Noriko is an Art Therapist based in Montreal, Quebec.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Open, curious and creative.
What words would others use to describe you?
Fun, compassionate and engaged.
What helps you feel the safest and the most grounded?
Nature, animals and a sense of connection with my loved ones.
What is trauma?
I believe trauma is stored in the body and mind as remnants of what we experienced earlier in life. Trauma can show up in various shapes and sizes at different times. When I did my second Master’s degree in couples and family therapy, I learned how to describe trauma as showing up in different shapes using visual imagery. In my work as a therapist with couples now I tend to see trauma come up both within the individuals as well as between the two members of a couple (it is invisible of course, but I get images in my mind related to the trauma within and between my clients and can then use it to inform the therapy). There could be a heaviness in the air – for example – between a couple, or different areas of trauma held within each person’s body.
With your definition of trauma in mind, how did trauma impact you? How has it shown up and been carried in your own body?
During childbirth, my mother was asked to choose her or me, because I was doing unwell inside of her womb and she was likely going to die. She chose me. The doctor was able to take me out of her, but I was very sick. I had to have an operation before I was one year old in order to stay alive. Throughout my childhood, I was often sick. I was told I was going to die young. I was in constant pain up until the age of 22, at which point I had a major operation. I could not go to university because of the timeline of my operation, and I could not work. I was in bed for one month after that operation, and then when I was discharged from the hospital I was told to not move. I had very limited interactions with friends and family during that time.
I know – through my work in the field of Psychology and especially through my work with adolescents – being exploratory, going out and connecting with peers during our 20s is incredibly important for our development. I experienced a big loss of freedom at that age.
Today, how do you carry all of this trauma and loss? I am especially curious about the medical trauma experience.
It took a really long time for me to heal from that experience, and also for me to realize that I had even experienced a serious medical trauma. Certain parts of my body started communicating with me over time. I had forgotten about the severity of the trauma, but my body tried to remind me. Before my undergraduate degree, I had another operation on my eye and actually became half blind. It was quite severe. I had another operation just last year. My body has undergone so many operations and a lot of the trauma is still held.
How have you grown into the amazing woman you are today through all of this pain?Has the pain been a teacher to you in any way?
Reflecting back, I can recognize in a really weird way that having one moth of stillness and doing nothing after the operation in my early 20s was – in a way – a luxury. Time is a luxury. I will never have that kind of uninterrupted time again. It was in some way like a silent retreat. I was not able to speak because I had a tube in my mouth for that month.
That time often comes up for me. It was traumatic, yes, but it was also a precious time. I had no choice but to be present during that time. I came to realize, through watching the trees and mountains through my window, how many lessons there are to be learned from nature. I have always appreciated nature, but I really learned through observing the trees at that time that everything changes and that change is the natural order of things. Through nature, I got to gain a new perspective on myself. I became more okay with being myself and I became much more mindful. I remind myself and my clients all the time that shiny days always come back. We cannot control the weather, but we can live in ways in which we are honouring and appreciating and making the most of the weather that is here.
How did this learning (the noticing and appreciation of constant change) support you?
Through my experience I have come to be more patient and respectful with my clients in my work as a therapist. I can respect my client’s goals and how they want to go about their therapy rather than imposing goals onto them. I can allow things to be as they are.
I guess a common theme in my life has been letting go of control. I learned this early because I had to, sadly and thankfully. I now have the ability to just be with others through their own suffering, knowing that things will change. I have learned not to impose and not to force change. There is nothing to fix or change in the core part of each individual.
From where you sit right now, having the understanding that you have now, what would you want to offer to baby Noriko?
I really don’t like attention; that’s one of the reasons I try to stay away from the camera. I had too much attention from doctors and family members from the beginning. Lots of people wanted to provide care and attention to baby Noriko; maybe I didn’t need more attention or care. Perhaps I would offer baby Noriko the opposite. I might offer her some solitude. Chosen solitude.
Do you have anything else that you’d like to add to this conversation? Or alternatively something you’d like to take away from here that stands out to you?
I truly appreciate how you’ve dedicated your time to this project. I didn’t know how much you’ve been doing, and this sounds like a lifelong project and emotional investment. I really admire that.
My piece is that I truly notice thatI can relate to people who have gone through or are currently suffering through medical trauma. My clients often tell me, “Wow, finally someone gets me,” which is an honour. I am one of the rare humans who can help people who went through serious medical trauma. I remind myself of that, and that what happened is of value to others who have suffered like I have.