Secondary Trauma

Secondary Trauma

Please forgive me for being emotionally raw in this post. I usually try to reign it in and focus my attention more to the point. But there is something I need to address that calls for some rawness.

In 2010 I started professional photography full time. My mind was filled with ideas of being in galleries and hosting workshops and writing books. I didn’t entirely understand then what I was building for myself.

I knew I wanted a career that was more than a job. I wanted a career based around community and inspiration, around passion. I felt that I was meant to do more than to create for myself, so I slowly began down a journey that lead me to the artist I try to be now. That is, someone who creates for myself and for others equally, who recognizes that my business, my career, my art is meant for more than just me.

In that process I opened myself up to a world that I never expected to be in; to a role of therapist. I don’t know a better way to put it, and I don’t want to actually liken myself to someone who has trained for that difficult job. But, everyday I am asked by strangers to take on their trauma and pain. Every day. Through social media, through emails, through letters.

By sharing my work openly and honestly, and as vulnerably as I can, I am inundated with the heartbreak of those who connect to my work. The images I create are not fun, and are not meant to be. They are dark, some. They are introspective. They (I hope) make us think.

And sometimes people connect with that in a way that feels very deep and personal. If that is you, thank you. Thank you for connecting with what is in my mind and heart on that level. That kind of interaction bridges the art I hoped to make with the art I am making.

But there is a side to this that I never talk about except to my closest friends. It is the trauma that I also have to work through in listening to other people’s trauma.

I’m almost embarrassed to write this.

I suffer a lot from compassion. I take on the anxieties/hurts/worries of people around me very easily. And over the years, the constant intake of other people’s troubles fills me with troubles. I am burdened. But I hate admitting it.

And I don’t necessarily want to change it. I believe I am strong enough to take on that responsibility. I want it. My greatest desire in this world is to be valuable to others, and I believe this is a way that I do that.

But it does hurt. From the dozens of people who have written to me to say they want to kill themselves, to the many more who say they are depressed or misunderstood. It hurts. I hurt because you do.

But more than that, I hurt because under all of these emails and letters is the plea – help me.

And I want to help, so much. But at some point I cannot take on the responsibility of healing. I can only provide the art that connects with you in a way that awakens something.

At what point is it too much to bear? When do I choose to stop taking on the trauma of others? Now? Later? Never? How much is too much? I genuinely don’t know.

Since becoming a foster mother I’ve had to put a lot of things on hold – non-essential emails being one of them. I used to respond to any email no matter what within 24 hours, and I was very good at it. But the emails are too many, and my time is so limited (I only work reliably 15 hours per week). It pains me that someone wrote to me this morning berating me for not responding to their (literal dozen) personal emails, but at some point you draw lines.

I guess my line is that if someone is in true need, I will be there for them. But sometimes, you have to let go of the expectation you know others have of you so that you can hold healthier expectations for yourself. To keep yourself healthy. To keep yourself going.

I fluctuate between extreme gratitude in the knowledge that it is a rare and special thing to connect on this level through art. I am privileged to have this relationship to so many. I receive many emails from people telling me that they feel they know me. In some ways, you do. My heart is in all that I do and say. It is in everything I manifest. And so you do know me.

And now you know the trauma I carry. Please forgive me for being emotionally raw about this. And thank you for letting me put this here in the open.

All love,

3 thoughts on “Secondary Trauma

  1. This is a really important subject you’ve written about, Brooke – taking on other people’s trauma. It is wonderful that people feel seen through your art and reach out; but I also think it’s an immense burden to hear/read/witness other people’s pain. And some of that pain is just too much. I hope you can find a good balance that works for you and allows you to feel open but also protected (as much as you can be, anyway). Perhaps motherhood also encourages an even greater sense of boundaries, for if our own cup is empty we can’t give to the little people who need us most.

  2. Huge hugs on this Brooke. I understand, on some level, what you’re talking about in trying to help people coming out of the place I came from. It’s a difficult topic with no easy solution. <3

  3. Dear Brooke!
    I have read “SECONDARY TRAUMA” by May 1st.

    First and foremost, you are an amazingly talented artist, a wonderful soul who helps countless of people around the world to stand by themselves and come out in the world with their art.

    I understand your pain.

    As I see it, it is very difficult when you want to help all people in need. It is ideally loving and empathetic, unfortunately we cannot help all people no matter how much we desire. You need peace and balance. I do not know any other person who is as welcoming and giving as you. I wish I was in your presence so I could heal you. I am a Reikihealer and I would like to distant heal you if you want. I want to do it as a beautiful gift from my heart to yours. But only if you wish, and otherwise I send you my loving thoughts.

    Promise to take care of you! Love and kind hugs from Mejbritt, MejFoto in Denmark

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