Trapped within what Donna describes as a cycle of doom, it took a life-threatening situation resulting in brain trauma that she survived, for her to step beyond the grips of what held her encapsulated within it. Soul Searching is her PTSD journey in which Donna discusses trauma frankly. Ultimately the prose conveys how, through inner determination, Donna has turned her greatest fears into courage to own her story in order to live her best life.
Scientifically aware, she shares how the chemicals our bodies naturally release interfere with recovery and mental health—in understanding this aspect of yourself Donna hopes it can forge a way forward for you too.
Donna Siggers is an example of someone who has turned adversity into an opportunity, an amazing lady author and humanitarian--Terry Ellis
"I feel like I have seen the man behind the curtain, and the man is a woman, and the woman is a hero! But, there is a difference. In The Wizard of Oz, Baum led us to believe there was magic in Oz. All we had to do was follow the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz. What we found instead were obstacles and trouble along the way. When the fearless group (well, almost) finally arrived, they found the man-behind-the-curtain was just a man, he was nobody special. The magic they found was in the comradery they shared along their journey. In Donna Siggers' book, Soul Searching, I found the woman behind the curtain wasn't 'just a woman,' she's a hero (in my book.) She shares not only personal stories but the story behind the story. This is a story of how our amazing brain works as well as how it deals with everyday stresses like stumping your toe, to life-changing traumatic experiences. To me, this book was like listening to the author give a TED talk, and I came away feeling more empowered as a person, and more knowledgeable about how the brain works."--Jeannie Chambers
(Jeannie then went on to add this about my new book...)
"One thing I hope this book will accomplish is brain health awareness. I will share this book with others as a warning, but also as a teaching tool. The warning is for all of us to remember that none of us are immune to brain injuries, it could happen at any moment. The teaching tool is for all of us to learn to respect and be more patient with others, as we may never know what they're going through or have been through. We could probably all use a lesson in ways to empower ourselves to fend off aggression and abuse."-- Jeannie Chambers
"Wow! You know what? As shocking as the book can be, I have personally learned from it... odd little things that ring true with me, and ways to deal with them...
"...Brilliant book Donna.. shocking, intelligent, and thought provoking, there were bits that made me smile (from horse farts to your use of the expletive 'bollocks'!-- I do hope it has helped you, it must have been quite difficult to write"-- Jim Fletcher
This is such a thought provoking and emotional book to read. The author has suffered terrible trauma and is sharing her experiences in the hope of helping others. The book is full of sadness, but also light (her family and friends). The poetry Donna has included is beautiful. She writes with attention to detail, which must be hard considering she explains how much pain she is in with her injuries. She talks about self-loathing, a desire to be loved when she felt uncomfortable in her own skin, and how she strives to beat these mixed feelings that PTSD present within her, when it has her firmly in its hold. There is such empathy in the book and the author writes about not judging anyone, as no-one knows what others have been through. I'm sure this book will be a great comfort to people suffering from PTSD, to learn how the author has coped, inspired others, and how strong she is through adversity--Elizabeth C
In my language there was a movie called 'Content' which was released in 1991. I did not like that movie then. Because the heroine of that movie was someone who was mentally distressed. The climax of the movie would have upset me a lot that day. I heard about PTSD after meeting Donna on FB. The heroine of that movie also had PTSD. I like that movie a lot today. Like my dear friend Donna--Vishnu Das (India)
Superbly skilful writer & a natural, strong survivor in real life. Definitely recommend her books. She's a lovely lady too--Chris Donlan
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 becoming my mission. Until then it’s my belief 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 had a long-term boyfriend from a young age you were convinced would become your son-in-law (yup that happened) was perhaps my most difficult decision. Especially so when they’d all stepped up in a time of my extreme need. However, it was time to start living in order to strive and since my head injury in April twenty-fourteen I felt I’d survived only to exist—and that wasn’t good enough. Making this conscious decision felt like a weight had lifted from my shoulders and although it would mean massive changes it would also be the beginning of my true healing process. Within me was a nagging need to become a useful mother once more. This feeling was overwhelming and in order for that to happen, I first had to make sacrifices. Ultimately, it was time to begin liking who I’d become despite not really being ready to do so and in accepting that the ‘new’ me was indeed enough (for now) was the first step in that long process.
My reality is that I will never be enough in my eyes.
Events that traumatise immensely deeply, the ones that remain with you throughout your lifetime and remain within your soul, continue to threaten if they are not dealt with. 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, upon 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 life and had no choice but to crack on regardless, despite it bringing a response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that causes an overwhelming inability to cope. Causing feelings of helplessness that diminishes a sense of self which, in turn, creates an incompetence to feel the full range of emotions and experiences trauma has placed demands on me that ensured I’d not been capable of living a normal life. Trauma is crippling, disabling, and undignified which in turn causes feelings reaching far beyond the realms of each original incident.
When every single aspect of your daily existence is being affected, you’re in trouble—and I was most definitely in the deepest type of that.
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 it’s been embedded into mine, then (and only then) would I expect the understanding required to empathise with my lived experience. Please understand, 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 but more importantly in mind too. Folk would do well to both believe in those facts as well as remember them. Nobody gets to batter me again, either physically or emotionally. I’ve no intention of putting myself or my family through the tough days of PTSD a third time and I’ll do all it takes to fulfil that for I know where I stand with regards to the services offered—more aptly what is and isn’t available for what I might require—and that [despite law changes] nothing has physically altered at how people in my position are treated in today’s modern world.
Given what will be disclosed in the coming chapters, let’s make things clear now—at no point in my life have I considered myself a victim. My body isn’t laying on a mortuary slab—I’ve not ended up a statistic—therefore I consider myself a survivor of the battles I’ve endured at the hands of others.
I’m also prepared to be a voice—an advocate—to my lived experiences, which doesn’t reflect well on those that betrayed me and nor does it look good on certain authorities. There is always room for improvement and development, however and I’m prepared to step up.
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. I’m one of the lucky ones as I’ve come out the other side a stronger person and I also share how and why.
Soul Searching: To PTSD 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, which do 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, maintaining exercise and meditating.
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, I 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 narrative can help others in some small way by giving them the courage to continue with their own fight.
Retrieving lost memories is a long-drawn-out process, as was learning to store new memories and being able to recall them again. Using a technique called a memory palace that replaced my conventional memory, I’ve gradually built up a system that works for me. Set out inside my mind much like a house, with rooms and corridors within which I place memories I’m able to store and retrieve. My system coincides with 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). Through embracing my traumas, I feel I’ve grown and over time these memories are returning and I’ve my granddaughter to thank for that as I watch her bloom through each growth goal. Like my own children, she exhibits strength of character and determination to strive despite her young age. My combination of memory systems allow for an effective memory as good (sometimes better) as somebody who hasn’t sustained head trauma and losses—take away my prompts and I’m left with trauma and confusion and a mind that no longer functions.
Brain trauma left me registered disabled—the attack eight years ago (on publication of this book) was brutal and most definitely left its mark on my psyche. Resulting from this I’m left living with the ups and downs of complex health issues, which often give me peace or flair simultaneously. Life then either continues smoothly and can be lived to the full, or it stops me in my tracks somewhat like a domino effect as serious health implications crash me to the ground as if an outside force is in control of my life.
Startingly, as a result of the number of times my life has almost ended, I’m not sure I’ve many (if any) chances of survival left and when I fall ill it means that I plunge into deep depression because of this. Although death doesn’t worry me, I’ve too much living to do first.
Life as a disabled person most definitely highs and lows. Surviving was a conscious decision made while being attacked in twenty-fourteen and now, as I live with the complexities of that survival, I don’t want to waste a single day. If it wasn’t for my family, for the grief it would have caused them the easier option, by far, would have been to have given in. As defeatist as that sounds there are still days that my pain is so intense, I cannot fathom why I’m still in existence. For this reason, I refuse to live an unfulfilled life. If I’m to endure pain either physically or when PTSD touches my life, then it must be compensated by a life worth living—one that uplifts my spirit. I’ve never been somebody who could sit indoors all day and do nothing, favouring to keep busy one way or another. Being housebound after my head trauma was too difficult to comprehend but I found ways to occupy my time—I truly don’t think I’ve ever been bored my entire life and it’s not something I’d ever wish to begin in my latter years—if I’m indoors, generally I’m writing or being artistic.
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, perhaps, another explanation. Within the prequel to this book, my recovery was attributed to my competitiveness and to the fact that through my equine experiences I learnt to fall and stand back up. In fairness there was a triage of attributions and although I touched on my IQ it was because I thought I’d lost it. Don’t get me wrong, my mathematics would let me down these days if I went for a test, but my brain works to solve issues in the same logic way as it always has. Despite my IQ being below its previous level I’m applying my learning ability (for that ability still stands) to my recovery process. This concept allows me to step up to the next level and has enabled me to strive. Perhaps that’s just as well this ability and inclination exists within me, a reason to be shared with you later in the book—my survival has depended upon my aptitude and depth of determination through my knowledge and understanding. That I know no limits has meant I can now strive. 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 onto 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 become threatening towards me if I say “no”.
Overcoming adversity through trauma, without any doubt, has been my most difficult endeavour. During reflection I often question myself if survival has been worth the time, effort, and energy I now have to place into recovery. Most definitely it has, although 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.
When it was time to place myself first, in order to recover and to become mum again, it was worth it! In doing so it felt selfish but looking back it truly wasn’t as the long-term gains have been worthwhile. Once again, I can support when that is required rather than be the one who constantly requires it—and although my children are now all in adulthood and have flown the nest, living independently, they couldn’t be more rounded, grounded, or level-headed. Through pushing boundaries I’ve fought against inequality, disability and above all, frustration.
Soul Searching: To PTSD Hell and Back Twice is my personal story of trauma but moreover it’s about determination to strive over adversity—it’s my story of hope and of faith. Finding the drive, energy, and confidence to recover is one matter but finding the willingness to be open regarding my whole story has been exhausting as well as uplifting. A sense of freedom has engulfed me at times. These emotions allow me to know that it’s time to share.
Understanding the differences between who 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.