What Helps Me in Celebrating the Good Times Despite Trauma
If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
My birthday was approaching. I was mentally reviewing my life and where it stood now. I had big plans for my life. I was going to go ahead and get my Ph.D. and become a university professor until retirement as my final career. I felt I would have so much to offer the students and them me. I thought this would be a good way to culminate a long career of serving those who are marginalized in our society.
The truth is I cannot imagine going back to school or being a professor anytime soon. I have been on social security disability for 12 years (I had a made a deal with myself that I would only need three years; you see how that worked out). I periodically ask my therapist if she would support me going back to work. She always says not yet, Maya. Sometimes I agree with her and sometimes I am mad and disappointed, but I trust her judgment and try to work harder in therapy.
Building up to my 50th birthday I thought it would be nice if I reflected on my life and wrote a retrospective on Facebook for every decade I have lived. At first, I thought, my life has been terrible. My life has been filled with trauma and mental illness. How could I possibly put that out on the internet. I went back and forth in my mind and really had an internal struggle about what to do.
Finally, it came to me. Throughout my life of trauma and pain I had angels, that I feel were sent by God, that came along and made a difference in my life. I could talk about family, teachers, organizations, kind acquaintances, preachers, friends, friend’s parents and many others that made the difference if I lived or died. I could talk about them. I could steer clear of all the trauma and honor the blessings.
I knew I was writing for a varied audience. I have family members from both sides of my family (some who know of the abuse and some who do not or do not believe me). I have former colleagues. Former bosses, friends from high school, neighbors, church members, support group friends. How was I going to speak to all these audiences. Was I going to speak extensively about my mental illness? Do I bring up the sexual abuse? I was wondering would I talk about my abusers. Did I have anything nice to say about them?
I sat down and started writing. I must admit I was nervous and did not know where all this was headed but my part (I have dissociative identity disorder) that is the writer really took it upon herself to tell our story in way that honored me and honored the good people in my life.
The five days building up to my birthday I wrote about 10-year blocks of my life. It turned out to be fun and interesting to me. It felt fun to remember the good of my past and to focus on the things that went right and all the people who helped me survive some very bad traumas. I talked about grandparents, cousins, aunts, neighbors, friends, teachers, professors, church members, bosses, colleagues, my children and grandchildren, organizations that helped me live in recovery with my mental illnesses, support group members that had become friends and many more. It was as if in my cloud of sadness and regret I had forgot what was right in front of me, angels that God had sent me so that I could cope and survive.
I have come close to suicide more times than I can count, but someone has always brought me back from the brink and it was great to publicly recognize them.
Publishing my public journal on Facebook I did not know how others would respond. To my surprise everyone was reading them. They were commenting and telling other stories they remember about me and things we had done together. Lots of likes and reactions. Even the fundraiser I started for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) met its goal. People were excited to see their names mentioned and stories told about them.
I recognize that it may be hard to look back when we are in such pain emotionally and physically to see any light in the past. I thought so too but I was wrong. There was something that I could reflect on that worked out for me.
The project ended on my birthday with my final decade for now. I am kind of sad. It was very cathartic and really made a difference in my mood and perspective on my past.
I encourage you to try this project even it is just for the past year and see what happens. It does not have to be big revelations it could be little ones too. There are reasons/people in your life to choose life.
Have a Mighty decade!
Getty image by 10’000 Hours