The Unexpected Activity That's Helped Me Cope With Post-Traumatic Stress
As the people who know me well already know, I am someone who lives with the effects of post-traumatic stress. What caused this is something I prefer to keep private at the moment. Trauma makes you feel like you’ve been swooped up in a tornado of emotions from shock, denial and pure terror. You’re in excruciating emotional pain, but feel completely numb at the same time.
At one of my worst periods, I was having nightmares and waking up at the same time every night. If something triggered a memory, I would cry for a week in varying degrees from a few silent tears to a full-blown body shaking cry. I would relive the trauma day in and day out, feeling like I was drowning in emotion, fighting to keep my head above the surface.
For trauma survivors, it can feel like there’s no hope — but there is.
In September 2016, I was accepted into a well-being course at a women’s therapy center, specializing in long-term trauma. This course lasted for 10 weeks and I was taught a series of different coping techniques for the effects of trauma i.e. heightened anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression and flashbacks by specially trained therapists.
Many of these techniques involved creative aspects, so I put these into practice, trying to find what worked for me. Being creative is something I’ve loved since I was a child, which has stayed with me as I’ve grown into an adult, as I now work in a creative industry. I love reading, writing, coloring etc. A book store is one of my happy places and has been for a while. I understood creativity could help with mental health, but I didn’t realize just how much it can help until I participated in the well-being course.
The more I worked through the feelings I was experiencing in a safe environment with therapists, the brighter the long road to recovery looked to me. It was that beacon of hope I needed after years of burying those painful memories in the back of my head in an attempt to move forward with my life. As painful as the trauma can be, burying it only made it worse for me. Interestingly enough, another art form I found to really help me was makeup.
Now I know what you’re thinking. How could makeup possibly help with something like post-traumatic stress?
I just want to put this out there, this is what works for me. And what works for me might not necessarily work for someone else, so please be aware of this.
I’ve always loved the creativity of makeup, from watching beauty tutorials to owning books on the history behind it. As I’ve grown in to a young woman, I’ve been able to find out more of my likes and dislikes and become more expressive and interested in makeup and skincare. A few things “clicked” for me during the well-being course. This was one of them. I could use how I apply my makeup every day as my own form of art therapy and self-care. I can be as expressive as I wish and I’m channeling my energy in to something I love.
We live in a time where makeup is being used more expressively. People aren’t shying away from bright, bold colors and are creating amazing looks, getting it down to a fine art! Yes, that may be popular at the moment, but this shift in how we use makeup couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I now have better access to a cosmetically creative outlet than ever before, and it’s brilliant! Put it this way, four years ago I would have been a bit scared to wear a bright blue lip, but now I’m pretty game for it! That might not be your thing. You may prefer something more simple and natural and that’s absolutely fine! It’s all about what you’re comfortable with.
Whenever I’m having an “off” time, watching beauty tutorials on YouTube and just experimenting with makeup and other beauty products picks me up. It helps because I’m doing something creative which can distract and nurture me through a bout of depression or if an anxiety attack is threatening to rear its ugly head from a trigger or flashback. Also, it’s a great boost for my self-esteem whether I’m having a good day or a bad day.
The way I see it, it’s like my face is a blank canvas that I can enhance and create whatever I want on — whether that be a barely there natural look, a classic, “Old Hollywood” look or a full-coverage makeup! That’s not to say if I’m wearing a full face of makeup with a dark lip and smoky eye that I’m depressed or had an anxiety attack. I don’t have as many bad days as I used to but when I do, makeup is there for me as one of the many creative outlets I can use to look after myself.
As I continue down this path to recovery, I now do what’s best for me and care less about what people think. I’m incredibly lucky and thankful to have a very supportive boyfriend who’s understanding and encourages me to use my favorite means of self-care whether I’m having a good day, as well as when I’m having a rough patch. Doing something you enjoy whether it’s dancing, adult coloring books, writing or going to the gym plays a huge part in recovery. As long as it is something beneficial to you and not self-destructive, use whatever method of self-care works best for you.
And to anyone out there who is going through a tough time at the moment, you are not alone and there is support out there for you. Keep fighting!
Follow this journey on A Little Moore.
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Lead image taken by Rachael Moore