Monday, April 23, 2012

Being a Child Living With Trauma Feels A Lot Like Being a Backseat Driver

This video is very interesting….go watch it…then come back.

Yesterday I was on the other side of town, right where the suburbs meet the city.

I am tooling along on a four lane divided highway.I’m driving in the second lane, one lane over from and about 3 cars behind a city bus…because I know better than to get stuck behind a bus. The light changes right as I notice out of the corner of my eye a rather large woman with bags in both hands, doing something that slightly resembles running…but really slow. Over the traffic and the noise of the bus I can barely make out her “hey, hey!” Oh, man! She is trying to make the bus…and there is no way she is gonna. The bus is pulling off and the driver hasn’t noticed her, or he has but he is going anyway. I decide I have to take action, I start honking my horn as I speed up to the front of the bus…and I honk and honk and honk until the driver figures out I am not going to stop until he stops and lets the poor lady in. Good thing busses don’t have the capability for rapid acceleration.

Now let’s look what really happened there. Why did I even notice the heavy set woman with the bags? Because I am still am pretty hypervigilant, I tend to notice things and noises in my surroundings that don’t even register with others. (Thank you PTSD) How did I know that bizarre shuffle was an attempt to catch a bus? Because way back when having aged out of foster care without knowing how to drive, I too had to use the bus as my sole form of transportation, and I have had to run to catch one…many a time. (Thank you foster care system for pushing kids out the door without basic life skills) Why did I feel compelled to get involved? Because I could FEEL her panic. (Thank you empathy) Why not just shrug my shoulders and figure she could just catch the next one? I have no impulse control (thank you over active adrenal system), if I didn’t do something I would have felt guilty all day. (Thank you years of being blamed for my parents’ choice not to raise me) And if you know anything about our city bus system you know you had better catch whatever bus you can, god knows when the next one is coming,(thank your local news for you news coverage) and the chances of getting home before her meat turned brown were slim. (Been there, done that) And finally I have learned throughout my life, it is much harder for me to live with not doing than attempting to do and failing. (Thank you overly guilty conscience and deep-seeded sense of shame).

Why was I the only one at that light attempting to stop the bus? Maybe because nobody else noticed the lady with the bags. Maybe if they noticed the large woman running they did not connect it to the bus. Maybe if they noticed the woman running, connected to the bus, they didn’t realize that there may not be another one for hours. Maybe if the noticed the woman, connected her to the bus and realized another bus may not show up for hours they had no idea what it felt like to walk for miles just to get home to discover that the meat you just bought had already turned brown. Maybe their life experiences were so far removed from that woman’s struggles there was nothing in that situation that they could relate to, and thus could not process the woman’s plight in a way which would allow them or motivate them in a way that would inspire them to BE helpful.

This is how life goes; we were all at the same corner. We all brought our own experiences, or lack thereof. We all experienced our time at that light in our own ways. Nobody did it the right way or wrong way. My perceptions and my compulsion to act is shaped by who I am and experiences which are exclusive to me.

Where am I going with this rambling post?

I couldn’t help but think that being a child living with trauma is a lot like having my experience at the corner, but from the back seat. You see, feel and pick up on things that others have who have not had your experiences don’t even register…and there you are in the back seat with no gas pedal, no horn and no control to DO anything worthwhile about it. Meanwhile the person in the driver’s seat, you know, the one with all of the power, is focused straight ahead, has their destination in mind and has no idea what the hell all that honking is about.  And there you are in the backseat, stuck with your adrenalin overload, your feeling of helplessness and shame over what appears to those around you, to be nothing at all.

(At least that is what it felt like for me.) 

Watch Mirror Neurons on PBS. See more from NOVA scienceNOW.

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