Stored in body and mind…

I’ve been thinking this week about post traumatic stress. More often than not, this is referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, when spoken about in the media. The connotations of ‘disorder’ are instrinsically negative. A cursory google reveals that the Cambridge dictionary definition has it as ‘an illness of mind or body’. Oxford languages however cite one definition as ‘a state of confusion’. I wonder if the negativity surrounding post traumatic stress disorder, is one of the reasons why people often don’t seek support at the time, some leaving it years unacknowledged. Nobody ever really truly wants to admit to ‘disorder’ of the mind in their life. Just in the same way that nobody wants to break a leg or contract meningitis for example. However, disorders of the mind are viewed in a much more stigmatised way.

After having been exposed to a toxic level of stress, I think a state of confusion is such an apt description for how people can present, no matter what the event. They are often left floundering to integrate their traumatic experience with that of normal life. People might be suffering with nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and sleep difficulties. However, it is not uncommon for people to suffer in silence. They minimise the significance of the event at the time, favouring the approach of just moving on and allowing life to get back to something resembling normality. It is also common for others in their support circle to miss the full extent of the impact of the event on them. This makes it even more likely that they will choose to remain silent.

Once those traumatic memories, thoughts and feelings have been laid down, they are stored both in body and mind. If not processed effectively, you might think they have gone away. However, they can and do resurface. While we may think we’ve ‘moved on’ and are coping, the truth is that trauma sits just under the surface of our emotional experience. Simple triggers in our environment can throw us into a full re-experiencing of the original trauma. For other people, the impact of the trauma might further compound when they go through a similar such event again.

Trauma exists all around us. We just don’t see it all the time, as people are both resilient and skilled at masking their difficulties. Unfortunately, it is still not socially acceptable to be tearful all the time or admit you aren’t coping at work, so people just don’t. They smile and say ‘I’m fine, I’ll be okay’. Despite how far we’ve come in acknowledging mental health issues, there is much to do. If there is trauma stored in your body and mind, you deserve to be helped. Taking the first step is always the hardest, but once you do, the reward is invaluable.

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