When your area of specialism is trauma and bodies, you know it, spot it happening for others even when they might not realise it themselves. Trauma happens in all sorts of ways, and this is a common one that has impacted so many dog owners. If we don’t recognise our experience as traumatic (if it actually was), then it is harder to process and the impact of this time can linger in our heart, our nervous system, and wider body for a long time. I wrote this for a special someone I know… I’m sharing it here in case it helps you too.
I am thinking of you. I am so sorry you are having to walk through such a tough time at the moment, and just when it seemed like things finally were feeling lighter for you. There is something I want desperately to say to you, but I know right now in these first few stunned hours, you will probably not want to hear it, be able to process it or even have any inclination to spend time connecting with me. Today you need your own time and you need to be uninterrupted by other peoples’ thoughts…so I will message you simply that I am thinking of you. I will write out what my heart is holding for you here, and maybe when you are ready for this you can come to it in your own time.
You know, people will say all sorts of things to you now. Things that you may or may not find helpful to receive. Please remember, so often they are speaking from their own needs. They care about you, they mean well, but they will tell you the things they need to hear, the things that they are comforting themselves with. If what you hear helps – great. IF what you hear doesn’t help or support you – no worries.
One thing you may hear directly or maybe just implied…
many other people have been through what you are going through…
I understand exactly what you are going through…
and here’s what I want to say to you.
You are unique
They have not and cannot understand exactly what you are going through. You are unique. As are they. Their life is, was, has been different to yours. Their personality, their way of coping, their hopes, dreams, their connections all different to yours…. the details of how this unfolded… and their relationship with their dog was different to yours too.
You have your own treasured moments, memories that will, in time (and it may be a long time), be a solace… but for now you are alone in the uniqueness of your grief and I want you to know I understand that. It is horrible and it is so hard. It may feel too much – or numbly nothing right now. You are still seen, and respected, and supported. The process you are in now and the one you will be going through (as it does change) for a while… are honoured by me.
Many people realise that hearing unexpected tragic news about your dog is devastating… and especially when it comes as a surprise, after so many other vets have said there is nothing really wrong. Not many people realise it is often, actually traumatic. Professionally, I know when to use that word accurately, and last week was one of them. From now on, when you consider the traumatic things that have happened in your life, hearing that news just a few days ago needs to be on the list. It will have changed you – not just your heart but your body, your nervous system… and now… there is grief too.
Here is something people often forget. Trauma and grief are different. We can go through trauma without grief. Sometimes we experience grief without trauma. They are different things, impact us differently and need different things to help us recover. Sometimes we experience them together. They enmesh, yet are still different.
The one thing I know to be helpful at times like this is to let your body lead you. Cry when you need to without any need to hide or apologize to anyone or even yourself. If there are no tears right now, make no apologies for that either. There are no ‘ought’s and ‘should’s at the moment. Sleep when you can whatever time of day it happens. Eat whatever you want when you can – it doesn’t matter what it is… just something to keep your blood levels steady and your body’s cells resourced to help you through this life-altering time. Drink water.
Be around whoever you want to be around… and leave when you want. Speak to whoever or no one. You get to call the shots right now and you have people around you who will respect that (even if they don’t fully understand- see my point above, they will be expecting you or advising you to do or be how they would or want you to.)
You have permission to be however you need to be. Today. Tomorrow and for days to come. You are loved. Your journey is yours.
The dynamics of connection, belonging, understanding, acceptance, knowing, fun, partnership, responsibility, trust and meaning that happen when there is a precious bond between a human and a dog are just some of the facets of the treasure life was with them. You will know, it is hard to put it into words. The hole of their absence is also indescribable.
Life has been interrupted again. It will never get back to ‘normal’ because your precious one is forever gone. There will be different life… eventually…. if you let you take your time… your body can recover… one day there will be ‘ok’.
In the meantime… you know where I am. x
written by Claire Wilson for someone special… and everyone.
Claire is a Trauma therapist. A dog lover who lived through both trauma and grief with her furry one.
The author of Grounded, TEDx speaker and the Founder of GROUNDED GrownUps®
I started training school staff and advisory teams around understanding children who had experienced trauma over ten years ago. It was something that grew naturally out of my years as a teacher and then as an experienced play therapist and clinical supervisor. For schools, it was a new concept and back then I was very much a lone voice. At that time most people were still talking about Emotional Literacy and some nearer the front of the curve, were getting their heads around Attachment.
Over the last decade and the last few years particularly, there has been an explosion in the ‘popularity’ of trauma awareness. Everyone and his dog is a proud ‘trauma informed’ practitioner/ professional / school. (The dogs, it should be said, didn’t need as much training as the people ;-))
So how is it then, that with the great shift in our cultural acceptance of ‘mental health’ and embracing the crucial fact that we need to understand trauma, be properly informed around what it is, the impact it has and really take it seriously, that a little boy age 7 is in his second month of medication?
Let me explain. One of my consultations recently was precious time with a Mum. She is one of the Mum’s that really care about their kids and genuinely want the best for them. A mum who is prepared to do more than lip service and willing to look at the bigger picture, honestly. She wanted to see if I could help with her son’s new diagnosis of ADHD, and what, if anything could support him, because she wasn’t truly thrilled to have her 7 yr old on 2 different meds daily.
The story of his journey from (let’s call him…) Sonny, to a ‘boy with ADHD’ was pretty typical. Issues first raised when he was at nursery, concern from teachers and Sencos throughout KS1. Ed Psyche. EHCP. CAMHS assessment – diagnosis, oh, and then a mere 6 sessions of ‘therapeutic creative arts’ with a charity. His presenting symptoms were pretty standard; hyperactive, struggles to sit down, avoidant of work, buzzy, blurting out, happy on his gameboy, low self-esteem etc.
The point that truly shocked me in all this, is this: In the conversations (across 3 different schools) with the 6 teachers he had from nursery to now, and the SENCOs, the Ed Psyche, the CAMHS worker and the creative arts ‘therapist’, not ONE of them mentioned to her that all his behaviours might also be a result of early and complex childhood trauma.
Didn’t they know his full life history?
Yes, they did.
Apparently mum had been as open and honest with all of them as she was with me. They knew about the multiple things that had happened in the past and the current, significant family situation that was still on going. Not one person saw the link to complex childhood developmental trauma. Not one person saw his behaviour and functioning ability as a very understandable and normal result of a nervous system that had been totally overwhelmed multiple times in his short time on this earth.
We need to do better.
We can do better.
Sonny has been through ‘the system’. I fully understand that this system is at breaking point and in it’s own state of overwhelm. I also know all the grown-ups within this system care and want the best for these precious kids. But for a little boy to come through without one person truly asking and grasping ‘what’s happened to you?’ seems to me broken. For so many professionals to be part of his story and invest time in his case but not yet truly ‘see’ him feels all kinds of sad.
We need to do better.
We can do better.
This is not ‘trauma informed’ care. For a little boy to be on meds, and working on adjusting his 7 year old self-identity around a label that may last him the rest of his life, but may well not be accurate, is, to me, not OK. This kind of thing was going on as standard 10-15 years ago. I thought we were past this.
TO BRING CHANGE
To change the trajectory of the mental health crisis in our teens and older children, we need to start to truly honour and respect the impact of life experiences on a little person’s brain and body. We need to stop automatically seeing fidgeting, buzz-iness, needing to move and reluctance to write as ADHD (I know there’s more to it – I’m being brief on purpose).
There is a current move in education to encourage people to stop seeing children just as their labels. It is damaging to them and potentially misses their real unique needs. I wholeheartedly agree. However, I would suggest their real and biggest need is being seen and understood correctly in the first place.
In case you are wondering, I helped Mum become ‘informed’ about the impact of childhood trauma… it made complete sense and resonated deeply with her. She cried with relief that finally someone got it.
Claire Wilson is a trauma therapist and consultant. Her first book GROUNDED – Understanding the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behaviour, is widely acclaimed by teachers, parents and therapists in the UK and around the world. She was one of the first to bring the understanding and application of Polyvagal Theory to the UK. Claire’s TEDx talk is a great resource for anyone who cares about mental health. Both can be found at www.groundedgrownups.com
Did you see the waves come through?
Did you feel the tremors?
Did you notice everyone hold their breath and freeze, go faster, do more or panic out loud with previously unheard screams; loss and pain that may yet reverberate through generations.
Did you scream? Cry? Hold your breath? Did you stop, retreat, collapse, or push through, push on, push out?
2 years…. And still counting…
It is not over.
The waves are still coming.
The tremors still rumble and all around structures are being shaken, falling, failing, disintegrating.
Danger often comes from outside. We are held safe and supported or impacted – even threatened, by what is going on around us. Jobs… culture… services…structures… leadership… legalities. Squeeze. Contract.
And the hardest part. The additionally traumatizing part of it all… is when leaders don’t see.
When they hide their eyes. Deny impact. Disconnect. And like a child shutting down in a classroom, can’t help their behaviour. They simply live out their patterns. Their own curated collections of trauma still unseen, un-visited, pain unacknowledged. Upper lip stiffened years ago. Lip service all they can muster. Bluster. Souls still toughened with danger-proof steel. Focus narrow. Numbers. Tangibles. Tables. Survive chaos by control. Deflection. Distraction. Control.
When they keep going and going and going and….
When they get smaller, and bigger, and tighter, and less authentic and more powered. More power-fuel. Their conundrum of mis-alignment growing with each new challenge. Shock. Blow. Still unbroken. Lips unquivering. Unflinching. Unaware without and within. Perpetuating impact for others. Amplifying Pain.
When they deem the best way is forward. With blinkers and denial and blame and formulated standards. Power used for preservation. Subconscious intention.
When they grab back the boxes. Grapple a way back to ‘normal’.
But it is not normal.
Normal got swept away by the waves that were higher than the highest buildings.
Normal was buried under the rubble of these times.
We need to bring you flowers. To place candles and vigil in the streets. We need time to mourn you too. It would help us, to demonstrate and collate, to slow and be still and acknowledge our loss of precious, steadfast, idolized, idealized Normal.
These times. Now. Not familiar. They are turbulent. Still.
Life has been changed. We have all been in the sea of it. All of us. Some got boats. Some died. Others are drowning. Still.
Gasping. Desperate. Too long spent existing beyond themselves. It is not over. Still.
Change and uncertainty remains. Exhaustion flooding. Tolls are being taken.
We could survive together. We have better chances together.
All of us need…all of us.
But when leaders continue to cling on to their survival patterns of disconnection. When leaders remain ignorant of themselves. They can not empathize. They cannot be together. Their bodies simply cannot be.
There is no allowance for grieving Normal. No tolerance for tangible truth. No sense in wasting time being still. Not good optics to be seen standing in streets acknowledging such cosmic change. Impact.
Trauma from years back changed them. Then. Now. It is no longer possible to connect with others. To acknowledge pain. It is too much. May crush what’s left of them… their survival selves… their remains… they cannot allow that. They cannot stop. CanNOT be weak. Must not be broken. Must not look back. Must carry on. Pretending. Functioning. Freezing. Desperate. Numb. Brains on over drive. Doing the only thing they know to do. Survive. Preserve. Power. Assert. Rules. Direct. Clamber back control.
And all the while appeasing those leading them.
STILL by CLAIRE WILSON
Founder of GROUNDEDGrownUps®
For more insight on nervous systems and the impact of the past, check out her book
GROUNDED – Discovering the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behaviour
or her TEDx talk
More than CPD
In June last year (2017) I was in London for a few days. I was there to be part of a specialist training for further enhancing my skills and credentials of working with trauma and the body – with children. I was excited about the training – in fact I heard from the organiser I was the first one booked on it. However, as I look back, those days mean even more to me now.
I arrived the afternoon before and met some of the other participants (from all over the world) for a meal. When walking back from that meal, we passed this march… You may/may not remember that that was a few days after the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower – just down the road from where we were staying.
I will never forget the energy of that moment… we stopped still and honoured those that marched past – the survivors… their anger, their grief, their fight, their trauma and I felt I became part of that moment, honouring them all, and those who were impacted by the trauma of the fire.
Over the years I have learnt so much about trauma. About how it can change people, the elements needed to heal from it, that it can change the course of your life, but doesn’t have to be a life sentence. About how brains and bodies change. About the hope there is.
At the end of the training days, when we sat in a big circle in a closing activity, I remember talking about Grenfell and committing myself to do my part to contribute to changing society views around trauma, and those who have experienced it.
What you wont know, is that just before that course, a few hours before that meal, and a few hours before witnessing that march I had pulled out my iPad in my hotel room in London and started writing… my book.
Catalyst for Good
Grenfell had had an impact on me – as my car crash had years before – that same ‘you never really know when your time is up’.
I didn’t want my time to be up without passing on some of the things I have learnt over 25 years working with and around children and families. Things I have learnt and researched and seen in action about what it really takes to bring the best out in children – trauma or not. Things that are not common knowledge…yet. That would be a waste. Grenfell was my catalyst to stop procrastinating and start using my voice. It was time to start getting what was in me out.
GROUNDED is a book that has come from over 25 years of working with and around children. Insight from years as a teacher, an accredited play therapist, a clinical supervisor, a therapeutic adviser to schools and families – and a trauma specialist still helping people of all ages heal from the impact of their experiences.
It is a book that is relatable to teachers, parents, TAs, grandparents, aunts and uncles, football coaches and Scout leaders. It is packed with current neuroscience and everyday stories that make it all so easy to read and understand. It is a book that advocates for children – and has a message they often can’t speak for themselves. It is a book for all adults who want to be the best they can be for the kids they know. It is a book with a message and a mission. It is a book of hope.
GROUNDED is a book that is endorsed by teachers, Heads, parents, grandparents, play therapists, psychotherapists, international trauma specialists and world leading neuro-scientists.
It is done. GROUNDED is out.
There is a lot more I could say about the book, but I wanted to let you know some of the story of where it came from.
Now I want to share it with you all, with gratitude, as you have felt like part of the team that has helped bring it to birth.
I got an incredible opportunity to speak to a packed room of health-interested adults last week. They were healers, helpers, educators and ‘advocates for health’ in professional roles as well as everyday life-role-models. I was sharing a bit of my story – my experience of Integrative or Functional Medicine, and encouraging others to listen to the story their body was telling.
It was one of those days I will never forget… and particularly because next on the stage after me was one of my modern-day heros; Dr Rangan Chatterjee. You may have seen him on the TV, he is the Doctor in BBC’s Doctor in the House series. He is also a familiar face on newsy chat shows on both TV and Radio. He has a brilliant book out – The 4 Pillar Plan and he is trying to shake things up from the inside of the NHS – why?
Because he cares about his clients.
He actually wants to help people get better, live better and live in greater health… not just ‘managing symptoms with another pill’.
He is risking sticking his head above the parapet, committing his time to the demands of TV series (I was shocked how much time these series take!), because he is committed to getting the message of true health out with the platform he has been given. I resonate. Not the TV thing, obviously – just feeling the challenge of choosing to be different and challenge the status quo – because I care.
ONE thing he said REALLY struck me – because it is relevant to the people I spend my time with.
Dr Chatterjee told a story of how one of his medical colleagues asked him (with incredulity) how he gets people (his regular patients in his GP practice – not the TV ones) to actually listen and do the things he suggests. Giving people recommendations for how they can bring their blood sugar levels down, increase their energy, decrease the vast array of symptoms from elevated cortisol levels etc. are easy to suggest, and for the patient easy to do and easy NOT to do. How is it that Dr Chatterjee’s patients are creating book-fulls of stories of incredible drug-free life improvements from doing the simple things he suggests?
Dr Chatterjee’s response was this: ‘In my opinion, as health professionals, the biggest tool we need to have is an ability to communicate. The question is really can you communicate and really connect with the person in front of you?’
I loved that answer. It is so totally true. It is true in the classroom, it is true in the playground and it is true in a family home. If we care about people and have ways to help them grow and develop and flourish, then we have to prioritise making sure we CONNECT with them, before we try and share any of the good stuff.
How do you know if you really connect with your clients, your patients, your pupils, your children?
And here’s the kicker. In a school, home or office getting people to just do what you say does not mean you have connected. Ask anyone who feels like they work for or live with a mini-dictator!!’ One of the survival responses closely related to the well-known ‘freeze’ is submit – appeasement. It is in operation so much in schools – and some homes. Dr Chatterjee does not have a power relationship with his patients. They are totally at liberty to walk out of his surgery and ignore everything he says, and maybe some do. But the majority don’t.
If you really connect then you will have people actually wanting to do the thing you suggest for them, because they know it comes from you genuinely respecting them, wanting the best for them, because they like you and because they trust you.
It is an important reminder for us all. Whatever our sphere of influence, are we connecting with those in our care? Are we growing relationships of trust and mutual respect? Do we honour those we work with, whatever their age?
The level to which we develop our communication skills and find ways to effectively, authentically connect with those we work with, will be the level of our professional influence. If we have any ambition to make a difference to others, or maybe even want to change the world, one star-fish at a time, we need to start with genuine, authentic connection.
This is an important message for anyone starting any professionally supported healing journey.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am an advocate for people of all ages, getting help and support when we need it. There are times we all need someone who is professional, appropriately trained, qualified and experienced to walk with us for a bit. I have been there. It can really help.
However, I recently heard the experience of a dear lady who had been referred for counselling by her GP.
She is a sweet, caring, funny, and well mannered lady. She comes from the generation who grew up before technology. No TV, phones, texts, tweets or Facebook. And as do many survivors of childhood trauma, she has strong values around not hurting people, or doing or saying anything that might make someone upset.
She had been struggling with physical and mental challenges for over 3 years, and finally found the strength to ask her GP for help.
Desperate to start to feel better, she plucked up all her courage and arrived for a counselling session – the first of the 6 she was allocated.
She didn’t like it much. When I asked her why not, she explained ‘the lady’ sat behind her table and spent a lot of the time staring out of the window. “It was strange. She didn’t look at me, I’m not sure if she was listening, she just kept looking out of the window – I thought she must be on the look out for a nice young man!”
This is not ok.
It is SO. NOT. OK.
When she told me this I kept myself professionally together, but noticed an internal volcano erupt. It was a combination of sadness for this precious lady who was treated this way, and absolute indignant rage that she was treated this way by a ‘professional’ who is supposed to help her get better, not make things worse.
This is not how it is supposed to be. And the truth is it is not how it is for many, many people. But it had been her experience and sadly it can happen. So should it be of interest to you or anyone you know, here is my advice. This is my plea.
DO THIS TO HELP FIND THE RIGHT PROFESSIONAL FOR YOU
1. If you ever find yourself meeting someone for the first time, who has the credentials to see you through a journey of healing (mind, body or spirit) then please, please, please, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If you do not feel safe in every way, with them, your journey with them will be a superficial one at best, a waste of time at middle, and further damaging to you at worst.
2. Please vote with your feet, and if you are not comfortable, and don’t feel you can challenge the practitioner (I know this would have been impossible for me when I was post-trauma suffering with depression or anxiety symptoms) just don’t go back again. You don’t need to. It’s about getting YOU the right help match for you. Either you could ask for a different professional from the same organisation to work with or go somewhere completely different.
3. See your first meeting as an interview or audition... and it’s not you on trial; it’s the professional. If they don’t meet the simple and appropriate criteria of making you feel SAFE, HEARD, RESPECTED and UNDERSTOOD, or if anything feels ‘off’ to you, then just be grateful you didn’t go any further down the line with them and move on.
I fully understand that it takes some real emotional energy to do this – much easier to go along with what the ‘professionals’ say. However I think many people don’t realise that they can and SHOULD have a voice and need to OPT IN to working with someone you feel will be a good match for you.
As my conversation continued, I was hoping to hear how this lady’s horrible experience got resolved. It didn’t get better – she just stuck it out. She kept going – attended all 6 of her allocated sessions, “but I didn’t really say very much. It didn’t help me at all really.” After her final session she was sent a feedback form through the post. She dutifully filled it in and sent it back. What did she put? “Oh I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I just ticked good or excellent for everything.” I understand why she did this.
Whilst the improvement of mental health is a massive deal at the moment, so is keeping the standards of the professionals privileged with this work appropriately high.
I never agree to work with anyone, adult or child, until we have had chance to meet and they have a chance to check me out and see how they feel with the journey to get to me and being in the room. We know who we feel safe with. We know when we don’t.
If you don’t feel safe, don’t go back there.
4. Do not assume all counselling experiences are the same. If you have already been through a similarly ineffective experience, and know you are still not OK, then consider trying out some different types of therapy.
Creative Arts therapists are a great choice for people who know there are things in them but not sure how to get the words out.
There is a whole new approach where a therapist works with you to release tension from your body, without you having to talk about what has gone on at all if you don’t want to (TRE).
Thankfully, on the suggestion of a close family member, this precious lady, came to try TRE and is already well on the way to living life better now than she has in years / decades.
You don’t have to stay stuck.
There is healing.
There is HOPE.
There is HELP – when you find the right person and approach for you.