My story of my trauma experience and how I came to tell it, fight it, and continue to heal from it with the help of fitness.
I live with chronic pain.
I have mental illnesses.
I have engaged in disordered eating and unhealthy behaviours in the past.
My goal is to help others feel their best. Through my path of healing, I am able to be more compassionate and share my experiences and tools with you.
I am continuing to share, speak up, and help break down stigma and normalize the important topic of mental health. As a mental health advocate and a person that wants to be helpful and supportive towards others, I am open about my own mental illnesses and related struggles. I’ve been diagnosed with: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), depression and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). But there was a period in my life where I wasn’t always comfortable talking about my mental illnesses or knew how talk about them other than to my therapist.
Therapy, in my experience has been a valuable constant in my life. I can’t recall the exact age I was when I had my first appointment but I started in my early 20’s. I’ve continued to go to monthly appointments. Over the years of course I’ve missed a few due to scheduling conflicts, moving provinces or because I simply didn’t want to go (full disclosure), etc. But overall, I’ve been consistent with my dedication to going and I’m glad about that.
It’s been helpful to have a professional to guide me along and through my struggles. My suggestion to others is to seek the unbiased aid of a professional should you want help. It’s a relationship built on trust, in my experience, for therapy to be effective, you need to feel comfortable with them.
If you meet with a mental health professional and it doesn’t feel right, please seek out another.
I recall over the years being very uncomfortable and having a strong resistance to opening up with two therapists I went to see, they weren’t right for me. I moved on from them and went elsewhere even though it meant I was on a wait list for a while. I leaned on my support network, continued my medication, stress management strategies and checked in with my family doctor.
Because I am ready, willing and able to be open about my mental illnesses, I like to use my voice to share my experiences to hopefully help others feel less alone. We’re all in this together and do not have to struggle alone. There are people who want to help, support and share with you. People dedicate their careers as mental health professionals to help others with mental health issues. Allow yourself to receive help when you are ready to ask for it. But PLEASE don’t spend your whole life ‘waiting’ for the right time. Prioritizing taking care of your mental health will always be a smart choice that will positively impact all aspects of your life and overall health and well-being.
Reach out and connect with someone you trust for support when you are ready. Speak out about your mental health path in your own time, and with someone/or a medium, that you feel comfortable and trust.
I treated my trauma experience like a secret for many years and it was exhausting. I was never fully me. My body was holding on to stress and emotions that were so powerful and I wouldn’t allow myself to be fully seen. For so long I held those experiences inside. They felt trapped, powerful, dark and stormy. I allowed them to have a grip on me so tight that I was always holding back. Until I broke open. I opened up. I started letting it out. It felt like I was breathing again. For the first time. Little by little I let out this pressure, tightness and darkness. I invited in healing, space and ease. My body changed, my mind changed and I finally got myself to a place where I could start to feel more like my authentic whole self.
This process took time and it was scary, hard and also liberating. In this process I knew it was my responsibility to protect others from the same trauma I experienced and, in this process, I lost people I loved. It still was the right thing to do even though it was the absolute hardest thing to do in my entire life and turned out to be such a great loss but also a preventative measure. I am a protector and helper of others. I know this is my role and even though it can be a hard role to stand in at times, it’s key to creating the change we need for this world to be safer and stronger. I’m a fighter. I push forward when I don’t want to or don’t think I can. Through trauma and through mental health struggles I fight to move forward. Fight, push repeat. I work through the chaos and thick shadows to get to the other side. It’s hard but it’s my path to healing. I continue to heal and learn more about myself as I am ever-evolving but always work to show up in ways that are true to me.
Through the years I have worked diligently to continue overcome the struggles of my trauma and chronic pain and continue to tap into the power of movement to guide my healing. Movement is one element of my healing path but it has proven to be the most impactful. Being intentional and moving forward with my self-talk have also been a big part of taking care of myself on my path to feeling my best.
THE HEALING POWER OF FITNESS
My exercise routine has been my best stress management strategy throughout my healing. When feelings of anxiety start to rise up or when the clouds of depression drift in, I recognize them and know I have an arsenal of tools to manage these rough waves of emotions.
THE TRAUMA MIND-BODY CONNECTION
Adding mindfulness to my movement has been a practice of mine that has proven to be very beneficial. It has immensely propelled my healing forward, allowing me to center my mind and calm my breath when my anxiety rises or in moments when I have a flashback. It gives my body time to be in the present moment which is key to anyone experiencing anxiety. I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fibromyalgia and chronic migraine. It has been shown that sexual abuse trauma can be linked to some of these medical conditions noted above. Somatic symptoms are more likely to occur with individuals who have experienced trauma. This means that trauma is linked to having an impact on the physical body not just the mind. Mental health is just as important as physical health and I place an equal emphasis on it and make time to take care of my whole self. My fitness regime has been an incredible tool to help minimize the symptoms of these medical conditions.
WORKING THROUGH CHRONIC PAIN
Studies show people who have experienced trauma and live with PTSD are often at a higher risk of developing chronic pain. Working on our fitness levels can provide us with healing space to focus our mind and thoughts on something positive rather than the pain. I have learned over the years that even though my pain is a daily occurrence that I can make the choice to work with it by working through it. Mindset is key with chronic pain in my experience. Working with my pain instead of against it is a shift that took some time, then deciding to work through it was another learning experience.
I adjust the intensity, method, time, sets and reps of my workouts to account for my energy and pain levels. Responding to my body as I move is another way I choose to work with my pain. Paying attention to the signals my body offers me and then asking myself, “is this best or right for my body right now” or “is this enough?”. I do my best with what I have to work with that day but I push myself to be active every day, in a safe smart way that works for my body and pain level.
I have also learned to recognize when I have pushed too much, too far, too soon. Discovering your limits and boundaries is helpful for future workout choices and serves as a reminder to listen to the signals your body provides; this shows us once again the importance of reconnecting with our bodies. I have experienced more manageable pain, higher energy levels, and improved mood because I made the choice to honor my body and get active rather than allow the pain tell me not to.
For me, I find what works is a combination of heart-pumping cardiovascular activity with my running, plus strength training and mindful movement such as yoga and Pilates. Find what works for you by exploring classes, videos, community programs, online fitness downloads/subscriptions, etc. Your local library can lend you work out DVDs at no cost, YouTube has some helpful videos for exercise (please check the source for credentials to ensure your safety) and most communities have accessible fitness programming.
I have risen from a place that was dark to a lighter brighter space that I have created. There are so many others that could write or talk about their trauma experiences. My story is not unique. Know that you are not alone. Some are not ready to speak aloud. Take your time. It took me many years to get to where I am today but with the help of many caring therapists, support of my husband and the foundation of my fitness, I am so strong today that I am able to share my healing path with anyone. The final stage of healing is using your experiences to help others.
I stand tall in my healing knowing that my trauma experience is in my past and I have moved forward and didn’t bring it with me. It was an experience in my life that has taught me valuable lessons. During the time the storm was lifting, a light was shone providing me with the clarity to anchor my purpose in helping others on their healing paths. Today, I lead yoga for chronic pain management classes, trauma-informed yoga classes and also provide life and confidence coaching services.
Together with our mental health stories and struggles, we can speak up, speak louder, and hold space for one another. We can listen to and believe the stories and push forward together by fighting for others’ protection and healing. Getting involved in these ways add to the fight by protecting others from potential trauma, helping others heal, and offering hope because telling our stories is powerful.
“Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”
This quote’s author is unknown, but what I know for sure is that I am the storm and no matter how hard you try to push my boat under in the rough waters of life, this girl is unsinkable.
Resources for mental health and link to sexual assault centers across Canada:
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, please call the free, confidential Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime line at 1-877- 232-2610 or visit their website at: crcvc.ca
Author note: It’s important to note I am speaking about my personal experiences. Even if it’s sometimes painful and scary, it’s important to be honest and vulnerable to help combat the stigma around mental health. I’d like to also recognize my privileges that have impacted my health in general. I identify as cisgender, able bodied, I was raised middle class, I am college educated, I have thin privilege, have access to health care and insurance, I am in a straight passing relationship and I benefit from being identified as being white.
Doris Ward is a Mind-Body Fitness Coach that helps others build their fitness, body confidence and resiliency through mindful movement, education and coaching. She is an award-winning fitness professional who leads running, goal setting and body image workshops, as well as specialized yoga classes for chronic pain management and for those who have experienced trauma. She is a regular contributor to Optimyz Magazine.