What does a trauma therapist actually do?

Two young people who survived the murderous shooting spree at their school in Parkland, Florida have taken their lives in the past week. It’s heart-breaking and my love and sympathy go to their families and friends who are struggling through horrific days.

In Sydney Aiello’s case, her family mentioned her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nine years ago today, I sat in a psychiatrist’s consulting room being told that I have PTSD. The doctor called it ‘chronic’, meaning that it wouldn’t pass quickly; now it’s known as ‘complex PTSD’. For me, life after diagnosis has always been better than the life that caused it, and that has kept me breathing. The other life saver has been trauma therapy.

We’ve come a long way from the days when symptoms of PTSD were described as ‘lack of moral fibre’. From the beginning, I was assured that PTSD is ‘the normal reaction of a normal person to having to endure or witness things that are beyond the range of normal human experience’. It took a while for my PTSD-shattered brain to absorb those syllables so it was repeated to me time and again.

The second part of this mantra was that, given time and safety, anyone with PTSD can heal and lead a normal life.

If you have a rescue pet, you probably know what PTSD looks like. The cat that scoots under the table every time a tall person in a coat comes through the door, no matter who it is. The puppy that shivers if someone raises a hand, even if the intention was kind. Those pets, with time and love, become loving and sparky, great fun to be with.

We are just the same. That is because PTSD is not an affliction, it’s a healing process. It has a dark sense of humour sometimes in the way it approaches its work but one of the most significant benefits of trauma therapy is being coached in how to co-operate with PTSD, rather than getting in its way.

Qualified professionals help us understand how PTSD works and why. They reassure us that, however out of joint we feel, we are normal. They give us a space where we can be totally honest about what happened. Family and friends do their best to listen and help but events so large that they carry PTSD in their wake can be too disturbing for normal life. We find ourselves protecting our loved ones from details.

PTSD isn’t easy for friends around us either. Trauma and the PTSD that follow steal our learning capacity & concentration. PTSD takes up so much energy that it can knock us flat, like a migraine that goes on for days & weeks. Months. Our exhaustion can look like laziness but it’s not. Our avoidance of triggers – people, places, tastes, smells – can look like cowardice, but it’s not. It takes tremendous courage to get through PTSD and I’ve learned (the hard way) that an expert’s company, care & advice are indispensable.

With a professional, we can also be totally honest about how lost we feel. They give us company in a deep, unique way.

PTSD is dreadfully solitary. Isolation is at the heart of it all – we were alone and helpless during the damage and we feel alone afterwards. It’s as if no-one can get what we’re going through or ever will.

I am still seeing a trauma therapist who has seen me through some bad dips. Now and again, I reckon I’m brave enough to try and manage without her. After a six-month stint without therapy last year, I found my past getting the better of me again, the psychological murk getting deeper, so I booked in.

It was a tremendous relief just to be where I didn’t have to pretend to be OK. Where I could be totally frank, knowing that I wouldn’t shock. She gave me understanding, sympathy, advice and reassurance (again) that all this is normal for what I’ve been through. And a hug.

So, if you have a PTSD diagnosis and feel crap, please, PLEASE talk to somebody – a friend, your doctor, a helpline (the charity MIND has an excellent list of helplines here), a therapist qualified in trauma work. Reach out. You do not have to carry it on your own. In fact, as my therapist taught me, keeping it to yourself can make it worse. PTSD is still with me nine years on (for reasons that are peculiar to me – I hope you heal sooner) but I have loads of fantastic days, more and more of them, and each good day shines more.

Japanese potters have a way of repairing pottery with gold mixed into the varnish so that the fractures become the most valuable parts of the whole. The repairs are part of the history of an object and should be celebrated, not hidden. This beautiful, porcelain bowl came to me from http://www.kintsugiplanet.com

2019-03-25 17.19.39-1

SIX-COUNT JIVE’s book launch this Thursday

On Thursday THIS WEEK we’ll be launching my poetry book SIX-COUNT JIVE (Lapwing Publications) at Harbour Books in Whitstable from 6.30pm. Yesterday a dear friend of mine said, ‘Oh, is that this week?’ Yes, it is Whitstable’s finest ukulele band, The Useless Pluckers, will be helping us celebrate. 

Pluckers logoHarbour Books will be pouring their marvellous Prosecco and if dancing breaks out, we just might jive in the street. You and your friends are all welcome! This is a FREE event.


Happy International Women’s Day!

I’m off soon to Faversham in north Kent (UK) to take part in the Finale of a magnificent whole week of International Women’s Day events, organised by Angela Dye. We’ll be in the Guildhall, a magnificent hall built in 1574. Its impressive, wood-panelled interior lists all the town’s mayors from 1550,  all male of course until you reach Florence Graham in 1956.  It feels like an appropriate place for us all to gather and salute her memory. 


International Women’s Day – Faversham Guildhall, Kent

Faversham is celebrating International Women’s Day with an impressive whole week of events, dozens of them, organised by Angela Dye. It culminates in a Finale this coming Friday, between 7 pm and 10.30pm, in the town’s Guildhall and I’m thrilled to be one of their ‘Special Guest poets’.

As well as wonderful musical and comedy acts, there will be an open mic for musicians and poets to perform poems created through the festival or their own material. This is a free event with wine and canapes also provided free by the generous George Inn in Newnham. See you there!

Who’s coming to Words on Waves this week?

WORDS ON WAVES at HARBOUR BOOKS, WHITSTABLE has been warming our literary souls this winter and our next fabulous event is this coming THURSDAY, 7 MARCH 2019 from 6.45pm.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, we are proud to bring you The Rockhoppers  (Maggie Harris, Mel Perry & Jackie Biggs) along with songwriter Jacqui Selby, Luigi Marchini, Sally Turner and Roger Tooth. A fascinating mix as ever, with me as your host. 

Words On Waves is a series of monthly spoken word evenings showcasing a variety of writing talent and has a tendency to sell out fast. Writers of all genres have ten minutes each to amuse and amaze you, with a break at half time to refresh glasses. Tickets at only £3 each include wine. 

Please book your seat by phoning 01227264011 or calling into the shop.

Six-Count Jive has a cover

whit eveningThis is beginning to feel real. Lapwing Publications and I have finished our edits this week and below you can see the cover. The little footsteps are muddled dancing efforts by someone struggling with the worst of post-traumatic stress disorder. Well done, Dennis, of Lapwing, I love it!

It’s off to the printers soon and there should be copies available in around a month. I’ll be putting PayPal on here so that you can have personally signed copies, with special good wishes to anyone with PTSD or who is close to someone with that diagnosis.

it’s a beautiful, sunny day here with the best of spring doing its best to break through. I wish you all a wonderful day, wherever you are. IMG_5115

Six-Count Jive on its way

You can never tell if a book is going to make it to publication until you’re holding a copy in your hand or see it there on the e-reader. That’s why the day the first copies are delivered is so huge. But this is a pretty big day for me too – the one where my poetry publisher, Lapwing in Belfast, said he has an ISBN waiting and that it’s time to work on the final draft of Six-Count Jive together.

I’ve been gathering the poems for nearly ten years now. They’ve been honed, criticised by helpful poet friends (here and in Northern Ireland) and checked time and again for mistakes and howlers. There’s more work ahead but I love having my words curated by someone who is interested in making my book available to strangers. Dennis Greig of Lapwing is one of the finest editors I’ve known.

More info soon. Have a happy weekend!