Coping with the Aftermath of Trauma
Yoga, Photography and PTSD
by Sreeja V., Mar 3, 2020
Listen to the Stories
We all have at least one memory in our life that leaves a vacuum in our heart or brings on unspeakable anxiety and fear each and every time we think about it. The trauma could be personal like the loss of a loved one, a debilitating accident, sexual assault, a failed relationship, a financial crisis, or victimization caused by bullying or some other kind of shaming. It could also be a byproduct of a larger event, brought on by the political and social environments we live in, that leave a dent in our psyche like acts of terrorism and natural disasters.
Some of us find ways to cope with trauma, healing at our own pace, not allowing it to engulf our lives and dim our hope for the future. But healing can be a challenge. The task of picking oneself up and moving on can feel overwhelming, and sometimes, impossible. And yet, going through the process of pain and finding bits of hope and resilience within is what keeps us going and is what makes us human. Swell, as a platform for unconventional wellness, hopes to abound with such stories of grit, determination, and hope including what has helped people overcome trauma and manage their mental health. We’re proud to give you an insight into the experiences of two of our storytellers dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Unraveled
The American Psychiatric Association forecasts that one in 11 people are likely to get PTSD in their lifetime. 1 The statistics provided by the National Center for PTSD share a grim picture with about 8 million adults suffering from PTSD in a given year in the U.S. alone.2 PTSD is defined as a psychiatric disorder affecting people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event.3 It is important to be able to identify the onset of PTSD, which can be easily misread as the normal order of things when one is trying to cope with a traumatic event. The symptoms may occur within three months after the event or later. The American Psychiatric Association outlines the symptoms to broadly fall under four categories: Intrusive thoughts in the form of distressing dreams, involuntary memories, or flashbacks that make a person re-live the traumatic event; Avoiding reminders of the event by avoiding places, people, activities, or objects that may be reminders of the trauma; Negativity such as derogatory thoughts about oneself, depression, a pessimistic outlook, guilt, fear, or shame; and unusual reactions like angry outbursts, self-harm, lack of concentration, focus and so on. Sooner or later, these coping mechanisms interfere with normal day-to-day activities and can make someone’s world quickly become scary and small.
Learning to Live to the Fullest
That is what happened with one of our storytellers who goes by the alias AB. She had gone through two traumatic events within a few years and found irrational fears and thoughts engulfing her when she was a freshman in college. It was so bad that she had to leave school. When she came back later and decided to enroll for a work-study program one semester, she began having panic attacks. She feared someone would bring a gun to school and open fire or that the whole place would get nuked.
When her roommate, totally out of the blue and unrelated to her situation, asked if she would like to join her for a free week of yoga, she decided to join in, albeit without much enthusiasm. She had never been into sports or physical activities. She didn’t enjoy the first few sessions, but she decided to complete the week anyway since it was free. And then, slowly the rhythm of it all fell into place. One yoga posture in particular, pigeon pose, helped her de-stress. She went back for months after that.
She finds that yoga gives her a sense of self-worth, a routine, and discipline. More importantly, it helps her to be kind and understanding of herself. And regardless of however long of a break she takes from it, she is able to pick up wherever she left off and has been doing so for five to six years now.
The Passion Prescription
Another one of our storytellers who goes by the alias Snoop is 55-years-old now and vividly remembers an incident that occurred when he was just five that left him scarred for life. It happened when he was a first grader at a school in South Africa where he was brought up. A minor folly that could have easily been overlooked by his teacher got blown out of proportion instead. He was summoned by the headmaster and subjected to corporal punishment that affected his mind deeply. The shame and fear stayed with him all through his life. He would prepare for the worst when he set out to do something, thinking twice before asking for help.
His only recourse was photography, his passion. Whenever he feels anxious or depressed, he heads out on his bicycle or in his car to get pictures of streets, landscapes, or textures. He immerses himself in his lens and leaves the trauma behind.
The determination to overcome and move forward by reengaging with the world on your own terms is perhaps the best takeaway from both of these stories. There is always a path that moves in the direction of healing. It's just a question of finding it.