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Sweatpants & Sanity | Coping With Trauma Through Creativity

By Robin Sizemore

“Where there is ruin there is hope for a treasure.” – Rumi

Two years ago my daughter told her counselor she wanted to die by standing in front of a train as it passed near our house.  She knew it went by daily at 3 pm.  And the coup de grâce was when she stated without emotion, “No one will be home to stop me.”  It was there, at rock bottom, where both of our journeys to creativity began.

This traumatic episode led to many, many months of little to no sleep for me.  Sometimes I laid in the hallway or near her bedroom door listening all night for sounds of her moving or trying to run out of the house.  Those nights were long and scary and lonely.  I would cry a lot and wonder what went wrong in our life.  We were a happy family, close, ate dinners together, and blessed with great family and friends.  It was all very confusing.  Depression is a nasty liar. It makes you think that a medical condition is something you caused.  So while my daughter was suffering, my husband and I blamed ourselves.

Maybe it was a form of self-preservation, but I found that on those sleepless nights my mind would drift to my own childhood memories.  This gave me peace because my childhood, though not perfect or silver spoon infused, was idyllic.  My sister and I have parents who love us. My mom read to us and was our Girl Scout leader, my dad was our softball coach who built us our own backyard playhouse.   We had a dog, a bird, goldfish, wore homemade (by my talented mom) Halloween costumes, and stayed out until the street light came on playing games with the neighbor kids, getting scraped knees, and laughing our heads off.

These late night memory drifts turned into what I’ve read described as post-traumatic growth for me, in the form of writing.

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The Huffington Post published an article called The Surprising Benefit Of Going Through Hard Times by Carolyn Gregoire.  One paragraph, in particular, gave me an “aha” moment. “It’s important to note that sadness, grief, anger, and anxiety, of course, are common responses to trauma, and growth generally occurs alongside these challenging emotions—not in place of them. The process of growth can be seen as a way to adapt to extremely adverse circumstances and to gain an understanding of both the trauma and its negative psychological impact.”

Though I’d been putting thoughts on paper my whole life, my goal of having something published was never achieved.  Then, in the midst of adversity, I began writing down all the positive memories I could muster, and slowly turned one of them into a story. In the midst of my grief-infused sleepless nights, I sent out my memories via my cell phone to various magazines and publications. A month later, Country magazine sent me a message. They were publishing my story about bullies kicking down a snowman.   Two weeks later an online site called The Mighty agreed to publish a story about Dave Grohl and how his music helped me cope with my daughter’s illness. Those writings allowed my mind peace. I was reexamining what happened, trying to make sense of it, since the events had shaken our family structure and what we thought we were down to a pile of nothing.  Feedback from readers of my stories was a gift I could return to and read again and again.  The experience of being published was a perfect prescription for my soul.

My daughter had her own journey to creativity and freedom through her trauma.  We went through many doctors, looking for the person who would give her their full attention and not just a prescription and a new appointment.  This took longer than anticipated.  After many months, we finally found someone who would listen carefully and took her time with prescribing just the right thing. This doctor is caring, smart, and an amazing role model. My daughter also attends a group art therapy with other teen girls that is invaluable to her and personal counseling sessions when she feels she needs them.  Since she has always enjoyed writing, her doctors suggested she turn to that for comfort.  This has led her to attend journalism and poetry camps at a state college in the summers and she is finding her voice. My favorite work of hers is entitled, “I miss my depression.”  It’s a window into her soul and how it feels to identify with something, even something awful, and then have it not be so prominent in her life, a great thing, but also scary in that she needs to discover who she is now. Caring for herself is a full-time job and I feel so much pride when she searches for her own solutions. In the midst of a heavy depression wave, you can also find my daughter painting on her arms, coloring, meditating, drinking tea, and basically fighting her way back to peace. She is a warrior.

But as important as peace is, she has also found a purpose—helping others. This has given her the amazing gift of getting her out of her own head.  She and several friends volunteer tutoring elementary students twice a week for an after-school homework club.  The school district has decided to broaden the program district-wide mainly because of the dedication and passion of these teens. The children adore her and she adores them.  This program has helped all students involved—the teens realize they have something to offer others and the elementary students thrive with attention from high school students. I believe this experience is guiding her toward a career with children.  Counselor? Child psychiatrist? Children’s book writer?  Whatever the outcome, I’m grateful for a friend who welcomed her as a teen tutor so she could discover the gift of self-confidence.

My dream for her is that one day, without the need for any more adversity, she will remember her amazing childhood, and it will bring her comfort and a smile like mine did for me.

 

Robin Sizemore is a reading teacher and graphic novel lover who lives somewhere in Indiana – where you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday but you can make it to Illinois in an emergency – with her husband, daughter, son, and two dog BFFs.  She’s passionate about helping children find their strengths. Do her a favor and read the books “A Wrinkle in Time”, “Wonder” and anything John Green writes (including tweets).  And for the love of rock, listen to the Foo Fighters!   Look for her writing in Country Magazine, Farm and Ranch, and on the Mighty.  And stay tuned for the nonprofit she’s started called Superhero Training and Supply, a way to calm our children with yoga, mindfulness, homework help, and writing instruction.  Tweet her -accentuating the positive -@rsizereadwrite

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