Who you might have been 10



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For all of us, who we are now is a result of our experiences in life. Of the choices we have made, of the choices that were made for us, and of the things that happened when there was no choice at all.

How can you tell who you might have been?

What would have made a difference?

I often wonder who I might have been.

What would she be like?

How would life have been?

I know it would have been different. And just accepting that has been a big hurdle.

For over 40 years I lived with the mantra that I was ‘lucky’. That my past hadn’t affected me.

But then there is that old saying that, in my case, proved to be true.

And that is, “you can run, but you can’t hide”.

Of course we all have our fair share of ‘what ifs?’, just like in the movie Sliding Doors.

But when brain chemistry is involved it becomes something different to synchronicity.

It’s not just fate.

It becomes something that needs to be processed and understood. At least it did for me. Understanding has had a major impact on my recovery. Understanding the psychology and the physiology. Understanding that childhood trauma has changed the wiring of my brain.

And accepting that. Not fighting that. There was a reason. And that made it okay.

Apparently I have a high IQ. But I know now that hyper vigilance and the effects of trauma were always going to limit my academic abilities. I have maintained my emotional intelligence though. And I am more proud of my EQ than I ever would be of my IQ.

Hyper vigilance is an abnormal, heightened awareness of the environment and detection of threats. It’s living your life on ‘high alert’. It is constant. It is unrelenting. It is exhausting.

It is a common thought pattern of those who have been abused. Of those who have experienced trauma.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have a ranking system for degrees of damage caused by trauma. It is dependent on the age the trauma begins and the length of time it is sustained. Trauma apparently has the greatest effect on children because their brains have not fully developed.

And trauma disturbs brain development. (Which is why being told to ‘get over it’ or ‘look at the bright side’ isn’t too helpful).

For more detailed information regarding the damage which occurs to the physiology of the brain a great FACT Sheet is available on the ASCA website.

This is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the links between trauma and mental illness (particularly self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression).

Also in this article it sites research which establishes that there is a 113% (!!) increase in the rate of limbic (the emotional brain) abnormalities for children who experience a combination of abuse. By its very nature sexual abuse often also includes physical abuse and emotional abuse and neglect.

Whilst this article is written within the context of abuse, it also applies to trauma. And trauma can include so many things. It can be being involved in or witnessing an accident, being hurt, being involved in a natural disaster, war, experiencing the loss of a significant adult either through absence or death, lack of attachment as infants and many other circumstances, both known and unknown.

Of course this is very dependent on individual circumstances. But what is certain is this: We must look after our children. All children. We must protect our children. All children.

Our children deserve to grow to be who they were meant to be. That is a right. A right that should not be taken away by adults who perpetrate physical, emotional or sexual abuse against children. Because it doesn’t stop when these children grow up. It never stops. But the great thing about having all this information and starting the conversations like the one we are having now is that things can change. With the support of trained well-informed professionals recovery is possible. We cannot delete memories or change the past but it can find its’ rightful place. It can stay exactly there. In the past.  No longer in the present. No longer to be carried into the future.

So the aim of this article and this conversation is to encourage those we care about to seek help.

It is never too late to seek help.

So, back to the original question. Who might I have been? Who might you have been?

I have no idea of who I might have been. But I do know this.

I have no desire to be anyone other than who I am now. I love the life I have now.

I have fought hard for it.


Would you be someone else if you could? Or are you happy as you are?

Karen Synnott

My passions include attempting to reduce stigma around mental health issues. I do this by writing and speaking about my own personal story and experience living with a chronic mental illness. My aim is to give a message of hope and support to the many others who also experience and/or know someone with similar issues. I also hope that, by hearing my story, there may be those out there who are encouraged to seek help so that they too may manage or recover from this illness. I have started writing a blog which can be found at www.writestrong.blogspot.com.au and I enjoy public speaking on this topic.

  1. My friend and I often say we made a choice with what we knew then. Our journey of circumstances have taken us over many different roads. At the time it’s not easy but later some good comes be it right or wrong. Just keep laughing!!!

  2. we are who we are now – accept and love that person – don’t worry about what might have been. I love who I have become, despite some pretty horrid circumstances – they made me who I am

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