“Trauma Is Really Strange” by Steve Haines, art by Sophie Standing

book cover

Recommended to me by: boxofdelights

This is a graphic “novel” (although it’s non-fiction) or comic, or graphic medicine book. Each page is divided into panels with drawings and word bubbles, sometimes with additional explanations in tiny red print at the bottom of the page.

This is a solid introduction to the nervous system and how it responds to stress, including the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and Porges’ polyvagal theory, all in a friendly reassuring format. Trauma is defined as events that exceed our ability to cope with them. Healing is focused on being present and tolerating intense internal sensations, rather than reworking the past or experiencing big emotional catharsis. The goal is to tone down the reflexes of fight-or-flight and dissociation.

“Healing trauma is about meeting the body. In trauma, old parts of the brain change how the body works. By paying attention to feelings in the body and learning to self-regulate we can reboot the brain.”

The material is familiar to me, with a different emphasis than I’m used to, perhaps because the book is British.

The people in the drawings almost all come across as male. A few have more detail and come across as female. The people do have a wide range of skin colors, which is great. There is a drawing of a baby being born out of a disembodied blob – apparently it was too hard to draw a whole person giving birth. There was a surprisingly ableist use of “blindly” that brought me up short.

The book covers a lot of ground in a clear way. Of course it can’t cover everything. At the same time, I would have liked to see a disclaimer that everyone’s experience with trauma is different, and everyone’s healing path is different. Near the end, there is an entire page dedicated to Trauma Release Exercises (TRE), and the whole book feels skewed toward people for whom that’s the answer.

Yes, it’s less neat and reassuring to say, “This works for some people, not all,” but it is more honest, and more kind to those for whom it is all more complicated.  The last thing a traumatized person needs is to hear, “This works for everyone,” when that thing doesn’t work for them.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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