Can you identify and manage your triggers?

We’ve all had the experience of hearing an old song that reminds us of when we first heard it, how old we were and what stage of life we were in at the time. Or maybe certain smells remind you of somewhere you have been and an experience you had. Most of the time these flashbacks are wonderful reminders of the good times in our lives.

Then there are the dark triggers that may remind us of a traumatic time or experience. They are sometimes connected to strong negative emotions that are hard to move on from.

I wanted to know a bit more about this word and did a bit of an online search. I found the following definition which I think describes it perfectly:

“A trigger is anything that sets you off emotionally and activates memories of your trauma. It’s particular to you and what your experience has been. Triggered, we revert to the feelings and behaviours we had in the traumatising situation”.*

Whilst walking on the beach yesterday with a beautiful friend, I was talking to her about something that someone said to me last week that rocked me to my core.  We talked about triggers and cruel reminders and it was such a light bulb moment for me to recognise certain situations that trigger my own emotions.

Last week I was walking along the beach one morning when I ran into a man that I had come to know whilst being part of a recovery program at the hospital. There was a small group of us participating together, all different ages, who were all going through different types and stages of cancer treatment. We all developed a strong bond and shared stories with each other along the way.

The program ended for some of us around Christmas time and we had a little gathering to celebrate and swapped phone numbers with the intention to reunite in several months time.

For the purpose of this blog, (and because I didn’t ask permission to write about him), let’s call my friend from the hospital program “Bob”. I think Bob is in about his late 60’s, has battled cancer in his brain, lungs and now liver. When I met him he was still going through chemo and, like all of us, had lost his hair.

When I walked past Bob on the beach I didn’t realise it was him at first. I said hello and kept walking thinking “I know that man”. I was several steps further on when I realised who he was and spun around and called out his name. We hadn’t recognised each other initially because we both had hair! We embraced each other with a warm knowing hug. You know the ones… the hugs that mean so much when you share a bond with someone, even if you don’t know them very well.

We exchanged updates on our situations and the events that had occurred since we saw each other last. I talked about my upcoming surgery and Bob talked about his treatment that he needs to undergo for the next two years.

And then he said… “if I live that long”.

That was my trigger.

My heart sank and I tried to hide the shock I felt. Bob said it with a smile on his face and a laugh under his breath, but for me it was hugely confronting. That one comment brought back all my fear. Fear about ‘what if’. Fear for Bob and fear for myself.

I had been able to move on from feeling this fear for myself every day, and it all just came flooding back in an instant. It was like a scene in a scary movie when they zoom in on something really fast and you are left with the still shot of a horror scene. To add to that, the feeling in my gut that was filled with dread rose to my throat. But I couldn’t show Bob that emotion. He needed my support and positivity. I guess the reality for Bob is much more confronting than I could know. He is faced with his own mortality every day he wakes up.

When I was alone, I cried. I cried for Bob and I cried for me.

It has taken several days to move on from that emotion. I have had a really big think about how I can deal with the emotion that arises when triggered. I’m certainly no expert and am not qualified in this area but I think I have learnt much over my time to figure this out.

I feel that it is important to acknowledge how we feel when we react to a trigger. It may feel uncomfortable and unsettling, and that’s ok. We can’t ignore our emotions, we need to embrace them. Not in a way that we negatively affect others but in a way that helps us process.

One way that helps me is to write. I have been doing this for many years now. And I don’t mean write a blog or a book, or anything else that other people will see. I have also taught my kids to use this technique when they have had issues in the past.

Sit with a notepad and pen or pencil and just write. Write whatever comes out. It doesn’t need to flow or even make any sense. It doesn’t even need to be legible, it just needs to be your raw emotion. It is a cathartic process to articulate the emotions you are feeling and offload. I can remember some days through the early stages of my breast cancer journey I would sit and write page after page of “f you cancer”…

I don’t believe you should journal those emotions. You can’t keep that stuff hanging around and you certainly don’t need to go back and be reminded of them. Those feelings should be written on paper that you can rip up, destroy and dispose of.

Whatever you do to help yourself get through your reaction to the trigger, remember that it will pass.

There are always going to be triggers that affect us in life in both positive and negative ways. It depends how we manage them that makes all the difference.

Be kind to yourself. None of us are perfect and we always have much to learn. But that’s the raw and completely beautiful part of life…

*facebook.com/TraumaAndDissociation

Would you notice…?

strong personHow do you know if a strong person is coping? Or I guess even more so, the question should be how do you know if a strong person is NOT coping?

What does it look like? Do you think you could recognise it?

Think of a strong person that you know who has experienced trauma. How did it look from the outside? Did you notice? Did you think they were so strong that they didn’t or don’t need your help?

Most people have, themselves, or know someone who has experienced trauma or grief of some kind. Never underestimate its significance in someone’s life, or your own for that matter.

Behind the smiles, and the positive attitudes and the “one day at a time”s, there is pain, fear and uncertainty. Never assume that someone doesn’t need your help. They just might. You can tell them how amazing you think they are and how well you think they are coping, but ask them if they actually are.

Ask their partners how they are doing, and ask their children. Life doesn’t actually ever return to normal. They are changed forever. Yes they more likely are able to move forward, but it will be in a way of their “new normal”.

After my Mum passed away, apart from my immediate inner circle, some people were awkward, didn’t know what to say and left me alone. On the other hand, I also experienced the extreme opposite with some people who had never spoken to me previously suddenly gushing at me offering their ear for whenever I needed to talk. They had the best of intentions I’m sure, but I never took them up on their offers. I was stoic, had a smile on my face every day and functioned adequately with the occasional breakdown as I processed my grief. I was brave, strong and invincible. People often commented that they were amazed at how well I was coping.

I didn’t seek any help, I had a good support system around me but I know now, on reflection, I was acting in such a way that I was avoiding my emotions.

I was trying to adult while still really being a broken child.

I made some good decisions and some not-so-good decisions in my life for a few years. I engaged in some self-destructive behaviour for part of that time before finally having a break down in my early 20’s. My beautiful Dad and Step-Mum wrapped their loving, caring arms around me and gently guided me through counselling.

I connected with an amazing doctor who specialised in grief counselling and got myself back on track. She taught me something that I have never forgotten.

Everything that occurs as a sequence of events in your life is preparing you for the next point of change.

And we have many. Embrace it, do what you need to do to get through it with self-care.

Seek help, it’s not a sign of weakness but rather evidence of your inner strength.

Someone I look up to reminded me recently that magic happens through experiencing the darkest of times.

Throughout my own Breast Cancer journey my support network has been amazing. Our families and close friends have been there every step of the way. Others have struggled. But we recognise that this is just a reflection of their own inability to know how to help. It can be overwhelming and scary for some and they can tend to avoid the issue altogether.

I have found, and was advised, that it is better to not have expectations of anyone and you won’t be disappointed.

I am forever grateful to have had a group of people around me who unselfishly gave of themselves to help me and my family. Some of my family and friends cooked food. Without that we could not have functioned adequately to feed our kids. Some checked on me constantly through phone calls, messages and visits. Some gave me incredibly generous gifts. I was amazed at all those who rallied around us. Not ever being one to ask for help, or being comfortable doing so, I have learned to say thank you without feeling guilty.

I can never pay those people back, but I can certainly pay it forward whenever possible in the future.

I know that I am strong.

I know that I have been strong throughout my journey and that people see that. You see me smile, be positive and cope with whatever has come my way. But there have been some dark times. Times in the last sixteen months that I wished it would all end.

I had times during treatment when I would say, out loud, “take me now”… Those days were just too hard.

In my pain and suffering, I wasn’t strong on the inside. I wasn’t the stoic girl that everyone sees. I couldn’t reach out to my family and friends, or my husband. But during those times I sought help from other avenues.

I would think of my family and my children. I couldn’t put them through what I had experienced. We are so fortunate to have access to incredible support organisations and programs in this country. I remained strong enough to be able to do that. I allowed myself to get through it. And in my experience, that is the key.

If you can remind yourself, or the person you care about, that there is a process to go through to get to the other side, it will pass. Nothing stays the same. Ever.

If you are a strong person but aren’t feeling that way, reach out. Contact a friend, family member, doctor or support agency. Don’t feel that you shouldn’t or can’t. Whatever your situation, there is always someone who can help you.

If you don’t think of yourself as a strong person, maybe you are and you just don’t know it yet.

If you know someone who is going through a difficult time. Reach out. Be kind to them. Be thoughtful, put yourself out for them and help them. They may not ask, but they will appreciate it.

 

When the sky fell in…

when the sky fell inToday is the 20th of March. It is not just any ordinary Monday. This day thirty years ago my Mum lost her battle with Cancer.

It was the darkest, saddest day of my life. Still is.

We watched her suffer for several years and it was heartbreaking.

I was sixteen when she died and my sister was fourteen. All of my teenage years were consumed with Mum’s illness and I had a far from normal secondary school life. I was in Year 12 and had spent three months over our summer in New Zealand on an exchange and did not have the luxury of spending that holiday time with her. But I guess I was also getting on with my life and took the opportunity of a life-time and experienced much while away from my family.

I had only returned from New Zealand a few days before my Dad told me Mum had a month to live. It was an awkward conversation as he was driving me to visit my best friend. He struggled to give me the news.

I understand now how immensely difficult it was for him to do that. I was in total disbelief as Mum was quite well when I left. Maybe they didn’t tell me before I left so that I could go and fully enjoy my exchange.

The amazing thing is though, the entire time I was away I felt that something was wrong.

The day Mum died I was in a biology lesson. I dropped a test tube in the lab at 3.00pm which I later learned was the time she slipped away. Our Grandparents picked up my sister and I from school and drove us to the hospital. We went into the room and met our Dad who just sat in the chair with his head in his hands. He was devastated. Mum was the love of his life and they adored each other.

She was just lying there, not moving, not breathing, just completely still.

She looked sad, she had finally been totally consumed by her disease.

I will never forget that day, nor how I felt noticing that her chest wasn’t rising and falling.

It was so final and so brutal.

I felt as if my world had ended. I felt helpless, lost and immense fear as to what the future would be like with this hole in my soul.

Experiencing that all consuming grief as a child is so different than when an adult. I didn’t have the adult wiring to rationalise my grief.

Remembering all the different stages of that journey always takes me back to that painful time. That hole is still there. It has never been filled.

Daughters losing their mothers at such a young age leaves a scar that can never heal.

My beautiful sister and I have always carried our sadness.

However, we have also learnt to carry on and live our lives and be strong women. Probably too much for our own good at times.

I have sought help when I needed it. I have processed much over the years.

I constantly worried that I would walk her path, and here I am. But, my journey is different to hers and will not end the same way.

I am meant to be here. I am meant to be here for my children, husband, sister, family and friends. I am meant to be here for me…

I have accepted what is and am looking forward. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am learning to let go and take each day at a time. Each day there is much to be grateful for.

Life really is beautiful.

If you woke up today you have much to be grateful for too. Celebrate, every. little. thing.

Stop and think about all the good things that have happened in your life. Celebrate the people in your life too. They have been sent to you for a reason. Even the ones that have hurt you are just teaching you more about yourself so you can grow.

Just live your life through love.

Go on, I dare you.

See what happens…

The day I asked the loaded question..

17274522_10211099432515220_1468253580_nWe are all familiar with the expression “be careful what you ask for”, right? Well I should have considered that before I did something that I believe changed the course of my life. The power of making statements out loud should not be taken lightly!

I believe in the power of the Universe.  I believe we are taken care of and guided all the time. Whatever you believe, we all have to have faith in something. I receive messages and experience syncronicities constantly. But it took my illness to really tune in and listen.

I had an amazing year in 2015. Some good, some bad. So much happened. I got married for the second time, we went on an incredible honeymoon, my eldest son was enduring Year 12 and we were negotiating life as a newly blended family.

As happy as I was, and as much as I enjoyed my job, I always felt there was something more. I felt like the ‘rat on the wheel’ and did my fair share of complaining as such. The poor girls I work with endured much during the six or so hours we sat together every day! Working full time and having such a big busy family was hard work. It was exhausting in fact. I felt stressed all the time. Worried about money (six kids is really expensive!!), and constantly thinking there has to be a better way.

In about August of that year I arrived at work one morning as per usual. I must have driven on autopilot because I couldn’t even remember getting there. I sat in the car for a few minutes, contemplating, and just threw my hands in the air and said outloud… “let me have it Universe, bring it all to me. What am I meant to be doing…? Little did I know at the time what was around the corner. I might as well have just sat in the middle of the road and waited for the bus.

In September I remembered that it had been some time since my last mammogram. I had been having them regularly since the age of 31 because of my Mum’s journey. I didn’t realise just how long I had left it. I had been so distracted with getting engaged, buying a house, moving two houses into one and organising a wedding, that I completely neglected my yearly routine. I finally made an appointment for early October.

The day before I went for my mammogram I found my lump. It was under my left nipple and it was bloody huge. I knew instantly. My heart sank. It had come from nowhere. I hadn’t felt it before and I knew it was foreign. It was my first time going to Breastscreen, as I had previously visited private practice for screenings.

When I told Breastscreen that I had found a lump they didn’t want to do the mammograms. They wanted me to go straight back to my GP. I insisted that they do them because I had my period, my boobs were normally lumpy during that time and I was already there.  They reluctantly agreed upon the understanding that if the lump was still there after my period finished I needed to go back to my doctor.

So another week passed. My lump was still there. I went to the GP and got my referral for the full screening at the place I had been previously for many years. I cried with the doctor. She was not my normal doctor and was young. I recognised her name. I had worked with her Mum who was a beautiful lady who had recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. I thought later how strange it was that I was at this appointment with her. I cried because I was frightened but I also cried for her Mum and my Mum. I mentioned that I had worked with her Mum and she cried too. So we all sat there crying together awkwardly and I tried to keep a brave face but I lost it. Deep down I knew what was coming.

The next day, Friday 15th October, I was sitting at work and rang the imaging company to make my full screening appointment. Not even half an hour later Breastscreen rang me and told me they had found a lump and that I needed a full screening. I said I had already made an appointment somewhere else.  They suggested that I would need to take the films with me. So I rang Phil, walked out of work (only two people knew what was going on) and we drove into the city to collect the films….

I opened the envelope… on the report was the circled word MALIGNENT.

I nearly threw up…I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My whole life flashed before my eyes. In his panic, Phil insisted, “I don’t care what we have to do, ring them and get in right now”. So I did, and they agreed to fit us in as soon as we could get there.

They did a biopsy. They called the doctor in. They weren’t saying anything. We asked for an explanation. They couldn’t confirm anything but replied with “you need to deal with this right now”.

OMG its 4pm on Friday afternoon, we are about to pick up the kids and you’ve just told me that?

I had to keep it together. WE had to keep it together. We couldn’t.

Phil and I just held each other in the car and cried, and cried and cried… we couldn’t stop.

We had to pull ourselves together, pick up my kids and not let on that anything was up. I had no idea what or how I was going to tell them..

I couldn’t believe that I was going to give them that news. I knew what it felt like, and I knew how frightening it was going to be for them.

That was just the beginning of my journey…

 

In the beginning…

sunset… There is a girl named Ali. She has a story to tell. So with fear, trepidation and no real clear path she launched her blog! And what better day than “International Women’s Day” to do it.

I have met some truly amazing and inspirational women throughout my life. Some of them I am totally in awe of… some of them have encouraged me to tell my story and share with others. So here we are.

This is for all the women out there who feel like they are holding back, are afraid, or just have no idea which step to take next. Don’t think about it, just do it. If I can, anyone can.

A cliche I know, but if you knew how far I’ve come through my personal journey in the last year or so you would be as shocked as I am right now typing this!

Do you immerse yourself in life’s lessons? Do you allow yourself to really think about how far you have come, how much you’ve grown and how beautiful you are now? Do you see that in yourself when you look in the mirror? Do you beat yourself up when things go wrong or do you just accept that stuff happens and learn from it…  My favourite quote is this:

You can never lose, only win or learn…

We spend so much time and energy trying to get everything right, myself included. Maybe we should all just accept that imperfection is beautiful too. If you get something wrong then you know how to do it better next time.  How awesome is that? Life would be so boring if there were no mistakes! They kick us in the arse, no doubt, and they hurt sometimes. But they also give us the opportunity to look back and think how they have shaped us into who we are now.

So here I am, mistakes, imperfect action, stories, raw and all. A much more grounded, self accepting and real woman than I was two years ago. Here’s to new beginnings, the future is full of new opportunities for us all, you just need to celebrate being you and open your eyes to what might be in front of you. Im taking this opportunity that has presented itself as a desire to write.  I have not written before and I am not a writer, but I can write. I am taking a risk… and I will be kind to myself while I learn and find my way.

I am woman…hear me roar…!