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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog

PTSD: LEARNING TO HEAL

My guest blogger today is Eileen Schuh, whose trilogy is about a girl who undergoes a tragedy and develops, then overcomes, PTSD. Writing has always been part of Eileen Schuh’s own healing process. Her YA novels are at such venues as the North Slave Young Offenders Facility and the St. Paul Alternate Education Centre’s outreach libraries, which proves she has indeed been called on to overcome her traumatic past and undertake amazing deeds.

By Eileen Schuh

When she was thirteen, consumed by grief and desperate to belong, she ran with The Traz biker gang. She was attracted to the bikers’ wealth, power, big bikes and brute strength and thought belonging would make those admirable traits hers. Young Katrina Buckhold discovered too late that the cost of a gang membership is not intelligence or money, but violence and what happened in that metal shed on the cold Alberta prairie will haunt her forever. That is Book I of my young adult BackTracker series, THE TRAZ.

Although not everyone carries guilt out of their traumatic events as Katrina does, some do—warranted or not. In Book II, FATAL ERROR, Katrina must deal with her guilt and all the other social, emotional, and legal consequences of her time with The Traz. She, along with the others involved, must sort through guilt, grief, blame and betrayal.

What’s left for Katrina to deal with in FIREWALLS, the third and latest release in this series, is her post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—the nightmares, the sleeplessness, the dangerous behaviours. She carries a heavy weight—an inability to trust and to love. She is hurting and angry—and wants to be. To feel otherwise, in her mind, is to betray the memory of the victim of the gang slaying. To fall in love, to move forward, to enjoy life would be giving tacit approval to those who murdered.

The only thing on her mind is revenge.

That it takes more than three-quarters of the novel for her to be ready to accept healing is highly reflective of many with post traumatic stress. This refusal to deal with the pain in a positive way is symptomatic of PTSD and should not be judged harshly. Those with loved ones (or employees) with PTSD, must remember that fact and not give up for, as FIREWALLS makes very clear, strong interpersonal relationships are the most important factor in healing. All the counselling and medication in the world won’t help if the sufferers don’t have loving people to entice them to release their pain, seize their futures, and become productive members of their communities.

It wasn’t just the imminent threat of losing her job that encouraged Katrina to finally take that first step toward healing. Nor was it solely the thought of losing the man she’d loved. It was the promise of a supportive family on the other side of the pain, a secure job, a bright future—a budding friendship—that together ignited her will to heal.

What happened in that metal shed will haunt Katrina forever, but by the end of FIREWALLS she is no longer suffering PTSD. Too many victims of trauma believe they can never heal, but they can. To heal doesn’t mean forgetting what happened, nor does it mean wiping out the emotions that accompanied the event. It doesn’t mean never again wishing things had been different or never again feeling guilty. It doesn’t mean never having to battle depression or suffer through sleepless nights.

I consider Katrina healed because she is now able to establish stable interpersonal relationships. She is able to contribute to her community. Katrina is no longer directing all her energy to past events, but rather is able to make plans for her future.
She will always hurt, always remember, always be remorseful about what happened. However, because she was able to accept that the past happened, is unchangeable and is no longer happening, she will also become one of the world’s most powerful and heroic women, who saves the lives of many and battles international criminals with passion and persistence.

Traumatic pasts come in all sizes and shapes, but both the pain of PTSD and the healing process share commonality no matter the cause. I was a victim of child abuse, yet found Katrina’s story my story, and her healing, mine.

Those of us with painful pasts would do well to define our healing in a way that makes sense to us individually. Only after we decide what it is that we want to see happen to our pain can we take steps toward easing it. To uncover that definition, we ought to ponder what we’d like our healed self to look and act like, and what needs to happen within us and to us so that we can once again enjoy life, contribute to our communities and look forward to the future.

Who knows what amazing deeds we are yet to be called on to undertake? To all those with PTSD, I say—trauma may have stolen your past, don’t let it steal your future because the universe needs you.

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