Trauma Unpacked

“I’m bad!” “I’m worthless.” “I’m a waste of space.” Do these thoughts sound familiar to you?

I’ve been having two kinds of intrusive thoughts recently, and the first ones are like what’s written above – thoughts that we latch onto so tight, despite seemingly having little to back it up with. Sometimes we have a lot of reasons though, which are either delusional or correct, but the point is that the thoughts are intrusive.
I’ve also been experiencing a different kind of intrusive thought; memory stabs – a new name that I like to call them. To me it is like a flashback, but instead of a whole scene, perhaps you see a recognisable snapshot. Or one word or sound triggers a whole event in your mind, or a feeling of pain, disgust or fear you’ve felt in the past suddenly overcomes you in the present. Whatever it is, they all usually feel like a sharp shock, which is why I call them a memory stab. At least that is what it is like for me, but I’m certain that the equivalent is different for many.

Most of everything I experienced in 2016 I considered one whole lump of bad squished together, like something that can’t go down my throat, which I usually categorised as ‘Japan.’ That is unfair of me since the country itself isn’t to blame. That’s like travelling to New Zealand, getting mugged and then saying that the whole country is bad because of it. Every country and culture has something terrible, toxic or backwards about it, some more than others, and that’s okay. It’s good, in fact. Humanity is the world’s worst relationship. If we accept that we, no matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, are free to live, then we must also accept that everything that is a product of us are free to live as well.

In a black-and-white perspective, humanity harms the earth and the life it holds and therefore we are bad and should not exist. That is an acceptable perspective, perhaps the most noble one. An optimistic perspective is that humans are needed to keep on living, because we matter – we live and so our love, art and beauty lives on too. This is true too. Pessimistically, none of this matters, we shouldn’t care because everything dies anyway. Another acceptable perspective. And finally, in a “grey” perspective; this all is true, but our flaws or negative traits do not make us less worthy and the good can only exist if there is also bad. Therefore, yes, we are destroying the world by living on it and being its worst relationship, humanity is an incredible source of love and beauty that we should treasure, everything dies so we don’t need to take everything so seriously, and it’s okay to be flawed and to have “bad” traits, because that’s the nature of all life. Should we exist or not exist because of all of that?

No matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, we were born and therefore continuing our legacy of goodness, shittiness, a mix or both, neither one and everything else that perhaps I’ve forgotten to mention. The differences between countries, cultures, groups and individuals are necessary, because nothing is categorically “bad,” or “good.” Our morals, codes and values are personal and are not universal. To create one true mindset that is “The Right One,” is to create an impossible God. Everything is flawed, including the country I am talking about, Japan, but the same experiences could happen in many other different countries. I just wanted to make that clear.

Almost every night for the last couple of weeks I’ve been having nightmares about being trapped in Japan and being unable to leave, and about an ex I had, either hurting me in the past or in new ways in my dream. I’ve been having these kind of nightmares for years now, but for some reason I’ve been having them almost every night recently. Like I said before, it is unfair of me to name the trauma I experienced as “Japan.” The reason why I use that word is because I do not want to think about the specific situations I experienced in that time of my life.

In 2016 I stayed in Japan as an exchange student for 9 months and I must admit that even though I am talking about the bad experiences I had, there were also lots of beautiful times and kind people I met during that exchange too. I am grateful for those good memories and I’ll treasure them forever.
I believe that the trauma from the whole experience was from a lot of different things, bunched together as if it was one. It was the harmful experiences I had, some of the toxic people I met, the loneliness I felt in a room filled with people, being in a culture that looks down on emotional expression, my limitations not being respected or cared for by me, my situation back home and my mental health at the time, which all tainted the whole experience.

I find it really hard to think about the details of each situation that hurt me. It feels like I’m reliving it if I try. I’m working on that. When I first came back from Japan in 2017, the year that everything changed for me, I had a lot to process. I did not want to admit to anyone that my exchange was traumatic to me, not even to myself. People asked me about it, not caring and not having the time for a truthful answer, and so I hid behind, “It was a great experience!” Which is true about some parts of my exchange. I travelled to see beautiful places, I met some wonderful people, I experienced new and exciting things and the food was fucking fantastic. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because I truly am lucky to have those memories.

The problem is that it was too much. I have autism and I have limitations, but I did not respect that. I told myself that the only thing that mattered was that I get through the whole exchange, to prove to others and most importantly to myself that I am just as capable as anyone else. I wanted to prove that I was good enough, strong enough and normal enough. I was ashamed of being autistic, and I treated it like it was a dirty secret for my whole life. It made me feel like I was bad or dumb or like there was something terribly wrong with me.

It still feels weird accepting that my autism affects some of the things I can or cannot do, without feeling ashamed because of that. It’s okay if I need time and space to recover after situations that take energy, that I struggle socially and that my limitations of what I am able to do without falling apart is different than others. That doesn’t make me weak or bad. But in 2016 I felt like it did. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t take my medication at the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Perhaps I was being unconsciously self-destructive.

Back to the memory stabs. I think that the reason why I keep getting sudden snapshots in my mind about 2016 is because my brain is trying to tell me that I need to finally start unpacking my experience in Japan. I am definitely not a detail-orientated person. I’m good at looking at the overall big picture, but when situations come that require me to look at the details, I feel not in control. It doesn’t help that I have big chunks of memory loss about 2016, which I heard could be a result of having mental health issues. And it also doesn’t help that as soon as I try to remember things my mind instantly wants to reject it and run away. It’s hard work processing memories.

I’ve had a few therapists in my life, but for most of them, I only talked about the now, such as what happened last week. I never really delved into specifics about things in my past. I really am in need of a therapist as of now, but I have a fear that being unable to articulate and communicate what exactly happened in Japan will make me feel invalidated. My mind says they won’t understand, they can’t help and that they will secretly judge me. After being hospitalised three times since 2017, (for nearly 3 months overall) I am tired of feeling like I need to prove myself. It’s like I am fighting for my life to just be validated. I have all these fears, but still I want to try to get help. I want to heal.

I hope that people in a similar boat as me will feel understood by reading this. I feel sad, because there was so much I loved about Japan and how beautiful it is and I want that back. I want to be in control of my hurt, to be able to live fully despite the harm. I hope that for you too. Facing the details of your trauma is incredibly hard, but whatever you are experiencing, big or small, you are always growing, even when your branches are cut short.

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