Let’s talk about trauma.
In its simplest definition, trauma is “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” This can mean a lot of things and the tricky wicket about trauma is that the “injury” that leads to “stress” probably looks different to each individual person.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last year, you’ve probably noticed that trauma has been having a field day. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, racism, inexplicable violence….and that’s just what hits the news cycle. None of this includes the private stresses that lead to trauma – the miscarriages, fractured relationships, emotional abuse, job loss, betrayals, disappointments and the list goes on and on. As humans, we are surrounded by events that send shockwaves through our soul and leave us feeling……traumatized.
One month ago today, I had a panic attack. The worst I’ve had in a long time. For me, my physical well-being is directly tied to my emotional and mental stability. For several weeks, I had been eating well and exercising regularly and had been feeling stronger and more energetic, but lurking under the surface was a sense of mental and emotional exhaustion I couldn’t shake. I described it to my best friend that I felt like an “Emotional Sham-Wow,” soaking up all the hurt and pain and stress from those around me and just hanging onto it.
People who lost everything in a hurricane. Friends going through painful family experiences. Kids getting bullied at school. I was soaking it all in, adding to what was already weighing on me from my own crazy life.
Finally, something in me just snapped and I lost control over my body. My head spun, I couldn’t breathe, I lost the ability to stand, my hands shook, my vision was disoriented and nothing in my brain made sense. I collapsed on the bathroom floor, shaking and crying and rocking back and forth and the small corner of my brain that still held on to reality stuck around just long enough to chastise me for losing it like this when so many other people had things so much worse.
“How selfish can you be?!” the voice screamed.
For hours, my body shook and I continued to cry without ceasing. There was no control left, just painful release. And the whole time, I felt guilty. I should have been able to control this better. Get a grip and be a grown-up. You’re overreacting and need to get over it. Quit making everything about you.
I haven’t set foot in the gym for a month. My eating habits have fallen so far off the wagon they’ve left the county. For several days following the attack, I barely got dressed or left the couch and couldn’t bring myself to feel motivated to do much of anything.
For me, the “severe mental or emotional stress” I had been allowing myself to collect for months on end was enough to force my body to override my will and cause “a disordered psychic or behavioral state” that I have yet to fully recover from.
But here’s the thing about trauma. Trauma is not a competitive sport.
It is very personal and can look completely different from one individual to another and we all have different triggers of stress that can cause different levels of a “disordered state.” Somehow, we got to a place where we are so used to comparing ourselves to others that we even compare our trauma. We convince ourselves that the storm we feel inside of us must not be real because we didn’t experience anything nearly as bad as So-and-So from Facebook. Or we feel guilty for feeling violated and betrayed when that family member busts through a boundary and hurts us because it’s not like they did X, Y or Z!
Hear me well. Your trauma is your trauma. What hurts you is hurting you because it is real to you and your pain is legitimate and real and you are not in competition with anyone else.
Mental health cannot become a competition. Full stop. The consequences are far too dangerous and the more we continue to pounce on people who share their stories of stress and frustration with messages of “quit complaining” or “I’ve got it way worse” or passive-aggressive comments of comparison, the more people (women especially) are going to continue to soak up mental, physical, and emotional stresses until there is nowhere else for it to go and they literally cannot take it anymore and something breaks. Because something always breaks, friends. When stressed past the point of repair, something always breaks.
Your trauma is your trauma. Allow yourself to feel it. Give yourself permission to not be okay and be honest enough to get help from someone who won’t judge and won’t try to one-up you in the “who’s got it worse” game.
And let’s all look around us, see the pain that is pouring out into our newsfeeds, and recognize that we need to STOP playing this dangerous game of comparison on so many levels.