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Psychedelics, sensitivity and trauma; oh my!

Updated: May 1

Welcome to my first official blog post!  I was inspired to write today about my personal experience with depression/anxiety and the healing journey I’ve had with psychedelics after listening to a regular podcasts on my rotation (Back From The Abyss, if you are looking for a smart and compassionate take on psychiatry and psychedelics).

The woman telling her story said she was “born scared of the world”.  I could deeply relate to this statement, and it made me think; could a new human be “born scared”?  Is this an inherent personality trait, to be anxious or depressed?  Or is it influenced by trauma or a combination of both?  What IS trauma and why do some people develop trauma responses while some seemingly don’t or cope in less destructive ways? These are obviously far reaching questions beyond the scope of a single blog post, but I’d like to offer a bit of my personal perspective.      

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an anxious person.  As a young child, I often felt irrationally fearful and inconsolable of the unknown, despite having two loving and attentive parents and no obvious or blatant known trauma in the early years of my childhood.  One particular memory at 5 years old has me being held patiently by my mother as a doctor tried to remove a cast from my arm.  Despite much reassurance and even demonstrations by the doctor and my mom that my skin wouldn’t be cut, I was terrified and unable to be convinced.  Eventually, they held me down to get the cast off.  To this day, I can still clearly remember the terror I felt.

My family fell apart a couple of years later and I became emotionally isolated.  Anxiety developed into depression under these conditions and I have come to realize this is what I identify as my trauma.  Not a war, not physical or sexual or verbal abuse, but a combination of an inherent sensitivity and circumstantial emotional isolation/neglect.  Without adequate adult emotional guidance, I internalized these experiences and it would take me until I was 40 years old to have the conscious awareness to begin connecting with and healing that lost part of myself.  Curiously however, my younger sister who was raised in the same house by the same parent, did not struggle nearly as much emotionally as I did.  As our adult relationship develops and we compare our childhood experiences, there are some similarities between us but what strikes me most is how differently we dealt with it internally.

The honest truth about my work with psychedelic medicines is that they did not “cure” the depression and anxiety, because I still tend to experience them, albeit they don’t have the hold on me that they once did.  That may not seem like a very hopeful statement for someone looking to explore this work, but what they did do is give me clarity about the root of my suffering and the space to develop tools to better manage it (social awareness and self regulation).  In essence, they opened up a spiritual realm for me that I didn’t have before, to see myself as not the center of the world, but as a small yet relevant and intertwined part of it.  This important awareness has helped me connect and engage in a more meaningful way, giving me hope, purpose and the will to live again.

What I find interesting in talking to people about potential trauma is that they generally downplay or simply don’t acknowledge that they could be affected it.  By definition in the Oxford dictionary, trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience”, which undeniably happens to every single human being.  The simple truth is, we all have experienced trauma in some respect, whether it be from our upbringing, a specific difficult event or the collective omnipresent influence of devastating world events and the extent that we are individually affected by these things varies greatly. Many of us are walking around with it shoved down in our unconscious, doing our best in the overburdened circumstances of an expectant society, with grief, anger and cynicism spilling out sideways and causing suffering for ourselves and everyone around us.  I personally believe all harmful behavior towards ourselves and others is caused by unresolved trauma and emotional disconnection.  Sometimes trauma is obvious, but as you can see from my personal examples, it can be subtle and unseen unless one knows what to look for and it really depends on how the individual processes their unique experience.

I believe it is an unhelpful and limiting fallacy in our society that trauma has to be a certain situation or measurement along a spectrum to be valid because we are all so unique and different, some more sensitive than others.  Even the term sensitivity has become an alienating word, implying weakness or lack of ability.  Something that might not hurt one person, may deeply hurt another and this is SO important to take into individual consideration as we try to help and understand each other.  As Dr. Gabor Mate says, “trauma isn’t what happens to us, it’s what happens inside us”.

My goal as a trauma informed individual in the psychedelic space is to inform and support folks around trauma, in order to have more compassion for ourselves and each other.  With constant news, social media and instantaneous access to any bit of information we could possibly ever want or need, how could we not be overwhelmed and overstimulated?  This is even more so for those of us who are highly sensitive.  It makes complete sense that we would unconsciously try to compartmentalize, disassociate and numb ourselves from the difficult feelings and circumstances we are constantly inundated with.  Psychedelics can help us have clarity and consciousness of this unseen realm, but it’s up to us individually to make meaningful, intentional change in our lives; this is the work of integration and personal growth, whether we are using psychedelics for that process or not.

If you’re reading this, thanks for being here.  We need each other on this challenging and beautiful journey.  I’m honored to hold space for these important conversations.  Please comment if you have any thoughts/input on these ideas or join me at one of the two integration circles I host monthly. 

Many blessings, until the next time we cross paths,


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Courtney, I can relate to this post so much. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing.

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