Switching Career Paths after a Trauma

I have English degrees. Maybe you gathered that from my writing. And I love creating new worlds in my novels and sharing my poetry with you. But both sides of my brain have always been hard at work. I haven’t figured out the magical marketing combination to write full-time, and poetry, even the best and greatest poetry, doesn’t have a huge audience.

So, I was working in IT in addition to writing when I was attacked. But here’s the thing about IT work, no one calls you unless things are already broken and they are upset about it. And it doesn’t matter if you had anything at all to do with the breaking. Whoever answers the phone gets the full force of anxiety, aggravation, and sometimes anger. And after my attack, I couldn’t handle the noise of it all–constant phone ringing, constant talking–or the people who were taking their frustrations out on me. On top of that, I worked with toxic people who had already given me every reason to leave before my attack.

So, my decision wasn’t difficult. I already knew I would rather be dead than spend another minute with PTSD at that job. My blood pressure dropped twenty points in a week after I quit. The job was literally killing me.

The difficult part was finding the energy to explore alternate career paths. I felt like my life was over, and I spent days, weeks, and months hiding from noise and everyone. But I learned new things about myself. I was no longer squeamish after going through hell and no longer so empathetic that I cried with everyone. I could do hard things now. The premed path I almost took before looked possible now.

I started talking about going back to school, prepared to justify it and fight for myself. But I didn’t have to. My family and friends and random acquaintances all showered me in encouragement and convinced me I could succeed before I began. One of the things I wish I had known before was the power of “and”. We ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, like it’s just one thing. I started asking my kids, “And what else?” I was already an author, an IT worker, and a volunteer rescue officer. Becoming a doctor, author, artist isn’t really a stretch.

I’m in my third semester back to school now for a biochemistry degree with a premed concentration. It cuts into my writing time, but I am not giving it up. And now my scifi novel game will be next level. You’ve probably noticed that my poetry has a science flavor as well. I’ve found metaphors for daily life in the principles of chemistry and biology. I don’t view art and science as mutually exclusive, and I am lucky to live in a community that adores science-y art.

If your career isn’t working after a trauma, I’d advise you to quit and explore what you almost did instead. It’s changed my life for the better.

Books That Helped After My Attack

So, October is domestic violence awareness month. And I’m a survivor. I want to spend the month telling you what worked for me. Today it’s all about the books.

I had a difficult time focusing after my attack while living with PTSD. Don’t get me wrong–it took a long time for me to get well enough to read anything. But here are the books that made an impact–both fiction and nonfiction.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. This was the first book I read after my attack. And I loved it. It described perfectly what was happening with my body. And the author has decades of experience treating trauma and discussed the nuances of which treatments offered what benefits. It made me feel like I was responding normally to what happened to me, when most of the people I was close to were treating me like I was crazy. It prompted me to seek trauma therapy that really helped me move forward.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I am lucky. I am not only an author. I have friends pushing me to succeed in every area of my life, and I have started back on the journey to med school. (Move over, Michael Crichton and Andy Weir.) Gladwell taught me that success is not only effort. It’s opportunity. Not succeeding immediately is normal. Tenacity and shining moments of dumb luck are what creates success. It’s a book that might help you reframe your journey and pick yourself up.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This one was a beautifully written memoir from a broken woman who dealt with her trauma as I wanted to. She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and was candid about the moments that get one thinking, “I’d like to walk thousands of miles in the wilderness now. Solo.” I like people who are broken, beautiful, and remade.

The Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs. It might be a trigger for some. The main character, Anna, is a survivor. And Briggs did an amazing job of capturing how trauma stays with us, while also showing Anna growing. I needed this urban fantasy tale of recovery. It gave me hope that someone could love the broken. And I met a man who loves me as I am, who didn’t bat an eyelash at my noise cancelling headphones on our first date. But I had to believe it was possible first.

Karen Marie Moning’s Kingdom of Shadow and Light. This is the end of the Fever series. And I adore Moning’s treatment of traumatized characters and her let’s-be-real author notes. I cried when I read the afterword. Honestly, it did more for me than the book, and I loved the book. Moning had major health issues that she thought might have impacted her ability to write at all. And she fought despair and stubbornly continued until she was able to finish the book. I worried I’d never write again after my attack. So, I know her despair. I’ve published two books in these two years, and I have two novels in the works now and a new poetry book awaiting my editing. I cried with her, and she didn’t know it. If you write (or wrote) and think someone might have beaten your art out of you, I think you should hang on and not let go of what you love without a fight.

I hope the books help you or your friends. As Moning would say, stay to the light.