And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process — trauma recovery is a lifelong journey.
I never call myself an expert in anything, and I’m not about to now. That said, I’m fairly seasoned, as a sexual assault survivor, when it comes to navigating trauma and actively pursuing my healing and recovery journey.
However, 7 years into that very journey, and my trauma still finds new and unique ways to torment me.
With diagnosed PTSD and a very intentional regime of self-guided therapy, I’ve come a long way in the last few years to regain my quality of life despite the horrors inflicted upon me.
My life’s mission now is to be an advocate who helps support and serve the sexual assault survivor community, and along with my best friends and co-editors of the Fearless She Wrote publication, we created this community for that exact reason.
The healing and support that takes place in this community every single day is inspiring beyond words. We’ve had many in our community reach out privately to tell us how much Fearless has helped in their healing journey, changed their lives, and even in some cases saved their lives.
Considering all these factors, it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking that the work we do is not valuable enough or doing enough for the survivor community.
But welcome to trauma. Because recently I, one of the co-founders of this very publication, went through what I can only describe as an episode of “trauma mania", or what can also be described as a very severe PTSD flareup.
If you too suffer from trauma, or live with PTSD like me, this experience may be one that you resonate with. And if you do, know that you’re not alone.
This particular flareup started with feeling like I was a fraud as an advocate in the #MeToo survivor community.
Long story short, a survivor reached out to me recently (as many routinely do) and admitted she was struggling following her sexual assault several years ago. After reading my work, she was hoping I could give her guidance or advice from my own personal experience on what to do next.
She said I was the first person in her life she’s told about her sexual assault.
More than anything, she was just looking for someone who knew what she was going through, and someone who would listen to her story.
When I get messages like this, everything else in my life goes on hold. Supporting such a survivor becomes my focus in that moment, and I will gladly spend hours listening, swapping stories, and commiserating their suffering.
In this instance, I felt incredibly fulfilled for having spent my day delving into the pain and trauma of another survivor, offering all the comfort I could. I was able to be there for this woman in a way that no one else had been there for me so early in my recovery.
Knowing you’re not alone is half of the struggle when it comes to your acceptance and healing journey. The National Alliance on Mental Health also backs up the science of this with their research.
I’ve spent the better part of two years supporting fellow survivors and serving in the Fearless community. But something about this specific instance was different. It was during this conversation with this particular survivor that I started asking myself,
“What the hell are you doing with your life? There are so many broken survivors out there who you could be helping, but instead you’re spending your days writing. What real value do you have to offer as a writer? Why are you being so selfish by writing, and not doing more for the community?”
When helping others heal, we can forget how delving into their pain can affect our own mental health.
Following my conversation with this survivor, I had a significant trauma flareup.
Because when we dive into another person’s trauma, and emotionally invest in it with them, that can touch on our own trauma and cause it to spiral.
It was naive of me to think that these days of such significant flareups were behind me. Again, trauma recovery is a lifelong journey.
I got it into my mind that the work I was doing wasn’t enough. I convinced myself that there were so many other ways that I could be more helpful, and that I was barely providing any value through my writing.
That was when my trauma mania really began.
I went straight to my husband, frantic, and declared that I wanted to become certified as a trauma recovery counsellor.
I was doubting the value that my writing offered people, regardless of how many comments on my work stating that people resonated with it and that it made them feel less alone and helped provide them healing.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling like this sort of work was valuable enough to make a real difference.
I spent yesterday afternoon researching master’s degrees in Counseling Psychology.
A vicious part of me came out of the woodwork and started to completely discredit all of the value my writing has to offer and the current work I’m doing as an advocate in this survivor community. That same voice was telling me that if I wanted to be of any real help to anyone, I needed to be a certified professional in some sort of counselling psychology.
I have never, not once in my life, seriously considered counselling or therapy as a viable career path for me.
In fact, I have a long list of reasons as to why it would be unhealthy for me and damaging to my own mental health to have a career in such a field.
And yet, this vicious narrative in my head was telling me that with the global crisis of sexual assaults in full swing, in the grand scheme of things my own happiness, fulfillment and mental health don’t matter when I could be doing work to more directly help survivors navigate their trauma and recovery.
I felt unhinged, wondering where my lost screws had gone. You’ve likely felt this way before too.
I sincerely felt like a crazy woman.
Basically, and hilariously (if you want to find the humor in this situation), my response to such an intense support conversation with this survivor sent my mental health into a state of mania, which is a perfect example of why counselling is not an ideal career path for me.
But despite the rationale of this, I was still left with significant self-doubt and self-criticism of my own role and work as an advocate.
Even though that exact work is what brings survivors my way so that they no longer feel alone and can access a community like Fearless.
During this particularly brutal flareup, I had two versions of me in a constant battle in my head:
There was the normal Fearless Gillian in my head reasonsing, “Babe, the proof of the value of the work you do is a, b, c, d, etc…” And then there was the Unhinged, Manic Gillian running in circles screaming, “IT’S NOT ENOUGH. NONE OF IT IS ENOUGH.”
I spent my episode ugly weeping, my heart breaking over and over again, because there are so many survivors out there suffering, and it feels like there’s not enough time or resources to help everyone, and that just left me feeling desperate, sad and confused.
In this state of flareup, I did what all survivors should do — I turned to my Support Team for help. Specialists strongly recommend having a strong support system to ensure success in your healing journey in you are living with trauma.
It was then that I received a much-needed message of encouragement from fellow Fearless founder and editor
Maggie Lupin (love you boo, and thank you!), who immediately answered my SOS signal with:
“Gill, I’m feeling sad that you feel like your writing and work with Fearless isn’t good enough — not only is it good enough, it’s above and beyond.
If you had the certifications, you could make a go of that type of career. BUT. It would also be extremely mentally taxing on you. If you want to take something like that on, I applaud and support it — BUT not at the cost of your own mental health.”
She’d hit the nail right on the head. She knew it and I knew it — I’m a writer, and a damn good one. A job in the mental health sector interacting with clients was not the ideal career path for me.
Tapping into my Support Team in a time of trauma flareup snapped me out of the state of mania very quickly— I just needed someone else to validate what I already knew was true.
Remember that trauma is not logical or rational — there will be times you can’t always make sense of it. You feel what you feel, and that’s okay. Just don’t make any rash decisions when in a state of flareup.
That's just what trauma does to a person — it makes us deny our own logic and reason, because we don’t know what we can and cannot trust.
Hi, Fearless Community.
My name is Gillian Sisley. I am a survivor of sexual assault, and I live with PTSD.
Because recovering from trauma is a lifelong journey, and the three of us are still in the depths of our own healing, too.
We’re in the mud with you all — we don’t have it all figured out. We still have plenty of bad days, plenty of hard times, plenty of trauma flareups. All I can say is, thank goodness we’re a team of three. Because we can’t always be okay at all times— that’s just the reality of struggling with mental health difficulties and surviving trauma.
But that’s exactly what this community is about — supporting one another, knowing we’re not alone, and creating this safe space for every one of us to heal without judgement.
We all need someone to lean on, process with and be able to touch base with on our journey, and especially in the times we’re most struggling.
If you don’t already have a Support Team, I strongly suggest putting one in place. Make a list of the survivors you know personally, who you have confided in already or have confided in you, and reach out to them to suggest a mutually beneficial, supportive healing relationship.
To wrap up this article, I’m including the words of another member of my Support Team, my loving husband.
If you’re questioning your role or position in the work you’re doing as a writer, and wondering if what you’re doing is enough, let these words sink in:
“In my honest opinion love, I think you being a writer has the most potential to impact survivors at large scale, even more so than being a counsellor. I believe it would be selfish for you to squander those skills away from the world of victims and survivors. Playing to your strengths is a gift. You can’t help others if you sacrifice yourself and your mental health to the cause.”
I hope this article has been helpful and resonated with you, Dear Reader. Don’t hesitate to drop a note in the comments with your thoughts and feelings.
Happy healing to you all!