authenticity

3 Things to Know When Processing Trauma

 Guest Post by Allie Chapa

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

The middle is a disheartening place; you don’t quite see the beginning and you definitely don’t see the end. This is how I would describe my process with mental illness and trauma right now. I’m in the foggy, muddy middle and quite honestly, most days I want to give up.

For the last year and a half I’ve been focusing on recovery from my latest episode of depression and anxiety. I have found that for me, medication and counseling are what I need during this time, even though it may not be what’s best for everyone. More specifically, I have been doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, a specialized therapy that focuses on trauma. (You can learn more about EMDR therapy, here.)

Within the last five years, with the help of a counselor, I have learned that my childhood was abnormal from others. I have a loving mother who did her best raising me but unfortunately was also emotionally abusive. The pain from this has manifested in a multitude of false beliefs about myself and others—beliefs so deeply embedded in my mind that I didn’t know they were false until this past year as I’ve processed them for the first time in EMDR therapy.

This journey has been long, hard, and freeing all at the same. I have found relief that the things I believe about myself and others are completely wrong. I have found more anxiety because there are so many false and negative beliefs. I have found hope that I can believe new things. I have found frustration because truly believing those new things is really hard. I have found despair because I feel like I’ll never get past all of my trauma. I have found that I not only grow as I go through the process but I also fail—a lot.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

I can’t say these tips will apply to everyone because I don’t believe the journey looks the same for everyone. We’re all unique individuals, and our journeys will also be the unique. But here are some things that I’ve found help me as I get through the middle of my journey with trauma. (Note: these are all things I’m still learning to do and definitely have not mastered!)

1. Take time to take care of yourself.

The battle to replace your old belief system with a new one takes a lot of energy and can be exhausting. Make sure to be kind to yourself and do things that give you peace and bring you joy. I usually go and buy some dark chocolate after my EMDR sessions and find time to take a nap to rest.

2. Focus on one new belief at a time.

As my journey goes on, I tend to get overwhelmed and feel despair when I think of all of the new thoughts and beliefs I’m working on. Instead of trying to believe 15 new thoughts, I’m working on focusing on just one at a time. It helps me to write mine out on a large chalkboard I have and display it somewhere I can repeatedly read in my house.

3. Give yourself permission to feel pain.

This one is really hard for me. I’m learning that when it comes to trauma, there are layers and layers of pain to be dealt with. No one likes to feel pain, but I’m told that there’s no other way to get to the other side without feeling the pain.

If you are someone who has experienced trauma, I want you to know that your pain is real. I don’t want to pretend to know your kind of pain, but I do know it can hold you back for too long. Please, don’t wait to find help, because there is so much more to your life than the pain you have experienced.

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The Truth About Anxiety: I'm Faking It

This is a full confession. I've never told anyone this before.

Years ago, before I personally experienced depression or anxiety, I thought people with anxiety were dramatic. With my limited frame of reference, I believed they just needed to "chill out." I thought anxiety levels were completely under conscious control.

After experiencing anxiety firsthand, I've realized a hard truth: I am indeed faking it. 

Photo from pixabay.com

Photo from pixabay.com

However, it's not my symptoms I'm faking. It's everything else. When I'm with friends, I fake a smile even though my heart is pounding inside my chest. I fake interest in conversation. I nod and pretend I heard exactly what they said, even when their voices sound far away and I start to feel nauseous from anxiety.

I make up excuses for why I cannot attend events or go out for coffee. I'm good at faking it, too. I alternate excuses of busyness and appointments and family obligations so they'll never suspect I'm at home, counting as I breathe to calm my brain and my body. 

I fake it when I'm receiving shift report at the hospital or in a meeting for work. I sit down and say I'm tired, when I'm really so anxious about the day I'm getting dizzy. I fake being tired so I can avoid going to that restaurant—the one where last time I ate, I had a well-masked anxiety attack that made me throw up all my food later at home.

I used to think people with anxiety were faking their symptoms, exaggerating their stories and dramatizing emotions. Now I know for sure, most of us with anxiety are faking it. But we are faking it in exactly the opposite way: by diminishing and hiding the ways anxiety affects our lives. We are faking smiles and conversations and laughter in an effort to maintain relationships and reputations. We are faking it so you're not freaked out and don't feel awkward. We are faking it for you.

Somehow, with all the stigma around anxiety, we came up with the idea faking it would improve our relationships and make our lives easier. Yet from personal experience, it does just the opposite. When I'm truthful and humble and transparent about anxiety, I feel relief and find freedom to just be me—no faking involved—around you. I no longer have anxiety about people knowing I have anxiety (that's simply too complicated for this girl to handle!).

How I want to appear to others ( photo from pixabay.com )

How I want to appear to others (photo from pixabay.com)

What I feel like inside! ( Photo from pixabay.com )

What I feel like inside! (Photo from pixabay.com)

In a way, aren't we all faking it? We try to hide our weaknesses, faking confidence or knowledge or personality traits. We put up a front so we will be more likable, but isn't authenticity what people find truly attractive and valuable?

I believe we can grow in this area together. As a society, we can encourage and accept one another with our strengths and our weaknesses. We can stop faking it and find genuine community and lasting relationships. 

So today, here's my full confession. I struggle with anxiety, and I've been faking it. Yet today, I'm going to do my best to stop. I want to be real with you, and I want you to be real with me. Will you join me?

 

*For those experiencing anxiety, here are some links you may find helpful:
Tips to help get through an anxiety attack (written by yours truly)
How to manage anxiety (by Calm Clinic)
Living with anxiety (by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America)

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Insta Authenticity (On Integrity & Social Media)

It’s no secret social media can be somewhat misleading when it comes to an accurate portrayal of our lives. Facebook and Instagram have been labeled “highlight reels,” but that’s not a bad thing. I prefer highlights over every single detail of people’s lives.

Yet because social media are geared toward showcasing highlights, they can easily become comparison traps (everyone else is always having more fun than I am) or self esteem damagers (either promoting sky high egos or tearing down healthy self confidence). We’re all about the number of likes, and we're all chasing that quick “double tap” to get more red hearts on Insta.

Since I’ve been overseas, I’ve started utilizing social media more in an effort to stay connected with friend and family back in the States. I’ve found I have to double check myself before posting in order to avoid the comparison and self esteem traps of social media. Here are some of the questions I ask myself before posting to Instagram.

To filter or not to filter? That is the question...

To filter or not to filter? That is the question...

1. Is this post accurately portraying my day/life?

Have I had a terrible week and avoided posting, but now that I have ice cream I want to show the world how happy I am? There’s nothing wrong with being pumped about an exciting event (ice cream definitely makes the list), but is all I’m posting those exciting moments? If so, maybe I’m not giving an accurate portrayal of my life to those viewing my posts. I’m not saying I want to read sob stories or posts about how miserable you are. Really, I don’t. I’m saying if I only leave my house once a week but post pictures with dozens of friends each time, people will think I’m a social butterfly, which would definitely be misleading (and that’s a nice way of putting it). On and off social media, I’m a proponent of authenticity, meaning an accurate portrayal of life. There has to be a balance somewhere.


2. Do the filters make this scene seem more beautiful than it really is?

I’ll ‘fess up. I used to add filters left and right because hey, they really do make my pictures look better! Who doesn’t need a little Amaro or Perpetua in their life? However, recently I’ve stopped to wonder: am I adding filters because I’m afraid the landscape isn’t as pretty as everyone else’s #nature shots? If the filter brings out the true beauty in the scene or helps with the lighting—if it helps give the viewer a look that’s closer to reality—I’m all for filters and edits. But if the purpose is to impress, maybe it’s better to go filterless.

3. Is this picture offensive or harmful to anyone?

Especially overseas, we have a tendency to post pictures of the unusual, and those pictures may or may not include locals and their way of life. Those people may never see my post, but if I’d be embarrassed to show them or if the post (including the hashtags) is any way mocking their way of life, it’s time to close out my social media apps. Is our #winning making someone else feel like they’re #losing? In any community, I believe we should ensure our comments and posts are respectful and loving toward all those around us.

4. What’s my motive?

If my motive is to garner “likes” or, as I mentioned above, to impress, I probably shouldn’t post it. Mostly because it’s harmful to myself. It’s a red flag I’m feeling “not enough” and am looking for my value and worth in others’ opinions. It’s a setup for failure. In these cases, posts can very well be harmless to everyone except ourselves. We’re worth protecting, too; our motive is worth checking.

These are just a few of the guidelines I use when posting to Instagram. Often, I’m about to post a picture when I perform a quick mental review with these questions, and I imagine Fat Amy’s voice (from Pitch Perfect) commenting, “Mmmm…better not." And the post is discarded, edits and hashtags and all. Upholding my values must take a higher priority than the little red hearts. It’s simply the only way Instagram will ever be #worthit to me.

 

How do you decide what to post on Instagram and other social media mediums?

Are there any guidelines you go by, formal or informal?

 

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment or send an email over to my inbox!

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Again and Again

I read a friend’s Facebook post today, and it really encouraged me. It was funny and lighthearted and honest and talked about how she was waiting for the future superhero version of herself to arrive. I wish I could share the actual post with you, but when I tried to go back to it I couldn't find it for the life of me!

Anyway, it was encouraging because perfectionism and idealistic expectations have been a long-time struggle for me.

Usually what most discourages me is just how long I’ve been fighting the same battle. I get disappointed when I make progress and then fall back down again. And again. And again. I feel frustrated there’s no formula or shortcut. It’s hard to keep finding grace for myself.

Yet it’s moments like these—a quick look at a friend’s post on Facebook—that remind me I’m not alone and help me get up again. In the middle of a newsfeed of picturesque moments and ads targeting my desire for “better, more, and easier,” I find hidden treasures in people sharing the everyday parts of their lives and their hearts.

Much of life is like this. In person or virtually, we are bombarded by ads and messages reinforcing negative beliefs we have about ourselves and others. It can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Yet in the midst of it all, we also encounter the honesty of friends, the kindness of strangers, the joy of walking alongside people who are just as messy and messed up as we are—whatever it is we need to give us the courage and strength to rise after a faceplant. We all need this encouragement sometimes. We’re all waiting for the superhero version of ourselves to come—not one of us has found her yet!

When we practice authenticity and let our walls down, we not only experience freedom in our falling and rising, but we also find the strength to get back up. It's found in and fueled by compassion and empathy and community. We all need it. Today, tomorrow, the next day, the one after that and the one after that. We fall down and we get up. Sometimes our getting up is what gives someone else the courage to rise, and sometimes watching someone else get up for the millionth time is what gives us the extra nudge we need to try to stand on our wobbly legs again.

Again, and again, and again, and again.

I’ve written about this theme before, and here I write about it once more—because I needed that extra nudge again today, and maybe you do, too.

Here’s to getting up, to falling, and to getting up again. (And again. And again.)

 

Are there areas in life in which you feel like you're constantly falling and having to get back up?

What motivates you to get back up when you've fallen?

How can we be more intentional about helping each other back up?

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