Writing Through Trauma: What is Trauma?

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Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


Up until November 2015, I had no idea that the events I’d experienced were considered traumas. In fact, I was so determined to believe that they were no big deal, I’d repressed them almost completely. Any time you bottle something up, though, it almost always explodes on you.

And explode it did.

It wasn’t until I started seeing Dina*—a trauma-certified therapist—in November 2015 that I realized the things I’d experienced were not only traumatic, but also the root of the depression and anxiety that I’d been fighting for the past 15 years.

Trauma is any event that shatters your sense of safety and what you thought you knew about the world. Trauma is subjective, meaning that what might be traumatic for me may not affect you the same way, and vice versa. Examples of trauma include:

  • being bullied as a child
  • becoming sick with chronic illness and/or pain
  • getting into a car accident
  • having your area hit by a severe storm
  • being sexually or physically assaulted
  • serving in a war
  • having a miscarriage
  • the death of a loved one
  • and more

None of these examples are more or less traumatic. Everyone responds to stress in different ways.

Trauma develops into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when a person who has experienced one or multiple traumatic events becomes stuck in the brain’s natural fight/flight/freeze response. Most of us react in some way when something bad happens, but are able to calm down—especially once you realize that you’re safe.

For example, if you’re driving during a snowstorm and slide on ice, doing a complete 360° turn and nearly hitting a wall, you feel afraid. Your hands shake, your breathing and heart rate speed up, and your brain kickstarts the fight/flight/freeze response to help you get through the incident.

If you’re able to process the event—driving, snowstorm, icy roads under snow, spun, stopped before hitting the wall—you’ll realize you’re safe and your brain will shut off the fight/flight/freeze response.

If you’re not able to process our example event, though, you may start having nightmares about the incident (re-experiencing symptoms, or flashbacks). You refrain from driving yourself anywhere whenever it snows (avoidance symptoms). You snap at the people around you for seemingly no reason and have a hard time sleeping (arousal and reactivity symptoms). You may even completely forget that you nearly hit a wall while driving in the snow, but still believe that you’re a terrible driver when it snows (cognition and mood symptoms).

For years, all of these things were happening to me, and I had no idea why. I experienced recurring episodes of severe depression and anxiety. I saw nearly a dozen mental health professionals, who repeatedly misdiagnosed me. Many of them asked questions about my past, such as “Have you ever been raped?” But none of them ever mentioned that my past traumas could be causing my present symptoms.

I tried medication after medication—all of which affected me adversely, either intensifying my depression and anxiety or causing unusual side effects. One antidepressant, Viibryd, caused waking dreams, extremely vivid nightmares, and severe anxiety and depression. Still neither my therapist at the time nor the APRN who was prescribing me the medication ever realized that my problem was not chemical, which explained why antidepressants were not helping.

I hit my lowest point in October 2015 when, against my will, I was hospitalized under a physician’s certificate.

My APRN had recently taken me off one of my antidepressants, Wellbutrin, without weaning me, and I had a really hard time coming off them due to rapid withdrawal. Within days, I become barely recognizable.

I’d walk into a room and, unable to move, burst into uncontrollable tears.

I couldn’t do anything I loved—like writing my rockstar romance, the South of Forever series.

I kept having weird thoughts that were not my own, like “I wonder what would happen if I filled the tub, got in, and then threw a toaster in with me? Wait. Where the hell did that come from?!” The thoughts freaked me out, because I did not want to die.

I wasn’t able to eat, sleep, or shower and I spent every day on the couch watching TV shows and movies that I later wouldn’t remember.

It was absolutely terrifying, because I knew this wasn’t like my usual depression and anxiety.

I told Grace* (the therapist I was seeing at the time), and she told me there was nothing more she could do for me. I also told the APRN who prescribed the medication, and he decided I should also come off Abilify, the other antidepressant I was taking. When I asked if I should wean off, he insisted that I should be fine.

I wasn’t.


Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


*Names have been changed for privacy.

WIP Joy: Just One More Minute

In June, I participated in a challenge called #WIPjoy. Every day, authors tweeted about their current work in progress, using a daily prompt.

CjjS7zeUgAIXm5W.jpg-largeThe goal is to share tidbits from your work in progress with other writers and readers.

I’m not good at challenges, mostly because I forget to post. True story. I’ve abandoned more challenges than I can count because I fall behind every single time. Often, I won’t even start one because I know I’ll inevitably forget. The thing is, challenges like this are good for many reasons:

  • they help you meet readers
  • they allow you to look at your work from another angle
  • they put you in touch with other authors

The second point is the most useful to me. Writing often feels solitary and when I’m elbow deep in a draft, I have no idea whether what I’m doing will work or not. I only know that the story is interesting to me. #WIPjoy convinced me that Just One More Minute is just as exciting to readers as it is to me. Most of my tweets received some kind of positive feedback, whether in an enthusiastic tweet back, a like, or a retweet.

Not that I’d stop anyway. I’m having way too much fun hooking up Rowan and Matt!

For those of you who aren’t on Twitter or who missed some of the days, here’s a recap!

Tell us about your WIP!

Introduce your protagonist’s* awesomeness!
*main character, also known as the person we’re rooting for

Share a line showing your WIP’s atmosphere.

Share a line about one of your WIP’s main emotions.

The character you relate to most, and why.

A character who shares a flaw with you.

Did you base anyone off a real person?

Share a line that shows a character’s sense of humor.

Which character(s) would you want to be roommates with?

Share a line that makes you want to hug a character.

A minor character with author-headcanon* you adore.
*Meaning something only the author knows.

Share a chapter beginning you love.

How do you want readers to view the protagonist at the beginning? and at the end?

Share a line where a character tries something new.

What grabs you about your premise?

What sticks with you about the ending?

At the end, how has your protagonist made you proud?

Share a chapter end that you love.

Does your WIP have a contagonist*?
*temptation to a character’s conscience

Share a line that mentions food.

Does the weather/nature act as antagonist* at any point?
*villain or force working against the protagonist (can be another person, an element, or even the main character’s emotions)

Share a line about a smell.

Is this a kissing book? 😉

Tell us something your character would hate for us to know.

Do your characters feel like your friends? kids? both? something else entirely?

What keeps you working on this WIP?

What threatens your writing joy? How do you combat it?

What do you want the future book cover to look like?

What’s the best thing people can say to you about this WIP?

What are you planning for your next WIP after this one?

Add Just One More Minute to your shelves on Goodreads. Tap here.