How To Use PTSD As A Platform For Growth

First things first, let’s bust a few myths on PTSD:

Post traumatic stress disorder is not something permanent.

It is not an identity (seriously #Iamnotashamed – let’s not create identities out of emotional experiences that pass)

It does not affect a person for the rest of their life

and it certainly doesn’t mean that someone has to live in a life full of safeguards which keep them away from any potential triggers (urgh, what a boring life that sounds like!).

At least, not if you let it.

Post traumatic stress is the reaction of the brain to a situation where it has had to go into survival mode. If you want the science, it’s where the emotional response has been so strong that the brain has created new and stronger neuro-pathways that were previously there. It’s like speed-building a motorway over a whole network of roads which took years to intricately build. However with the motorway, all the cars now speed across it to get from A to B, regardless of whether B is where the car wanted to go. It means that every possible sense trigger (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch) that could remind a person of the initial event takes their subconscious brain back there and automatically they react in the same reaction that they did at the time. For me that’s revisiting the night a man violently tried to rape me where I had to psychically fight for my life. Can you see how this might cause a potential hiccup in my dating life? (Although in reflection it’s actually quite funny and there’s definitely a book there… ‘How to date a PTSD nightmare…?’ Stay tuned for updates on that one!)

The trick with PTSD is to re-train the brain one trigger at a time. So for me, rather than avoid triggers and live a life of hiding because I’m scared of my own response, I created a safe environment around me (physically and mentally) to face every trigger and bring myself out of it, until I created the new neuro-pathways that allow me to feel safe in the world again. Think, deconstructing the motorway, brick by brick, and using it to create new roads back to the road network that was originally there. Here are my three top tips on how to turn a PTSD experience in to a gift of growth and exploration.

  1. Drive your own recovery

To anyone who is currently suffering from PTSD and is listening to Doctors, ‘survivors’ and people who just want to offer their inexperienced opinion- listen up! I had so many people tell me ‘you’ll never recover from this’, or ‘it’ll take years’ or ‘this will affect you for the rest of your life’. If you have people like this in your life – STOP LISTENING TO THEM RIGHT NOW because their opinions are total Bullshit! Even if it is your Doctor, your Psychologist or a family member. Don’t let their judgement stump your recovery time because the fact is that you will start recovering from your PTSD as soon as you start unpicking the triggers. The faster and more thorough you do this, the faster you’ll recover. Think of it like a pile of work on your desk. If you do one piece every month, yeah it’ll take forever to get through. If, like me, you want to get on living your life you might race through the work as fast as your physical form allows. If I listened to half the people who gave me their opinion on my recovery I wouldn’t be anywhere near as clear minded and emotionally resilient as I am today. When I think of what advice to take on I remember listening to a friend of a friend who had published a book about taking advice off people about publishing a book.

He said, ‘What are people telling you about publishing your book?’

I replied honestly ‘To not bother because it probably won’t make any money’.

Then he asked ‘And how many of them have even written a book?’

‘None’ I replied.

‘So why are you listening to them?’ He asked.

‘Fair point’ I laughed.

From that point on I never took advice from people who were not in a position I aspired to be in after going through something similar to what I’d been through. Advice from people about my PTSD and my recovery? I tell them to mind their own business – especially nosey opinionated onlookers who can’t even talk openly about their own emotions. The only expert on your recovery is you – so make sure you drive it, not anyone else.

  1. Create your winning support team

Lucky for me I have a best friend who is a psychologist for high performance teams who helped steer me through my recovery. Not everyone has this kind of resource to draw upon, however I can offer you the advice that Dr Jenn gave me and this is a golden one – create your winning support team. When you’re in a PTSD trigger, you’re living in a parallel reality where everything looks and smells the same but your reaction is as though you’re under attack. So it might be completely rational for you to defend to the death – because in your mind you’re under attack remember. However, to everyone outside of your head (and perspective) it will be obvious that you’re acting completely irrational to the situation in question That’s why it’s imperative that these people are part of the winning support team and know how to approach you when you’re experiencing a trigger and compassionately make you aware of it.

This takes a little organisation and some very honest conversations to work out a team plan of how to manage this but it is totally worth it in the long run. If you read my original blog Trauma on Tour you’ll know that I introduced the BS card which was a simple gesture – placing a business card in front of me so it reminded me to sense check and reflect upon my behaviour… and question whether I was bullshitting myself and acting from a place of fear, rather than a place of authenticity. As well as calling me out of my patterns, I also asked my friends to call me out if they thought I was being destructive to myself, or if I was doing anything in fact, that wasn’t serving me. It was like we had a team plan to get Shereen back and everyone had a part to play. It was extremely vulnerable for me to give this kind of authority over to other people and it required a great deal of trust, authenticity and open conversations to get there. In fact, it meant that to stay part of the team, each friend was required to face some hard truths within themselves as well as some difficult emotional training, but they all stepped up and grew along with me (thank you guys). Now I’m part of lots of winning support team as I root for every one of my friend’s successes; telling them when they’re off course and helping them strive to be the best version of themself.

  1. Start training with Mindfulness and CBT

Before you sign off on this third point, I’m not talking about barefoot meditating with hippies in a field, or lying on a leather couch while someone unpicks your darkest dreams so drop your judgements right now and read on.

There is a reason why this winning combination is in the spotlight at the moment and it’s because it works. What happens is that it allows your mind to unpick patterns, while observing the unpicking of the patterns in a way that is outside of the intense emotional feeling. That means, rather than re-feeling the feelings that you experienced in the incident that gave you PTSD, you instead observe the emotions, which means that you are much more equipped to deal with the unravelling of the event. If we go back to the motorway analogy it means that rather than painstaking remove every brick by hand, it’s like you’re watching someone else do it. Or if you’re impatient like me, you’ve hired a construction team with heavy machinery to get the job done efficiently. There’s no secret to mindfulness and CBT, it’s just re-training the brain and getting a bit of perspective on the training. It’s the same approach that top athletes use to train their psychical form – train it, analyse and measure the training and keep checking in to tweak it. The effect is extremely quick – within one week I went from unconsciously attacking a guy who triggered me (FYI – he groped my ass in a bar) to being able to acknowledge and control an intense feeling of fear inside me. The best thing is that it teaches you how to reflect, self manage emotions, explore your true passions and ultimately work to being the best version of yourself.

In fact, once you’ve come through the first few triggers and you get attuned to your new training regime, it’s really insightful process and it becomes exciting to work through the triggers and explore the mind. It’s a type of exploration that I wouldn’t have gone on, had I not been attacked. That’s why to me, it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Daryn Stumbaugh on Unsplash

 

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Are You Using Your Tools For Good or For Bad?

It’s still a bit strange being back home. I remember being here and hating it, feeling like I didn’t want to be here but I couldn’t escape either. To me, everything was just negative. Looking back I can see that my perspective was a complete reflection of how I was viewing the World back then. Nothing’s actually changed, but I’m more at peace with what’s happened and I’ve let go of a lot of internal turmoil. I know this because the first thing that people have greeted me with is “You look great”, rather than “How are things?” – Thank you, Bali, my new friends and all the therapies that I explored whilst on my travels.

I was away for four and a half months in total, and I’ve been away for longer before, much longer but the difference, this time, is that I had the motive to better myself and this made all the difference to the trip. I wasn’t deluding myself in the myth that everything was ‘fine’ and that I was ‘ok’. Instead, I acknowledged that I had been through some traumatic life events in a short space of time and that I was having certain emotions because of this, and that if I wanted to get better then I would need to accept these emotions and  focus on myself. This intention affected the way I used certain tools in my life.

Depending on how you view things, everything can be seen as a tool and therefore they’re subjected to being used negatively or positively. If a tool is used in a positive light then usually good feelings come from this, however, if they’re used in a negative light then, in the end, you’ll just feel worse, at least that’s what I discovered.  I know this can sound a little confusing, so I’ll elaborate on it a little bit…

What do I mean by ‘tools’?

I spoke about tools in my last post, with regards to acquiring new tools to move forward with self improvement and personal development but tools can literally be anything and everything and it’s how they’re used that makes the difference. There are physical tools like alcohol for example. It’s a drink which can be enjoyed, used as a treat or as a relaxant, conversely, it can also be used in excess to help escape emotions, or when socialising is too difficult without it (because most of the Western society is wrapped in a heavy cloak of shame… alcohol lifts this temporarily). So the question that needs to be asked to find out if it’s negative or positive motive is ‘Why are you using this tool?’ As I write this, it’s the evening and I’m having a glass of Shiraz. I felt like having a glass of wine and last night a friend and I talked about how Earnest Hemmingway was famously quoted “write drunk, edit sober”, so I figured why not – maybe there might be a productive outcome. The thing is that I’ve checked in with how I feel and why I have the desire to drink a glass of wine. I have no negative feelings to escape and I actually desire the taste of a decent red, so I’ve poured one glass. I’m enjoying it, it’s relaxing me and overall I feel like it’s having a positive effect on me. However, I witnessed a different use of this tool earlier today as the local drunken men stumbled out of the pub next to the salon where I work, shouting and stumbling about as one fell over, banging his head on the concrete, causing for an ambulance to be called. When I saw this I wondered what the motives were of this man and why he felt the need to drink to excess?  Escapism, numbness or a total avoidance of life altogether maybe? This isn’t an uncommon situation in the place where I live, and I think it’s becoming more prevalent in the West altogether.

It’s not just alcohol that I see getting abused regularly where there could be an emotional imbalance. Food is often abused too, it’s a source of energy for use but I’ve seen it used as a tool for comfort and control too. Television and telephones are also easy devices to escape into when the conversation gets heavy or when a silence becomes awkward. Maybe you find yourself becoming excessively ‘busy’, which is actually one is my personal favourites. You’ll know if I’m escaping my emotions because my diary will look like the picture below and it’s because internally I’m skipping around the Avoidance Fun Fair, being chased by the Emotional Cat.

But feelings can also be used as tools as well. Love for example, it can be unconditionally used in a positive light and it can be used to manipulate other people to achieve an objective. Even counselling methods can be used for positive or negative, Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been used to help countless people deal with difficult life situations but it’s also used as a sales tool to unaware customers.

I’ve come to a point where I’m using mindfulness as a tool to discover the underlying motives for my actions and sometimes I’m questioning everything.  It originally started back in January when I was smoking – something I’d started up again when my father passed away – and Dr. Jenn asked me to do a mindful smoking exercise, to literally meditate whilst smoking (I used the headspace ‘cooking’ meditation and just applied it differently). It made me think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Particularly why did I feel the need to smoke? Was I addicted? And if so why? I mean, I’ve watched the Johann Hari TED talk about addiction and how it’s a substitute for not having a fulfilled life so logically I knew there was a reason behind this, however, I was obviously comfortable being oblivious to the reason. Why was that?

What I found was, that once I had rolled the cigarette, lit it and smoked a few puffs that I didn’t actually desire it anymore. I also found that there were some pretty heavy feelings that I was avoiding letting up too. Vulnerable feelings, the kind of broken feelings that make you want to cry and hide away from the world. There was a physical heaviness in my chest, my heart, the same pain I felt when I missed my Dad and to be quite honest sometimes I just didn’t want to deal with it, so I didn’t. That’s why I was smoking – when I didn’t want to talk, it was easy to stick something in my mouth so I didn’t have to. Ultimately all this did was push down these emotions temporarily, which is actually very unhealthy as this great podcast explains – it’s one by the Christ Church London and although I’m not religious I can appreciate that the information about managing emotions is very beneficial. What I came to find out for myself is that emotions need to be expressed and suppressed ones need to be unpacked in a healthy fashion (Check out my 5 Steps to Unpacking Emotions post) and talked out so that a positive mental state can be reached and the abusive use of tools can subside.

So I leave you with this – what tools do you use? Why do you use them? If you don’t know or you come up with a quick answer then why not tap into the moment that you desire a tool and ask yourself ‘What is it that I am craving right now?’ Maybe you’re using the tool for a positive motive, but it could be negative too. You’ll only know by delving deeper into your psyche and finding out.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Follow Your Intuition, Have Intention and Find Courage

I’m on my way home now (via Jakarta, Bangkok and London) but I’m heading in that general direction. Home. The place I went to when I first felt the pang of heartbreak, the place I flew straight back to after the attack and the place where I said my last goodbye to my Dad. It feels good to be heading back and I’m looking forward to seeing my family, friends and the cats. Mostly I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter of my life. I came to Asia with the intention of working on myself and the emotions that came up following these traumatic events, in the hope that I could somewhat heal the brokenness that I felt inside. I made sure to follow my intuition to steer me on my path along the way and it’s not been without its challenges. Although I know that I’ve always had a lot of courage, there have been times when I’ve had to search every bit of me to find what it’s taken to get through the toughest bits but I feel much better for doing so.

I really believe that each person ultimately knows themselves better than anyone else on this planet so by listening to what ‘feels’ right should be the best guide for healing, but without a real intention this intuition can often go unheard or ignored and without the courage to act, then both are useless anyway.

The events are still relatively fresh for me but I find that I’ve reached a turning point where I’m ready to drop the trauma story. I’m not quite sure what that means for this blog yet, I guess I’ll write for as long as it feels right, or maybe I’ll change it or develop it into something new (suggestions very welcome: traumaontour@hotmail.com), but I know that for now I’m ready to change the trauma record. I reached this point in the last week or so and something that I feel sped it up somewhat, was having some intense Traditional Chinese Acupuncture (a therapy that I’ve always respond to very well). I was lucky enough to find an intuitive therapist in Bali, who worked with me to push my limits as much as I could emotionally and physically handle and within the safety of the practice – based on both our intuition and his expertise and knowledge. This application of intuition and knowledge was applied with awareness, then sense checked, reflected upon and evaluated to really measure progress and I reinforce this kind of evaluation in my learning experiences in life, be it for personal development, therapy or learning a new skill. I mean this is commonly done in work environments, why wouldn’t we apply it to our own personal development, growth and healing?

Listening to my intuition resulted in me to staying in Ubud for over six weeks, surrounded by great people, including my inspirational roommate CJ, an awesome self-built entrepreneur, who’s been like a sister to me. Deepi was the third member of our crew, a lively Canadian/Indian chick who speaks her mind and takes no shit. These two women have been an influential part of my healing because we created an environment where it was safe to talk about everything, and I mean everything including difficult personal feedback about vulnerable situations, upfront truths that needed to be heard and all our emotions in all their colourful shapes and intensities. All without judgement and with wholehearted compassion in the hope that we would learn about ourselves and grow more in the process. I certainly feel like I did. Maybe if everyone had an environment like this, where they could talk so freely without fear of being judged or ridiculed then the World would be a much better place. I can imagine that traumas might be processed faster at least, especially because talking so openly and frequently about them would eradicate the taboo and discomfort that so often comes with this kind of sharing.

Now, following your intuition is one thing but it’s not just a case of landing in Bali and expecting to be healed, even if your intuition is screaming “Go to Bali”! No, because nothing really matters unless it’s done with intention, and the right intention at that. I came here with the intention of healing because I wanted to get back to living the nomadic, adventurous, fun filled life that I used to and nothing was going stop me getting there. I knew that I would have to sit through some uncomfortable challenges, that I would have to experience all the darkness of my traumas and the emotions that came with them to process them and get through to a more positive and stable state of mind and it’s not been easy getting here. I knew there would be anger, tears, confusion, embarrassment, shame, blame, apologies, confessions, panic attacks and a whole host of ‘break down’ type moments in front of a variety of audiences (I’m totally cool with public crying now). The thing is that I was ready to look all these moments in the eye and crawl through the sludge of them because I also knew that I had the grit, humility and endurance to do it, I knew that I had courage. Sometimes that meant reaching out and asking for help, regardless of how weak this made me feel at the time. As if I’d somehow failed at life because I was having to ask someone to be there for me or that I was lesser of a person because I couldn’t help but break down at certain situations that ‘normal people’ wouldn’t be phased by. It’s the overcoming of this shame and breaking the silence to speak that took a huge amount of inner courage, especially when to even voice my traumas brought out reactions in others that made me feel outright rejected, unsupported and unwelcome for sharing. I know this comes down to other people’s discomfort at not wanting to deal with these situations but overcoming these rejections (that’s what they felt like) when I expressed myself was a hard thing to keep overcoming. I actually remember a captain friend of mine stopping me on a walk back from the pub to tell me how brave I was to seek counselling straight after the attack. I guess I didn’t quite realise it back then because being from a medical type family going to counselling made sense to me – experience a psychological trauma, go and see a psychological expert – but looking back I don’t think that’s what he meant. I think he meant overcoming the stigma of opening up about my vulnerabilities, and having the courage to speak out. He was right, it was brave.

What I realised is that speaking out takes a different kind of courage. It’s not the courage that you need to live the life of a nomad without financial stability or the security of a fixed base, it’s not the courage you need to jump out of a plane even though your heart is thumping in your throat and it’s not the courage you need before enduring a hike to Everest Base Camp – trust me I’ve done all those thing and they were easy in comparison. Speaking out took a deeper level of courage that I wasn’t even sure I had, the courage to go somewhere that no one wants to go. The kind that makes you feel like you’ve exposed your deepest darkest secrets in front of the whole World and its judgement. Like you’re the helpless child in the playground, being humiliated, alone, being pointed at while the whole school laughs at you. I’m sure you know the feeling, it’s the stuff of nightmares. It’s often the fear of this feeling that silences us while we continue to tear up inside, telling everyone on the outside that we’re “fine” while we sink into a pit of loneliness which gets heavier and heavier until it’s almost unbearable. Having the courage to break that silence is real courage, and as with all things that involve hardship, it pays off, at least it did for me. By communicating and sharing as much as I have I’ve created stronger bonds with people because deep down we all have our trauma secrets, by sharing them it brings us closer together. It’s made me stronger too because I’ve got to know myself well through all these events and I’m sure that I’ll push myself even further with this new depth courage that found.

So I’ll leave you with a thought today. Tap into your intuition about a situation that feels vulnerable for you, see what feels like the right thing to do. It’s most likely the hard thing, that you subconsciously make excuses to avoid without realising. If you do realise what it is, find the courage to do something about it, with intent and see where it leads you. It might be saying sorry for your part of an argument, telling someone how you feel about them or just admitting that you need some help right now.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

 

What Do You Need Right Now?

I remember as a kid, how my Dad would sometimes have a tear in his eye when talking about a situation at work. The difficulty of having to tell someone they’ve got cancer, listening to a patient’s last wish when they knew they were near the end, or speaking to the parents of a recently deceased child. That one was always the worst.

To experience the death of your child, before you rather than the other way around. I can’t Read More »

Christmas Eve

A year ago today I fought.

It was Christmas Eve and I was in St Maarten (the Caribbean), in between jobs when a local man tried to rape me on the way home to my accommodation. There are some parts I remember and some parts I don’t but needless to say, the event somewhat traumatised me. I’ve spent the majority of this year trying to deal with the post-traumatic stress that wrestles with me regularly.

This Christmas I’m home but there’s someone missing – my Dad. It’s quiet in the house with one less person and it’s left a gaping hole in all of our lives. Being a Muslim, he never really celebrated Christmas, it was a camaraderie that he went on with for my brother, myself and my Mum, who’s Catholic. Being a Doctor, however, he worked every Christmas and when I was a kid I would go to his hospice to give out the lunches to the terminally ill patients that he was taking care of. Everyone seemed to love my Dad. I remember how the patients would fondly talk about him and tell me what a compassionate man he was, something that I would also be reminded of in the wake of his death as ex-patients and colleagues stop me, to talk about him when they see me.

The experience of giving out hospice lunches at Christmas made me very grateful for what I had – two amazing parents and my brother, all of us well and healthy. I think that’s what Christmas should be about too, being grateful for the presence of our loved ones. It’s only when we no longer have this that we realise that the presents, the dinner and fuss don’t actually matter at all.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x