Trauma here, there, and everywhere

In our lives, we experience little and big traumas.  Some impact our lives without disabling us; others are life changing.  The impacts of last week’s horrors in Paris are impossible to predict.  But it goes without saying that for the survivors and their family members,  their lives will forever be affected in ways that are unbelievably difficult to comprehend.  With this in-mind, I’m sharing one from the archives.

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Some of you have had some of the worst traumas possible happen to you. Maybe you were kidnapped, raped, held hostage by terrorists, accidentally killed your best friend, watched comrades die and killed others in combat. etc.   If so, it’s no surprise if you have nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, etc. We call these reactions to horrible life events PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Do any of you have symptoms that seem somewhat similar to those mentioned above? Maybe you start feeling anxious and irritable in certain situations and have no idea why. Maybe you’re not having panic attacks, but it becomes more and more difficult to leave the house and you feel nauseous and a bit dizzy when you do. Maybe you start having frequent headaches and stomach aches, even when you’re not sick. Maybe you have frequent bad dreams but can’t remember the details.

You can ignore or dismiss your feelings by telling yourself that they’re “normal” and “everybody feels these ways sometimes.” Best-case scenario, you muscle through whatever the hell is going on with you and the feelings go away.

The problem is that these bad feelings continue to reside within you, and sometimes, likely during another challenging moment, they can pop-up and become difficult to manage. We call this being “triggered, ” and you’re left with choices to make. Do you keep pushing the feelings away? Or do you take a closer look at the hard things you’ve experienced, in hopes of figuring them out and feeling better?

If you chose the latter and slow down to start digging around in your life’s card catalog, difficult feelings and memories will probably come up. Maybe you broke your leg once and had a bad experience with a doctor. Or maybe your child got really sick a few years ago and you feel on-edge every time he coughs. Perhaps you lost your job because your company was sold or “reorganizing” and finding a new job was hell on wheels. Maybe your parents died two months apart and you miss them desperately. Or maybe you foreclosed on your house five years ago. In and of themselves, they might not be the worst things that ever happen or just a difficult, but “normal” part of life. But if you’re triggered, the combination of the traumas can be difficult to manage.

I know these feelings well. A few years ago, I was going through some short-term challenges that left me feeling a bit out of whack and vulnerable. Then one day, my wife pointed out that I had become a particularly challenging “front seat driver.” I spent a ton of time sitting on the edge of my seat, almost breathless, being the way overly vigilant co-pilot. It wasn’t getting better. If anything it was getting worse. And it was starting to wear on her.

Since I had no idea why I was acting this way, I blew her off at first, not wanting to acknowledge her experience. But when I stopped and thought about it, I realized just how anxious a passenger I am. I also realized that my anxiety included “mini flashbacks” and bad dreams. All of this was the direct result of a horrible choice I made as a teen. You know the story: 17-year-old boys, cars, speed, alcohol, etc. I was the passenger in a bad accident, had severe head injuries and am epileptic as a result. (I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but I’m writing this on National Epilepsy Awareness Day.)   Every time I ride in a car, particularly in certain locations, my PTSD is triggered.

I’m not alone. As we walk through life, the difficult things we all experience accumulate and affect our decision-making and how we feel.  Fortunately, for the most part, we’re able to manage how we feel. A regular regimen of the self-help techniques I always mention (e.g. exercise, yoga, meditation, writing in a journal, etc.) can help.

With more serious traumas or “smaller” traumas that add up and become more and more difficult to manage, you’ll need more comprehensive help to begin your healing process. Of course, there are numerous different paths to this healing, talk therapy being just one of them. (Obviously, I’m a bit biased!) What leaves me particularly hopeful about talk therapy helping us heal from severe trauma is that there are some cutting-edge techniques that are bringing positive results (often more quickly and comprehensively) for many people who are affected by trauma.

If you want to know a bit more about how others and I are helping people heal from traumatic experiences, I encourage you to email me or give me a call.

2 Responses to Trauma here, there, and everywhere
  1. Katie
    December 3, 2015 | 10:19 am

    Love the self-prospection. I am thankful for your sideline banter during the games. Without it, all I’d have is Dr. Greg yelling “attack” from behind me.

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