Elisa A Escalante/ LMSW/ 7-15-2020
“I often wonder, do they feel pain the same way I do? For the same reasons? And to the same extent? Or am I just crazy and alone in this? Maybe they are just good at hiding it too? Happiness is wanted from us all, it is easier than truth. What level of pain can I share, if I choose to share it? When am I a burden? I feel this need to ask because, there are just some things, that I simply cannot say out loud.” -EaE
Some people live in dreams, other people live in nightmares. For the longest time, it felt as if I was allergic to positivity. My brain could not get there, it could not access it. “Just be happy and positive” people always said. I felt as if maybe I hadn’t been trained to do that, my mind went dark fast. I was the “Emo” kid but without the black clothes & make up (I wasn’t allowed to).
What does a sad traumatized child do? They escape. They escape to something they think will be better than what they currently have, only to be immersed into another nightmare. Nightmares haunt and follow us like a dark cloud. Ever notice that those that have chaos, may have it no matter where they go? No matter what they do, darkness tends to follow?
We can escape toxic environments, we can escape toxic people. However, we cannot escape a toxic mind, we have to confront it. It’s terrifying and often feels hopeless. It’s hard to believe sometimes, that we may be genetically predisposed to harmful brain chemicals and/ or trained in mentally maladaptive patterns that sabotage our progress.
Living in a traumatized brain, a depressed brain, an anxious brain and/ or an enraged brain is 24/7 maintenance, it’s hard not to feel hopeless at times. If we cannot control our thoughts and sometimes our behaviors, what can we control? It’s the type of thing that causes kids, teens and young adults to stare at a screen, read, work, daydream, drug and/ or sleep for scary amounts of hours. The type of thing that pushes us to the point of severe escapism because anything is better than being alone with chronically toxic thoughts.
I once lived in a nightmare as a child and eventually lived in one as an adult. Currently even as life is more stable, I continue to have literal nightmares. My “dream” journal on my nightstand might as well be called nightmare book. I crossed out dream and replaced it with nightmare. Why lie? The majority of what is scribbled in that book involves storms, fights, flashbacks to personal trauma, murdering, getting killed, torture scenes etc.
Believe it or not this is more common than we like to imagine it is, and people like me walk alongside us everyday. In various professions, nationalities and so on. Also, in most cases, it won’t be obvious. It’s incredible how mentally ill people can suffer all day, but not in an obvious way so to speak. I trained myself well from a young age, as society doesn’t like sufferers. Society wants busy bodies and workers, and if there is suffering, it better be kept quiet.
I think an unusual thing about myself that only some mentally ill people can relate to is that I do not want communication to be what it is. I want to be able to discuss my nightmare the next morning without being looked at like I have 3 heads. I want to be able to discuss my eating disorder without someone trying to invalidate it. I want to be able to talk about my mothers drug addiction and neglect without people trying to quiet the conversation. I want to talk about my severe depression without being told “just be positive” because let’s be real, if it were that easy would therapists exist?
I want a world where we can talk about our nightmares just as easily as we can talk about the weather. Not in a chronic, loathing and victim mentality kind of way. But in a way where it isn’t stigmatized and people are willing to empathize, that yes, the world is tragic too. It isn’t just happy go lucky with rainbows in the air, but there are many storms. We need dialogue about the storms because maybe, just maybe, someone can relate and give some practical advice.
I want to know from another human being, how the hell did you manage to pull yourself through the chronic nightmares of the nights and days? Sometimes it gets hard and we all deserve to know how to weather these storms. However, if no one is talking about it, we may just feel crazy. Perception is NOT reality. I know this because I know how happy, courageous and motivated people always thought I was, but how miserable I really was in my own mind.
I was told by a colleague once (a highly seasoned clinical social worker) that I was the only person he had ever seen, come back from a war zone unaffected. Unchanged. Still my “happy” and “positive” self. My goodness, could I act! I was the only person I knew of, that found out that I had lost a parent over the phone via voicemail, and go on to do my entire work shift, and not tell anyone about it for months.
I was also abused, neglected and abandoned. I never told a soul for the longest of times. My mind was convinced that if I could live an outwardly appearing successful life, and never utter to another person of my pain and trauma, that perhaps it no longer existed. However, the nightmares do stay. Pain is truly apart of who some of us are, and it is unfair/ irrational that the world expects us to hide it. If I hide my pain then, there’s not much else to share unfortunately. Trauma and emotional pain is a large part of what I dealt with growing up, nothing will change that fact. If I were to pretend otherwise (like I had for so long) then I will not be a genuine, honest & sincere person. Unfortunately, when I do open up, sometimes it is viewed as “negativity”. Sharing trauma isn’t being negative though, it’s telling the scary truth.
I realize now, and I hope I can teach many others, that the nightmares become more horrendous when we live through them alone. An ill mind cannot correct itself with a template of horror and travesty. We need healing and we need something different. We do not deserve to live in a nightmare forever. Trauma is chronic and haunting, but what it can teach us is what we do NOT deserve in life. When things are painful, discard of them. When things bring joy, hold onto it. When we are being self destructive, learn to recognize it. For those of us that have lived nightmares, we must explore and discover dreams. It was inaccessible once upon a time, but I will always empower people to keep searching for their long lost dreams. Searching for hope and living in day dreams was literally all some of us had, once upon a time.