by Stefanie M Smith
Since I discovered the TLA Network and taken some classes I have begun to use journaling and creative writing more consistently, and one of the biggest issues that it is helping me to unpick is the jumbled knot within my mind shaped in part by the perennial question – Who Am I?
Like most people there have been many names, roles and titles that can, and have, been applied to me over the years, and like most people (I suspect) I have gotten tied up in knots over the presumptions and expectations titles can place on us or that they help us to place on ourselves. These expectations can have a big impact on our mental wellbeing.
In my professional life I have been many things: legal secretary, bank clerk, PA, project co-ordinator, nurse, hypnotherapist, reiki therapist, whilst in my personal life the various roles I experienced are sadly not all as positive and sometimes the edges between them blur a little too.
In my early life I was a great adventurer travelling with my father behind the Iron Curtain into the then Communist Czechoslovakia, and later to the Netherlands. Sadly my role of adventurer was to end when my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, passing away when I was 10; the remainder of my childhood became unrecognisable as I became the daughter of an alcoholic mother and the victim of incestuous sexual abuse. I left home as soon as I could and rushed headlong away from this into becoming girlfriend, wife, mother, victim of psychological abuse which inevitably led to new roles: divorcee and depressive single mother.
Being the mother of two small children who needed me, I did what people do; I picked myself up and started again, trying to pretend this blip never happened, ignoring the push to look inwards and heal. I managed to keep my life on a very basic level: work, pay bills, feed the kids, repeat. I found a new partner and a new career, retraining as a nurse, and everything seemed to muddle along nicely.
Then I got ill.
Yet again I found myself grieving the loss of a career. One I truly loved and was heavily invested in. It was part of me I was part of it. I was a nurse but then suddenly I wasn’t. It was really difficult to separate the two and I found depression striking me down again, but this time my mental health issues came on top of my physical difficulties, lengthening my recovery considerably. Yet again I realise, in hindsight, that I had allowed the role of nurse to merge into my identity, if it was part of me rather than just something I did, how could I leave it behind?
So there I was aged 40 and living with fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition comprising elements of pain, fatigue and depression. At first I allowed myself to sink to new depths of despair, wondering what to do with my life, what had brought me to this point. I was initially ready to blame any external sources I could find. Then I realised I wanted out of those depths; despite several attempts at rising from the ashes with the help of my friends and partner, talking therapies and anti-depressants, I always had seemed to stumble back down at some point, never quite escaping the roles that seemed to taunt me; Victim, Failure.
I needed to find a new route, one I could walk by myself.
There are many theories behind the causes of Fibromyalgia but some recent studies seem to highlight a link to childhood trauma, which in my case could explain a lot. I hadn’t realised that by blocking out the traumatic events of my later childhood I had built a barrier in my mind that also blocked out earlier, presumably happier memories. I had cancelled out a large portion of my life; giving me very shaky foundations to build upon. It was what I had needed to do to survive at that time, but now I recognised that I needed to go back into my past root out and explore those traumas, finally laying them to rest in order that I could begin to move forwards.
When I first went in search of those memories all I found was a tangled mess of abuse, neglect and trauma. Slowly though, with the support of my partner and by working through some TLAN classes I managed to begin to unravel some of the snarled up threads, gaining glimpses of new memories, insights into my story, and the more I explore, the more I see. I had rediscovered my love of writing and I realised it was providing me with a coping mechanism, and helping me to finally reject the roles of Victim and Failure. I had unintentionally discovered the growing field looking at the therapeutic benefits of writing.
And now: I journal; when I get upset, I unravel my emotions in words; I recall some small snippet – I jot it down; I read my words back, I write poetry; if I get stuck, I journal about being stuck ……. and so it goes on, each word written, either on its own or in conjunction with many, uncovers another piece of my mystery. So for me journaling has most definitely been the way forward in discovering Who I Am.
Editor’s note: This is Stefanie’s third blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Arts Certificate.
Stefanie M Smith, is a 47 year old former nurse and qualified hypnotherapist who has lived in Lincolnshire, UK, since childhood. Unfortunately in 2009 her health took a nosedive, and she now deals with fibromyalgia, depression and other chronic health conditions on a daily basis. During this enforced rest period, Stefanie has been able to re-ignite her love of the written word, especially poetry and will shortly having a selection of her poems published in an anthology. Having noticed a marked benefit to her health through her own writing practice, Stefanie is now re-training in the therapeutic and transformational uses of language with the aim of sharing this phenomenal tool with others.