Last night, I finished reading the book, The Body Keeps the Score by psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. If you want to learn about how trauma affects people and how people can overcome their painful wounds, then it’s worth reading (especially if you work closely with people, especially if you’re any type of healer or therapist).
I wanted to read this book because, if you’ve been following this blog for a bit, I’ve chronicled a lot of trauma here. I wanted to make sure that as someone who lives more in her head than in her body, that I was taking care of myself on my healing journey.
Well, the healing journey continues, but not in a way I was expecting.
With van der Kolk, his work impacted and shaped the work I had been supporting in psychology/psychiatry research. This book was published in 2014, the year I graduated from grad school.
And the book was, in part, a continuation of the research work I helped to support.
I’m not sure how I feel about it. I feel a lot of things.
I thought I was done mourning not becoming a child psychiatrist, which had been a dream career I had since I was a teenager. What had stopped me was some chronic anemia that had been plaguing me when I started my final push through pre-med classes.
So if that illness hadn’t happened, I would probably be a full-fledged doctor by now (and definitely not writing a blog about my spiritual journey).
While I was reading this book, it was like reading a career I could have had — or maybe should have had?
But also, it was like meeting the person who shape and inform how I view mental health. That’s because back when I lived in Chicago, our research group was a part of his larger national research group.
One of the goals of that group, along with other clinicians and researchers, was to help create a new diagnosis for trauma that involved children, called Developmental Trauma Disorder. The idea is that a lot of what children with behavior and psychiatric issues are most likely stemming from traumatic events, such as living in an abusive home.
A bit surprisingly but very disappointingly, this diagnosis didn’t make it into the DSM-V, the book that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use to diagnose psychiatric disorders. It’s an important book to bill insurance for services. This was right around the time I was leaving for Florida.
I had become somewhat endeared to one of the directors of our research group. He was just a good guy and, in retrospect, I should have bent his ear more but I was focused on leaving Chicago. We actually had talked about this DSM-V/trauma issue while leaving the office one afternoon. I had gotten the sense it was a bit political (not like governmental political, like people political), and van der Kolk gives you that same sort of feeling.
Anyway, after one research meeting, because I had been so vocal about something (I can’t remember if it was how clinicians were being trained…?), the director asked me if I was ever interested in applying for the doctoral program at the university I worked at.
I said no.
Like I said, I was looking to leave Chicago. I had wanted a fresh start after so many friends had literally moved on, to Colorado, to Florida, to California.
Also, I had really wanted to be a psychiatrist, not a clinical psychologist. But I’m pretty sure if I had wanted to get in, it would have been pretty easy because I had worked in that group for years, knew a lot of the faculty…and that was my plan to get myself into medical school, not grad school.
So reading this book, it was a very bittersweet read, but it feels like a timely one. I’m just not exactly sure what it means yet.
Being a freelancer going on three years, there have been a lot of highs and lows. Today was definitely a low.
I had reached out to a former client this week and it seemed like we could work together. But for some reason, they didn’t want to sign a contract with me. That’s a dealbreaker, so unfortunately we couldn’t move forward to work together.
So yeah, it’s hard, or sometimes all too easy, to think about what could have been.
If I had decided to pursue clinical psychology, I definitely would have a doctorate by now and I probably would have a great job, helping kids and their families cope and heal.
So when there are hard days like today, or even hard days all strung in a row, it’s easy to ask this question and let it nag you for a while:
Did I take a wrong turn?
And being middle aged now, this is one of the classic mid-life crisis points, looking back at one’s life and wondering if it was all a waste, this whole pursuing your dream thing.
To tag back to the book, van der Kolk repeatedly emphasizes the importance of relationships for healing and for thriving, and how mental illness disrupts those vital connections.
If anything, I was reminded of an ache inside of me that doesn’t seem to be easily soothed, even by success.
But even success requires connections.
I was reading some short tweet thread last night about how success is really about knowing the right people. And, in this person’s opinion, it’s not just knowing them, but being friends with them.
I think about that idea with pursuing a graduate degree in writing. One main point of grad school is to create those connections, to find that community. It’s taken years for me to let go of the dream of finding my writing community here. It really seems like that wasn’t the point of me being here.
I’ve probably written about this before, here or on my Patreon, but it has been very hard to create long-lasting connections in my life. If they last longer than a year, the intensity wanes into a cool acquaintanceship. And that makes me sad and makes me start to question myself and sometimes my worth as a human being on this planet.
I know the astrological reasons (my 11th house of groups and friendships has this awakening, unstable planet called Uranus). Yet sometimes, that gives me cold comfort. So this is just the way life is for me? Is it truly unchangeable?
Yet I also know that since I turned 30, I’ve gone through some dramatic changes in my life — leaving the Church, moving to Florida, going to grad school, getting involved in the esoteric, many job and home changes. And mostly, it’s been all for the better.
But truly, it can be incredibly difficult to hold onto relationships as you change and as other people change.
The awakenings I’ve gone through with groups of people have been ones which remind me of old truths, such as white supremacy isn’t something to overcome but something to avoid.
van der Kolk reminded me that this need for connection is a primal and valid one. Human beings are social creatures, and that’s how we’ve survived for millennia.
Western society may think we’re all self-made, but that’s a complete lie. We’ve all gotten help from someone, multiple times.
Beyond that reassurance of my need to be connected to others being valid, another reason why I wanted to read this book was due to a nagging feeling of being too much and not enough — still.
I have wondered if all I went through as a child somehow invisibly repelled me from the right people or pushed me towards the wrong people.
Basically, how fucked up am I that I can’t hold onto people?
I believe that in the past, even the recent past, this was definitely true, that my coping mechanisms were acting like pulleys and levers.
But now, I know that it’s not even about being fucked up or not. There are people who have been more traumatized than me who have the proper support, the right connections, people who don’t leave.
I don’t have to be completely healed to get the support I need. In fact, the more broken you are, the more support you should be given.
So for now, this is just not a question I can answer beyond the “it’s capitalism, stupid!” answer which seems so unsatisfying. And that’s especially because even with the existential angst I’ve always carried, it wasn’t always like this.
The only thing that makes sense is also unsatisfying, like some convenient spiritual bypassing, that I’m being shaped by the losses and leavings, that these are just The Lonely Years.
The timing is just not right.
Oh, and a sidenote about timing! So the lovely Stacey B. from Tarot Pugs has been one of my tarot readers for years, and every year for the past few years, I’ve gotten an annual reading from her. This month’s card was the 6 of Swords reversed. Here’s the last part of the reading:
In either way, you’re ready for something new and the energy will shift from the way it has been for the last three months into a new direction. This may be the final month that after you have redone things, revisited relationship or situations, you’re ready to drop it all and move on – but first making sure if there’s anything you need to take with you and then leaving all the rest behind.
Basically the theme of this post, amirite?
When I was reading The Body Keeps the Score, it was so wonderful to read about trauma in a more intellectual way. I remember being so passionate about this stuff. Being trauma-informed about psychology and psychiatry made so much sense, like in a “I’ve found my life’s work” sense.
I still don’t want to become a psychologist, psychiatrist or a therapist. I really do feel like that ship has sailed, and it was a ship I wasn’t meant to be on. I’d prefer to write about this stuff…but it’s been difficult to find a way to market myself in that way. And maybe that’s just something I will have to work on.
In the meantime, this book caught me in a time when writing as a profession is at a low, when everything is at a low. I’ve spent years in this profession and it is just not clicking right now. And a lot of that is the human component that’s missing here. I’m trying to be successful by myself (not by choice) and that’s impossible.
I’m knocking on doors, looking for exits and entries…and I hear voices all around me, but I don’t see anyone.
And that’s so weird for me. One of the things I’ve had to learn to do with having narcissistic parents was be my own advocate. Seeking and obtaining help and support, I’ve become an expert.
I’m a fucking scrapper. But this is just not one of those times.
This is a sentiment I’m pretty sure I repeated in my Patreon, but I feel very close to everything I want and need, but yet at the same time, very far away (that’s also a theme that’s repeated in my annual reading from Stacey, funny enough!).
That book reminded me of a time (which I must have taken for granted) when I was seen and valued
(and also of when I wasn’t seen and valued by a terribly racist manager), of when I felt like what I did mattered — even if it was data collection and analysis. I was a part of something much bigger than myself. I was able to advocate for kids in the child welfare system, to help researchers affect state and national policy.
What I do now is intermittent and on a smaller scale. I’m still helping people help others, but it’s not necessarily making my heart go pitter patter. The stuff that makes my heart beat faster isn’t apparently what I should be doing full-time.
And hey — very few of us get that beautiful Venn diagram of a perfect circle of doing what we love for pay. I’m OK with that.
I had been so concerned about being really numbed out from what I gone through as a teenager (it’s still a bit of a concern — is it extreme resilience or extreme numbing?), I wasn’t expecting to get teary about my career trajectory.
Again — I don’t think this was some clarion call to go back into the mental health industry as a mental health professional, even though I know I would be really fucking good at it, just like I know I would have been a fucking great lawyer (another profession that I wanted to pursue when I was a tweener).
Astrologically this month, there’s a lot going on that applies to healing and letting go, including a bit of a releasing the old going on within my 1st house of identity and self. So I feel like this book has asked me to grieve this other life I could have had, a life I wasn’t guaranteed to have.
And here’s the thing: I haven’t gotten any guidance this year that says to switch back. Writing is it (for now), even if it looks like I’ve made a very costly mistake.
What this time in my life reminds me of is when I was 18 and I had to stay at home for a year because my father was suffering from paranoid delusions. And that whole year was a traumatic event.
I’m pretty sure I was depressed, if not just dysthymic. I lost 15 pounds and I wasn’t really that big to begin with. I wrote a little about this time in my latest Patreon post.
It was a very spiritual time, and I’m in a similar one right now.
One thing that I have to remind myself as I try not to beat myself up for being a loner by default is that leaving a religion is not only traumatic, but it also means that you have to learn how to create your own community.
And, welp — I’m not really that great at it! (although, in a sense, all of you reading this are a part of my community) It’s something I have to keep trying to accomplish, even if there’s been a lot of failure — just like with my writing biz.
Another sidenote! This week I learned about this astrological technique called zodiacal releasing, which basically is like an astrological book of major life events with the chapter being certain times in your life.
So, for example, even though for the longest time, I resented not being able to start my college career on time, zodiacal releasing showed within days of the first time I met my best friend for the first couple of years of college, a guy who basically changed my whole worldview.
And maybe if I had gone to college on time, it still would have happened, but not likely because the date was during college orientation, which started a couple of weeks before classes starts.
With zodiacal releasing, I also saw that right now I’m in a career peak and that started right around I was truly a freelancer/right before I left a dream job because of a terrible manager. It’s an eight-year stretch, so even if my career looks like poop right now, I know I’m in the right place at the right time.
If you ever want me do zodiacal releasing for you, make sure you have a great memory of your life and then book a reading with me.
I’m still not 100% sure what I will do with the feelings this book brought up for me, besides blog about it. It really caught me off guard, the work van der Kolk has done and how personal it is to me — yet not really in a clinical sense.
What it has done is helped me to (again) face my frustration and sorrow as someone who has been through a lot and is tired of having that define her while currently going through a lot.
In the beginning, I had wanted this blog to be a chronicle of all the weird things that have happened to me spiritually. But it has been a chronicle of grief and suffering, too.
And sometimes, very frustratingly so, it seems like I’m walking in circles as I grieve not having some basic emotional needs met, and I can see that I really just needed them to be validated.
The Body Keeps the Score finally said the words I needed to hear in the way I needed to hear them.
So. If the support hasn’t yet arrived, all I can do is be compassionate with myself until it does. Worrying and self-abnegation aren’t helpful here.
And one thing I’ve been really loath to do is get into that super spiritual space where I just surrender everything to God/Spirit/the Universe and ask for divine intervention. Why? Because it takes a lot of energy and concentration.
But also? I’m tired of feeling helpless. It’s a very scary, alone feeling which I haven’t felt in decades.
What’s beautiful about now is that when I was 18, I definitely was depressed and now, I’m not. I’m still a fucking scrapper and I have 23 years of life experience and wisdom that I didn’t have back then.
(Somehow, living with squirrels running in the eaves and living with someone with a chronic mental illness are still true, so the Universe has some cruel jokes there.)
But really, in a time of confusion and struggle, there’s nothing wrong with asking for guidance on the guidance I’ve already received. And what I’ve gotten is be patient. Hang in there.
Today for my tarot card of the day, I drew The Star. It’s a symbol of hope after the awakening chaos of The Tower.
I’ll end with this cartoon from Nathan W. Pyle. It’s a very hump day cartoon, and I was feeling like this when I started, but somehow, by reminding myself of how I’ve gotten through tough times, I feel a little more encouraged.
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