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Steps to healing and solastalgia.

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It's quite amazing how your inner landscape changes after abuse and trauma.  Things that never used to bother me, or never even entered my awareness are now triggers sending off anxiety responses and distress.  The intensity of these varies and even though I am aware of them and have good protective strategies in place, frequently they go where they want to go as happens in trauma response.  Your hypothalamus hijacks your brain and off goes your heart rate, blood pressure, cognitive function etc.  If ever you find yourself in the company of someone with severe anxiety or experiencing a traumatic trigger please don't expect them to snap out of it or just get over it, the healing process doesn't work like that. They are not being dramatic or silly, nor is it something they have control over.  Be patient, help them to ease their anxiety and fear by using their senses.  Smelling the smells around them, feeling the breeze on their skin. Noticing the texture of their shirt, the temperature, identifying 5 sounds around them or 5 blue or round or soft things in their immediate environment. This reconnects them to their body and the present moment and helps to calm their response.

Triggers are unique to the individual and can change over time.  After I first had J's affair confirmed, anything relating to infidelity or happy relationships and romance triggered me. It made me aware just how prevalent the theme of infidelity is in literature, in movies and on tv, in songs.  It was so incredibly painful and physically distressing.  My favourite show was The Big Bang Theory and I've never watched it again as it became a very strong trigger for me. At one stage I was unable to even watch ads for it. While I was at the hospital with J, he was texting his lady friend and asking her to sing 'Soft kitty' (from Big Bang) to him and now the song and the betrayal are firmly entwined in my mind. Shopping at Woolworths was another trigger and it took me 18 months to be able to step foot in there. Such simple things that are harmless yet can serve as triggers for emotional and psychological pain in addition to the physiological response.  Slowly, slowly getting better. It's not an easy or pleasant road to walk but what can you do other that keep walking forward and turning your face to the light....
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Long before the chaos and carnage I was always reading and researching. My health was one focus area, as was the relationship between diet and mental health, and nature and mental health.  Now, all of that previous reading is paying off as I find myself studying these very things at university. It is interesting to me just how my life, beliefs and behaviours are being reflected in my university studies. I meditated, did yoga, practiced mindflness, journalled, expressed myself creatively and connected purposefully with nature.  The research shows the importance of these very things in the promotion of personal wellbeing and maintaining mental health.  These practices are used to treat anxiety, stress and other mental health issues. They promote and support recovery from trauma and are frequently used with individuals who have PTSD. 

Next week I attend two professional development sessions on Solastalgia.  As mentioned above Solastalgia is a mental health issue that relates to anxiety about our environment.  I'll be interested to see what is covered in these sessions as most of my reading has related to the benefit of spending time in green and blue space. My garden and trees (green space) were a source of great healing and solace for me, and there were times that I lay beneath the trees or on the lawn to soothe myself or even sleep. Some nights I was so scared inside the house I lay on the lawn in the front yard because I felt deeply the comforting presence of the trees, whilst also knowing that I could run unhindered if I needed to.  I miss those trees with an aching intensity that has barely abated. There are trees here but they are not mine.

The Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is a concept that has long resonated with me.  Going out into the forest and nature and spending time 'bathing', and relaxing is considered to be an important part of people's wellbeing. This is supported by empirical evidence which says that 2 hours per week in nature has significant benefits on our physiological and mental health.  Blue zones such as the beach are an option to green space. As part of a holistic approach to therapy I would like to include nature exposure in my sessions either through a garden or natural environments. I dream of having a walled garden to serve as a physical green space for therapy, whilst also being a physical representation of the Sacred Garden. In the shamanic traditions the sacred garden was used as a vehicle for connecting individuals with their internal landscapes and their wise self.  It also created a safe emotional space for clients to enter. My niece does equine therapy out in a paddock and it is marvelous for her.....but that is a whole other story.

Take time outside this week lovelies.  Whether it's a walk in a park, digging in your garden or a visit to the beach.  Let your spirit soak in it and come home refreshed and recharged.



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