready to extend the lessons to others who like me, like you, like us, have been wounded and are in need of healing and restoration.

Photo by luizclas from Pexels

So, with that, I mark this anniversary as a turning point; a new chapter. I am walking into new territory, carving a new path in my story; expanding my heart, allowing me to feel, to heal, to understand, to remember and celebrate what was, without collapsing under the weight of ‘what could have been’, clearing the way of what is to come.

I choose to forgive my mother and to love her knowing she had her reasons and she loved me. I choose to respect her journey and her battle without judgement or bitterness. I choose to forgive myself for feeling not good enough to live for and as a consequence, not good enough as a mother to my own children. I choose to make my choices and allow myself the grace to make mistakes. I choose to live free from the fear that controlled me. I choose to love unconditionally no matter what. We all have a choice. I choose to turn those wounds into lessons that bring forth wisdom.

I step forward in my quest for more answers and deeper understanding, my vessel is love, courage, vulnerability and gratitude. My torch is hope.