… The words from a 12 year old beginning a conversation she wanted to have with me about her sense that she is ‘not normal’.
Her reasons? “I can see things” and “I hear voices”.
It turned out that the ‘things’ she sees and hears are all memories of moments in her life: some of them from when she was 3-4. As she described to me in explicit detail one of the things she ‘sees’, it was a word for word (yet with even greater detail) description of an event that I had been informed of by a social worker and one of her parents before I started working with her a while ago.
It turns out that she also sees the face of someone who hurt her a lot when she was younger.
She also ‘sees’ police.
It also turns out that each of the things she ‘sees’ has with it at least 1 very strong emotion. Confusion, shame, overwhelm, guilt and always terror.
We had a conversation about PTSD. She brought it up, and told me she has it. She had seen a program about people who have it and realise that a lot of what she struggled with was the same. She had just missed a few crucial points about what PTSD is, and so those we cleared up:-
- PTSD is not like ADHD or Autism, in that they are both life-long conditions that people learn to live with. PTSD does not need to be life-long, and there are many, many people who have already recovered from it.
- One of the elements of PTSD is how your memories get messed with; you can feel like you have lost a bit of control over what happens in your mind. Flashbacks, intrusive memories and nightmares are different ways the brain tries to keep processing and making sense of what happened (even years after the experience) and are common experiences for people whilst still on their recovery journey.
- Situations, sounds, smells etc that remind us of the experience that may have happened years before, can still make us feel like we did back then, but if we don’t understand they are linked then we can seem really weird and wonder why it is we might freak out at something other people don’t.
This all made complete sense to this child. She understood herself a lot more and no longer felt like a ‘freak’.
There are many children who are struggling with ‘seeing’ things or having what sound like strange experiences ‘hearing voices’ etc.
I’ve heard of 4 more in schools just this week.
If we as the adults around them (parents or other professionals) ignore or belittle their testimony, dismiss it or tell them to ‘tell the truth’ just because it sounds a bit weird to us, or we think that ‘what happened was a long time ago now‘ then we block the child back into their trauma and do nothing to help them heal. Our fear at what we perceive as ‘not normal’ shuts them down. We confirm to them that:-
they are weird,
they are on their own,
they are not understood and
there is no hope for change.
Hearing and seeing things for a child who has been through one or more of the different types of trauma at any point in their life, and may have PTSD, is totally ‘normal’.
If we don’t know this we can’t help them, and some might say, that in our own ignorance of PTSD we may hurt them again.