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SOUL SEARCHING: To Hell and Back Twice is at the editing stage of the writing process. Donna thought you would like a preview of what to expect from the second book in her series 'Getting Your Life Back'. Enjoy!

Preface

 

Facing death has placed new emotional perspective on my life. It wasn’t until the last trauma that I finally sat up and took back control of matters—embarking on a journey to embrace my emotions and setting out to understand who I truly was became my mission. Until then I believe that my personality, as well as my emotional state, had been masked. After all, we are taught by default to conceal our feelings in public (and often privately too) and that’s not necessarily healthy. It had taken a near death experience to awaken me, force me to realise just how controlled I’d allowed myself to become and to wake the hell up.

Putting yourself first when you have four children and your eldest has a long-term boyfriend from a young age you’re convinced will become your son-in-law (yup that happened) is difficult. Especially so when they all stepped up in my time of extreme need. It was time to start living as since my head injury I felt I’d survived only to exist and that wasn’t good enough. The moment I made this conscious decision it felt like a weight lifted from my shoulders—it would mean a massive change and a great deal of healing.

Events that traumatise immensely deeply, the ones that remain with you throughout your lifetime and remain within your soul, continue to threaten. They remain an unwanted factor within your mind that continue to be a perceived threat or risk to your life and cause a constant heightened state of hypervigilance. Causing both physical and psychological exhaustion, it isn’t until you reach the point your body is in extreme pain, and you have the inability to remember important factors of your life—such as important appointments or planned events—you realise just how much your trauma impacts on you and, just as importantly, your family.

Unfortunately, trauma is something that has followed me around. I’ve had to get to grips with it on numerous occasions throughout my live and crack on regardless, despite it bringing a response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that causes an overwhelming inability to cope.  Trauma causes feelings of helplessness that diminishes a sense of self and in turn this creates an incompetence to feel the full range of emotions and experiences placing demands on you that ensure that you are incapable of living a normal life. Its crippling, disabling and undignified, creating feelings reaching far beyond the realms of the original trauma(s). When every single aspect of your daily existence is being affected, you’re in trouble.

Chaos, as a result, isn’t tolerated in my life. Anyone behaving in an unpredictable manner is diminished without a second glance, nor do they obtain a second chance these days. When trauma has touched your psyche the way its been embedded into mine, then (and only then) would I expect the understanding required to empathise with my lived experience. I’m far from intolerant. In point of fact you’d be stretched to meet a more patient, empathetic person than me. The difference between my pre-brain trauma and post-brain trauma personality is that I’m no pushover these days. Realistically, I’ve grown a bigger set (psychologically speaking) than most men have and my tolerance for inappropriate (or deviant) behaviour is zilch.

I didn’t survive each ordeal to remain a wimp, quivering in the shadows of my mind or indeed my home. I’m strong in body and mind and folk would do well to both believe in those facts as well as remember them. Nobody gets to batter me again, physically or emotionally. I’ve no intention of putting myself or my family through PTSD again and I’ll do all it takes to fulfil that. I know where I stand with regards to the services offered—the help that’s available to me and that [despite law changes] nothing has physically altered at how ‘victims’ are treated. Let’s make it clear right now, I don’t consider myself a victim for I am not a statistic. Instead, as a survivor with a platform and the willingness to speak out and raise awareness to the issues that surround us, a survivor keen to use my voice. More on that later.

Throughout this book my experiences of trauma are shared along with the effect these events had on me both at the time and much later in life when they manifested as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My diagnosis is actually Complex PTSD (which means I’m a lucky moo and have had multiple traumas) which, of course, comes with further complications. Coming out the other side of each stronger, I share how and why.

Soul Searching: To Hell and Back Twice is a follow-on book to Lost Soul: Broken Soul to Soul on Fire in which I share my recovery journey from brain trauma. Some aspects of that journey are shared within this book too, simply because my PTSD was triggered by the attack that caused it. I have attempted to address matters more deeply and from a different angle in this book to give variety rather than repetition.

Living with the consequences of brain trauma—the residing complications that are medicated—alongside the daily battle to control CPTSD is hard graft but truly rewarding when the balance is right—and it’s mostly right. Medications can, of course, cause side effects that exaggerate some of my conditions so care must be taken to ensure that my health regime remains stable (even during the times of crisis). This is done through eating correctly and maintaining exercise.

Through my writing, meditation, revisiting places from my past and deep-thinking techniques I am able to retrieve lost memories and because of my dedication to recovery alongside a decision made long ago to advocate my experiences share my story with you. I’ve done this in stages, as and when I feel ready. Through my insight, both as a qualified therapist and somebody suffering on the other side of matters, I hope my story can help others by giving them the courage to continue with their own fight.

In mentioning my memory, I feel I should brush on my system for remembering. Through using a complicated process called a memory palace that is set out inside my mind much like a house, with rooms and corridors in which I place memories I’m able to store and retrieve. I also use imagery around my actual home as prompts. This process will possibly be a book in its own right one day. There are still many lost memories to recall (especially from my children’s younger years and perhaps this book will reveal why that might be the case) but through embracing my traumas, I feel I’ve grown and over time these memories are returning. As long as I have my memory prompts around me I can cope just as efficiently as anyone who hasn’t sustained head injury and subsequent memory losses—take my prompts away and I’m left with nothing but trauma.

 

 

Surviving the severe attack that left me registered disabled has most definitely had its ups and downs. Living with the complexities of brain trauma comes with bad days, sometimes a whole run of them. Life either ticks along or you live it to the full. Believe me, I know how to live but ask me to cook and I have an internal melt-down—yet I cook most days for avoiding tasks found difficult won’t allow scope for overcoming. Cooking is an overwhelming experience for me despite it being eight years post injury. It’s this multi-tasking, multi thinking process that has to occur that causes me issues and when that process is interrupted—I’m left with no option than to walk away, re-gather my thoughts and start again.

Although it feels strange to speak of my mind as extraordinary and unusual, I guess it’s the best way to explain it. Unconventional is another. Within the prequel to this book, my recovery is attributed to my competitiveness and to the fact that through my equine experiences I learnt to fall and stand back up. In fairness that was coupled with my ability to learn and my high IQ. I’m now applying my ability to learn once again, a concept that’s allowing me to take my recovery to the next level. You will read later in the book that its just as well I’ve both that ability and inclination.

Ironically my lived experience of traumatic events has enabled me to gain long-term psychological strength. I’d like to share with you some little-known facts about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: that it almost always happens to a certain personally type. Those of us that experience it are the people who are always strong, reliable, and diligent, with a strong conscience and sense of responsibility. Yet on the inside we are the sensitive ones who are easily hurt by criticism. On the outside our self-esteem might look robust, when in reality its fragile. A person to whom you would turn in your own times of need, and who wouldn't let you down—with the attitude of ‘when the going gets tough, we get going’.

Why should a person so strong be the one to get ill?

Placing stresses on to someone who is weak, or cynical, or lazy results in them immediately giving up. They will, as a result, never become stressed enough to become ill. Strong people, however, react to stress by redoubling their efforts. They push themselves beyond their limits—way beyond those designed for their body. When symptoms begin to develop, because they are sensitive and fear criticism and failure, they keep going. Something has to give way, and that's the limbic system. Inside their heads it feels like eighteen-amps pulsing through a thirteen-amp fuse, and their behaviour begins to shift.

Is it any wonder that when I am suffering there’s a sharp exit from social media? A place where, in the past I have been told that, and I quote “people like you belong in those institutions, it’s a shame they all closed down” or demands are made on me to buy and blog about books and then get threatening when I say “no”.

Overcoming adversity through trauma, without any doubt, has been my most difficult endeavour. Has is been worth the effort? Most definitely! I’m under no illusion that my journey towards recovery is far from being over. Injury aside, I’d still be striving to learn, to improve my knowledge, aspirations and seeking new experiences so why change that? Yes, I had to take a sideways step and reassess my needs but now I feel as if I’m catching up and that’s a good place to be.

Hopefully, in putting myself first my children don’t feel that was done in a selfish manner for the voyage I endeavoured upon has been one of hope and fulfilment—and as a result they got their mother back.

SOUL SEARCHING: To Hell and Back Twice is my personal story of trauma but moreover it’s about determination to strive, the drive, confidence, recovery and ultimately my willingness to be open about the times I crash land and how I / we cope.

I’m in tune with my past and willing to share more of that now my children are all adults. Understanding the differences between the person I was twenty years ago and now has been paramount in accepting my new identity after my assault which has helped me comprehend why my life was so devastating for so long—and ultimately why it ended in catastrophe.