Childhood trauma | A Busselton man shares his experience

Busselton resident Martin Dearlove shares his experience of childhood trauma and why its important to seek early intervention.
Busselton resident Martin Dearlove shares his experience of childhood trauma and why its important to seek early intervention.

Childhood trauma left untreated can have devastating effects later in life and it can be more complicated for people who experienced trauma when they were aged under three years.

Busselton resident Martin Dearlove knows to well about the impact of trauma having been hospitalised with horrific injuries when he was two years old.

While he has no real memories of the event, it did shape how he developed as a person, and led to a breakdown later in life.

Mr Dearlove recently spoke on US radio show Once a Nurse, Always a Nurse about the importance of a nurses role in childhood trauma.

"Leanne Meier approached me about a month ago to ask me if I would be her first international guest to talk about trauma in the nursing profession," he said.

"She knew of my background through LinkedIn, particularly around care and trauma for children.

"One of the reasons I agreed to do the show was because I experienced trauma when I was under two years old, I was in hospital from nasty injuries and I was in hospital for quite a while.

Effects of childhood trauma 

"It was in the UK in the 1970's when as a child your parents were not allowed to stay with you, that has since changed because they now realise the impact of attachment on children.

"For any child, going into hospital is scary, especially when you go somewhere and you cannot see your parents, my parents could only visit at specific times.

"With the type of injuries I had at 20 months old I would have disassociated from the whole experience, which would mean I had no memory of it, and I did have no memory of it."

Mr Dearlove said in those days, people did not have a good understanding of trauma and that he suffered post traumatic stress disorder without knowing it.

He said because of brain science, it was now recognised that the first 1,000 days of a person's life was critical for brain development.

"I had post traumatic stress disorder by the time I was two years old, then my father died when I was four years old, very little was spoken about it was a very traditional upbringing," he said.

"There were no secrets, I knew that it happened but nobody talked about it, as a child I did not have any therapy and we now know what happens, that trauma does not go away it goes on into adulthood.

"Children can have night terrors, I had food issues because I was force fed by the nurses and I have now been able to make sense of this through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing."

According to Psychology Today, EMDR is a form of psychotherapy used to treat people with PTSD to diminish negative feelings associated with a traumatic event.

Rather than focus on the event, EMDR focuses more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms that resulted from the event by guiding a person's eye movements side to side.

"My childhood was formed around not knowing what happened, not being able to feel or experience what happened and having no therapy," he said.

"I grew up in a safe environment and was able to build resilience but ultimately that trauma had to come out somewhere and as an adult it came out at different times.

"It steadily happened over two to three years, through a period of prolonged negative experiences, then it was a jack-in-the-box effect and I became really unwell."

When Mr Dearlove was in his 40's he sought out help, saying more should be done for children who have been through the health system or were caught up in domestic violence.

"Domestic violence is a very big issue in Australia and children are effected by it the same as being in a war zone, that is the impact it has on the brain," he said.

"The same as being a witness or being involved in a really big car crash."

Mr Dearlove said children needed to have an accurate story told to them about what happened early on so they could make sense of it and process the information.

"If you cannot process it you have mythical thinking, which was a little bit what happened to me, I knew I was in an accident but I grew up with a narrative that was not accurate."

PTSD and complex trauma

The Blue Knot Foundation - National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma is an Australian organisation which works to empower recovery and build resilience for the one in four Australian adults who experienced the impacts of childhood trauma.

The foundation's president Dr Cathy Kezelman AM said there was no hierarchy of trauma, and what was a traumatic experience for one person may not be to another depending on factors such as age and support.

Dr Kezelman said childhood trauma could include sexual, physical and emotional abuse, as well as, neglect and growing up in domestic violence situations, and other adverse childhood experiences.

"These include having a parent with a mental illness, a parent who misuses substances, different forms of grief, loss and separation, as well as, the compounding issues of poverty and marginalisation," she said.

"Childhood trauma was often interpersonal, extreme and repeated and because it occurred when a child's brain was growing and developing it could potentially have profound impacts.

"With the right support, people can and do recover."

Dr Kezelman said sometimes when people grew up with abuse and violence, they might not recognise what happened was abusive or that it had made an impact, and was still impacting them now.

"Many people discount the effects of emotional abuse, for example being humiliated or put down, but we are only now as a society understanding its often profound impacts such as with bullying," she said.

"Trauma from childhood especially when perpetrated by a person/s the child should have been able to trust and depend on, can have lots of impacts on a person's sense of self, self esteem, relationships including intimate relationships, mental and physical health, ability to complete an education or hold down a job.

"It is important for people who have experienced PTSD and complex trauma to know there is help and support available.

It is important for people who have experienced PTSD and complex trauma to know there is help and support available.

The Blue Knot Foundation president Dr Cathy Kezelman AM

"Counselling and psychological treatments can help people with PTSD, which can be assisted by medication, on occasions."

Dr Kezelman said PTSD was a defined set of symptoms including avoidance of reminders of the trauma, which could include a place or person.

She said people could also experience issues with arousal, anxiety, being easily startled; feeling emotionally numb; intrusions of prior trauma such as flashbacks, nightmares or sleep disturbance and impacted on thought processes.

"Complex trauma can but does not always include all of the symptoms of PTSD but additionally affects, the formation of a core sense of self, identity, sense of connection and belonging, sense of shame, issues with trust, feeling safe, challenges relating emotions and forming and maintaining relationships," she said.

"People who have experienced complex trauma can be supported through the value of positive relationships with friends, family, partners as well as counsellors and therapists - people with whom they feel safe, are believed and who validate their feelings.

"Each survivor is unique and will have a different path to recovery.

"Survivors need to understand that recovery is possible, as is the importance of holding hope for the future."

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