Imagine taking a walk,
Just trying to enjoy a nice walk,
But you’re walking along a beam suspended high off the ground,
All your attention is going into simply trying to balance,
In response to the fear and anxiety caused by the danger on either side;
As soon as you try to focus ahead and simply enjoy the walk,
The anxiety comes right back and in response you impulsively make balancing adjustments,
Simply to avoid dying;
Now imagine you’ve been walking on suspended beams for a while,
Trying and failing to enjoy these walks,
And you get the opportunity to walk on a nice wide path, even a road;
You’d think it would be easy to go back to enjoying the walks like you used to;
But instead that anxiety-response loop has become so ingrained within you,
That even though you know you could physically focus on and enjoy this walk,
Just like you used to,
Just like everyone else does effortlessly,
You simply can’t because you keep tormenting yourself with this anxiety and responding impulsively to avoid the drop;
Now substitute high beam for intensely stressful or traumatic situation,
Substitute balancing response with whatever anxious, dissociating habit you’ve picked up (for me— eye blinking/moving, muscular tensing, conscious interrupted breathing, repetitive nonsense thoughts, OCD),
Substitute going on a walk with any activity whatsoever but in particular the ones most important and otherwise bringing the most satisfaction to you,
And substitute avoiding the drop with protecting yourself from feeling the worst of the stress;
This is how it’s been for me the last four years, trying to do anything but especially— reading, writing, going outside, exercising, cooking, even washing. These activities resulted in me becoming a stressed-out mess, and ultimately I had to lie down and allow my mind to dissociate again to feel better. (As it happens, this mind wandering is also when I come up with my creative ideas, with nothing else to do).
Slowly this is all improving. But it’s hard, because every now and again I remember just how long I’ve been stuck in this mode for. Just how many things I’ve experienced (but not really) whilst in that state. Being able to let it go is slowly improving too. Although all of this upward improvement is dependent on environmental factors and stability and I’ve been backwards and forwards in response many times. I wrote this to help dispel a pang of horror which was creeping back in as I tried to watch a movie and allow myself to relax.
Anyway, although my particular mechanisms, trauma and anxiety/response are unique, in broad outline this seems to be a common experience for people after trauma and I thought this analogy made sense and could be helpful.