About trauma and illness and the intersection of those things.

This is an odd time of year for spring (assuming that you, dear reader, are in the northern hemisphere). Yet spring it is.

I have for a long time been laid low by two things, and while there is a degree of feedback between those two things (mens sana in corpore sano and all that), I will waste no time in setting the record straight if anyone conflates these two issues. The edges of them touch. They don’t overlap.

Issue One: I got broken. Properly, properly broken. I don’t know which words you want to use to describe it, but we could say “heart” or “soul” or “mind”, it broke, all of that stuff. Properly, properly.

Issue Two: and at the same time, I caught Epstein Barr. I didn’t get a chance to rest or get well, and because of Issue One, up there, I didn’t care that I wasn’t getting well. I just kept going because being alive felt like hell anyway, and hell doesn’t really have degrees, you’re either on fire or you’re not. And so after a couple of years of that (on my usual brutal work schedule), my body also broke and now I have ME/CFS.

My body isn’t going to get better. I know this, on a deep level. That the best I can hope for physically is a body that lets me stay on top of the housework, and maybe every now and then do some work on my allotment. But “every now and then” won’t be “every day”, and it probably won’t ever be “every week” or “every month,” either. I can and always will make my body be as well as it is capable of being. But that’s never going to be very well, and it’s not going to mean “strong” or “reliable” ever again. I know that. I’m square with that.

But the rest of me – that went crack with a sound that must have been audible in New Zealand back in 2007 – that shit is finally starting to come together. In recent years I’ve tried opening the door a chink and letting someone in. That hasn’t worked out, mostly because I’ve chosen people who represented what I’m going to call “the trauma wave”. See, trauma is like dropping a cannon ball into a garden pond. Or a massive dinosaur-ending asteroid into an ocean. The first crash happens: out goes the wave. And then that wave hits the edges and washes back in. It crashes back together, washes out, washes in. And whatever the potential energy of that asteroid was, that’s how long that wave – and it remains THE SAME WAVE – will keep washing out, crashing, washing out. The tendency is for the wave to get smaller over time*, but that’s complicated by the fact that you’re probably thrashing around in it trying to stay alive. And every time it comes back you probably reach a point where you panic and pull the same moves, as if it’s the original asteroid again (that’s what I did) because what you’re searching for is a way to cope. But it’s not the original ateroid, and what you need to do is shift your response and cope with the wave this time.

That’s really easy to say, really easy to grasp when you’re not under the water.

Life events are a wave, not a particle. It isn’t as simple as making a decision to not repeat the pattern. Trauma isn’t a pattern you chose to start. You didn’t set the depth of it, or the frequency. You can stop acting in a way that exacerbates the wave, but the wave will not stop acting on you. There isn’t a surf board. Nobody can rescue you. You have to be still and learn to ride it. You get to a point where the wave is properly incorporated into who you are, where its power is your power. And then you – who you are, or who you were before this happened – come back. But with this new superpower and some new vulnerabilities.

It’s spring and I’m growing back. Different, but the same. I am young/old and easily damaged. The thing I am most afraid of in the world is letting anyone into me (as a person, I mean). But I’m most afraid of it because it’s the thing I need most. So I know I will work this and get it right. Somewhere out there is someone who is relaxed and confident and able to keep my kite-string tense without making me crash (that person is probably a dom, because doms tend to be superconfident and understand consent and trust in an explicit way, while non-kink people just blunder about and leave me all smashed up and terrified of people again). But I’m not ok with myself yet, so that’s what I need to work on first, because right now what’s left of me looks as if it’s been through a disaster, all sharp edges, old nylon rope faded to pale orange, dead fish, falling rocks. The beach isn’t safe. The wave still comes. Sometimes when it does, I still panic and get it wrong.

I guess what I’m saying is that ultimately the best I think I can attain is mens sana in corpore b0rk. That’s going to have to do. And I don’t have any ambition for my mens sana to look anything like yours.

*Unless the drowning body turns to booze: life’s great “pause” button, which will leave you frozen at precisely that moment of trauma for as long as you keep drinking.

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About chiller

Rachel Coldbreath spent 20 years working internationally as a technical specialist on large data collections for law firms, before becoming disabled. She blogs on a variety of topics from the news and politics to gardening and how very annoying it is, being disabled. Habits include drilling holes about 1mm away from where they ought to be, and embarking with great enthusiasm on tasks for which she is neither physically nor intellectually equipped.
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One Response to About trauma and illness and the intersection of those things.

  1. “The thing I am most afraid of in the world is letting anyone into me (as a person, I mean). But I’m most afraid of it because it’s the thing I need most.”

    You encapsulate that feeling so perfectly. The whole thing is beautifully written, but you always write beautifully. I just wrote about trauma in a far-too-long way (can’t do concise) and described mine as a tsunami, which is essentially what you’re describing with your wave…and then it’s exacerbated when you have multiple traumas, because there are multiple waves. It’s always reassuring reading stuff like this because it helps chip away slightly at that feeling of loneliness, but it’s also sad because it’s hard to go through and knowing that other people have to live alongside it too is pretty rubbish. Yay for spring, though.

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