Disclosure related to trauma is difficult to navigate. Sharing secret information can be courageous, but it can also make the person disclosing information feel vulnerable. The truth is, as we share our experiences — especially dark ones – with others, they perceive us differently.
I always try to be seen as happy and kind to others, although certain experiences have made me feel and act differently. The word “victim” carries a heavy weight and meaning — something I consistently struggle with as I consider who I am. (more…)
Mom, Dad, and my friend Meredith tell me that we are going for a ride. When I was a baby this is how my parents would get me to fall asleep, perhaps that’s what they are aiming for. But I am restless. They say that if we go to the hospital then I will sleep.
We are driving through the town in which I grew up. I know it well, but today everything looks clearer, closer. The autumn leaves are beginning to fall, making piles of red and orange on the front lawns of houses that we pass. I ask Meredith if I can wear her thick glasses; for some reason I want to see things differently. I put them on and take them off, allowing my eyes to adjust and readjust. I repeat this pattern, fixating on the red and orange. I watch as the shapes morph through the lenses of the glasses. The car is in motion but it still can’t keep up with the pace of my thoughts, or my eyes. I take the glasses on and off and it feels as though my eyes are changing, growing stronger.
We arrive at the hospital quickly (as if my need to be there willed the car to move faster). I am on an important mission. The hospital will prove that I am ready to go on to the next stage of this quest and I can return to New York, to school, my friends, and boyfriend with new information. It is all very important.
“Violence is a change that happens too quickly,” a professor of mine once said in a literature class. At the time, I found the thought interesting, like many ideas you are exposed to in a classroom. It wasn’t until I experienced a violent act, however, that I had to return to this concept and wrestle with it. To me, violence did not feel like a change because I have always associated that word “change” with positive movement. To me, violence was a sudden distortion of my life. A distortion that has had a long-lasting effect.
If violence can be thought of as the moment of impact, then trauma is something deeper. Trauma is defined as “a body wound or shock produced from sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident… an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.” And yes, it did feel sudden — a change that happened too quickly. For me, the distortion took place in my mind, but I also carry the impact in my body in ways I could not at first see.
One sees things differently after a traumatic experience. A world is forever changed, and changed “too quickly” indeed. The experience of such a trauma is like being struck by lightning, it’s something one hears about but would never expect to happen to them. It makes one fearful to ever go outside in a storm again. Lightning has struck me on multiple accounts. Trauma has made me feel more intensely. I am often triggered by the smallest, seemingly random things.
Laura & Catherine in Ocean City, NJ
Catherine, one of my oldest friends, has come to visit me in Ocean City, New Jersey.
With glasses of pink lemonade in hand (the same kind we used to make and sell as little girls on hot summer days in the suburbs), we settle into the wicker furniture on the porch, which overlooks the tennis courts across the street. It is late afternoon. It’s a hot day, but there’s no humidity. A nice breeze moves down the street from the shore. Throughout our conversation, sounds of bright green balls ping back and forth between rackets. The pinging is mixed with the heavy breathing, grunts, and cheers as the players play their game.
Catherine and I have been friends for over 15 years. Her mother died when we were young. We were very close at the time. Honestly, I didn’t always know what to do or how to support her, but I tried my best. The death deeply affected Catherine. At the time I noticed her heightened emotions, but not having experienced such a loss, I could not comprehend what was happening. It changed her world completely and I felt sad and hopeless for my friend.
“Things Blur” is a story about a time in my life in which I had a “break from reality.” Due to PTSD (among other things), I had what was later described to me as a manic episode. I was deeply affected by trauma. My mind could not quiet and I stopped sleeping. After hospitalization, I first wrote the piece, in the form of a diary entry, to understand what had happened. Later, with time and space, I developed it into a story.
I submitted the piece to the Brooklyn Non-Fiction Festival and I was selected to read. The experience of reading this deeply personal story was nerve-racking. I was relieved when the reading was over and afterwards felt unsure if I should have shared the work or not.
Recently, I was sitting in a coffee shop when someone came up to me. They told me they had been at the reading and were moved by my words. It made me feel proud of sharing and created a desire to share more often. I think it’s important to talk about trauma and mental health but it’s a difficult conversation to have. I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable doing it completely, but I know it is important to try.
Read & Hear
Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower became an instant cult classic among teens when it was published in 1999. I first encountered the book as a young teenager, and it has played a big role in my life ever since.
Mental health is more important than art. I know many who would disagree with this statement. I know artists who put themselves in situations to “create.” I know artists who won’t leave unhealthy situations because they are being “artistically productive” or “making important work.” Often times I encounter people that are in triggering, depressing, abusive, or oppressive situations (we all are in some ways, of course, living in the society we live in) because they think it enhances their work. I know many artists who push against these things, but in doing so still do not value their own mental health. It may be because it’s not as important as the thing they want to say, or the thing they want to create. It may be because they can’t see out of their depression or situation. It may be a lack of awareness or understanding.
Marbles is a hilarious and moving graphic memoir about artist Ellen Forney’s diagnosis and recovery journey with bipolar disorder. Even if the diagnosis and recovery processes are not one a reader can directly relate to, the story is also about something grander: a search for clarity and wellness. Ellen aches to be a better human, create important things and find fulfillment.