Firstly, you may be wondering why I am writing this?
Lately I have been hearing people deeply struggle with fear, shame and trauma due to Covid-19 and toxic racial inequality. June 27th is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day in many countries such as Australia and the USA. And when a friend asked me to participate in the #25DayPushUpChallenge (to raise awareness of PTSD), I prayed on it. Through prayerful listening I’m coming to more deeply understand that Christian truth calls me to live as part of a whole, we are one body. I’m hoping that this reflection and the artwork may be an act of solidarity, empowering others, unifying hearts with hope and healing.
When you swiftly hear the sound of an ambulance siren, I wonder, what do you think about?
Perhaps you wonder where the ambulance is going and who it is helping. I want to instantly wonder those things, but when I hear that particular sound, it’s like my thumb and middle finger click together... *snap*... my thoughts are transported back to 2011… boom… my heart pounds, fear pulses through me. Past memories flood my thoughts like water soaking a paper towel; the sounds of the earthquake ring in my ears, the smell of dust fills my nose, I'm trapped in a building as fresh tears fill my eyes...
And what might we call this thing that zooms me back, this time traveling airline of sorts? I know it well as PTS.
PTS (Post Traumatic Stress, aka PTSD) is basically like a portal back to the past. After a traumatic event/s, one’s mind can create space for one’s nervous system to relive events like they are happening today; affecting the body as well as the mind. A person may experience PTS because of one or several life events. These life events involve extreme fear and anxiety because of a situation involving imminent danger (examples include but are not limited to; war, natural disasters, domestic violence, abuse). In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and other events in my life, I tried everything to avoid admitting that there was anything wrong with me. I didn’t understand what was happening and remember thinking… “why can’t I just get over it?”. As it turns out, my symptoms were really a sign, my body was saying; "hey, I just need a bit of help to understand what is happening". So, why was I reluctant?
I was ashamed and afraid.
If I were to encounter a person with an illness of any kind I would never tell them that they should be ashamed. And yet, I did that to myself. I was ashamed because I was afraid of not being enough and afraid of being rejected. It seems to me that shame is like an alluring island with free unlimited residency. It looks good from a distance, is tough to leave and clothed me for free with a false sense of security.
“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.” ~ St Catherine of Siena
I’ll admit I’m still a little afraid to tell my story, to let veritas (the truth) free like a lion. When I was struggling with the symptoms I realised there were two options. Choose fear, stay on the shame island and do nothing; “she’ll be right, I don’t have a problem." Or, choose vulnerability and keep searching for truth; “I’m struggling and I need to have a yarn about this.” O boy, this vulnerability thing is tough! At times it has felt like I’ve had the spiritual equivalent of a WWE bout with God. I mean really, it would be easier if I just stayed on the shame island right?
Pope Francis reflects; "There is no Christian mission marked by tranquility!" Hmmmm Christianity takes work! Matthew 18 helps me remember the call to be humble like children, to forgive, and gather together. Being fully part of community means that I must gratefully trust the Easter process of transformation and new life. “Death and life are two sides of the same coin; you cannot have one without the other. Each time you surrender, each time you trust the dying, your faith is led to a deeper level and you discover a Larger Self underneath.” Through my spiritual bouts and many “Que" moments with God I can honestly say that new freedom and life continues to heal, unite and transform by letting the truth lion loose.
“Work on with constancy and courage” ~ St. Mary MacKillop 1876
These words from St Mary MacKillop can touch all our hearts as we journey on. Nowadays I continue to develop an ongoing healing relationship with this time traveling airline of sorts. I regularly exercise, eat a healthy diet to help balance any symptoms I might experience and have an excellent psychologist I can connect with as needed. Healing has also come through patient support from family, friends and I am deeply grateful to be part of a congregation that listens to the spirit of life and is supportive. My appreciation and gratitude lives beyond words. All is gift, we are all very much human and journey together to serve God. As Desmond Tutu reminds us; "My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together."
When the sound of a siren next radiates in your ears, may it give strength in unity, perhaps sparking a reminder to gratefully trust in truth and transformation together. Remembering that Easter and Christmas are gifts of transformation and new life; God loves us, forever making all things new...
"Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day."
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ
You may also be wondering what to do if you identify with my story, or if you know of someone that might.
1. Please contact a medical professional immediately if you are having thoughts of self-harm or significant distress.
2. Seeing your GP is a wise first step as they can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor.
3. Consulting a spiritual director regularly is very helpful to deepen one’s relationship with God / PTS.
4. Keeping active and maintaining a healthy diet helps with the healing process.
5. There are loads of great resources online. Just a couple of examples: Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute. An excellent book: The Body Keeps the Score.
If you’re a friend or relative please be patient, he/she/they may have days when your presence is all that is needed. They may need quiet time to settle their nervous system. Acceptance and unconditional love is key. Simply ask, perhaps check in with a story or a bad joke now and again. You can help to create new memories by going for a walk, seeing a movie, an art gallery or talking about sport or culture. To show solidarity you can share a post on social media using the hashtags: #NationalPTSDAwarenessDay #PTSDAwareness #PTSDrecovery
Pope Francis aptly reflects: But in all this, our God continues to tell us, as he did to the disciples of his time: “Do not fear!”. Let us not forget these words: always, when we experience any tribulation, any persecution, anything that causes us to suffer, let us listen to the voice of Jesus in our hearts: “Do not fear! Do not fear! Go Forth! I am with you!”.
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Teal is also the colour that represents PTSD awareness.
Jane Maisey rsj