We’re normally really busy in the summer and this summer, I have to say, it’s not been too bad. You know, we’ve been able to go home at regular time mostly, sit down and enjoy a cup of tea on the deck after supper – that type of thing. And then labour day hit and it’s like someone flipped a switch and all hell broke loose. It’s been a rough weekend for many people across the province and it’s been a tough week in this neck of the woods. There are some things that we do as an organization that make us feel good about our role in the big scheme of things and like we are helping. Then there are some things we do professionally, that you know is important but it just feels like there is nothing good about it. It’s been mostly that kind of week.
Because of the circumstances we’ve spent a lot of time talking about trauma to a lot of people so it only makes sense to spend some time here talking about it too.
Trauma is something more people have become familiar with over the past while. You see the word used in advertising, articles, people use it when trying to describe an event or feelings. It was very much misunderstood for the longest time but like most things that involve the brain or psychology and related behaviours, it has benefited from all the research that has been going on over the past decade. We know a lot more now than we did even a few years ago.
As a general rule, being traumatized by an event and being victimized by an event are not the same thing. You can be a victim without being traumatized. Trauma is directly related to perception (among other things). For example; if a person feels like they were somehow responsible for what happened – such as a sex assault victim that feels responsible for the assault because she thinks it’s her fault for going to the party in the first place, they’re more likely to feel traumatized than someone who doesn’t feel responsible;
that they should have been able to prevent it – for example, the domestic violence victim who feels like they were responsible for being punched and choked because they know that their partner is angry when he gets home from work and they should have known better than to ask him a question right away, they’re more likely to be traumatized than someone who doesn’t feel like they could have prevented it;
that they should have seen it coming – for example, someone whose friend is in a dangerous or violent relationship and is killed by their partner and knew that things were not well and that she was scared and feels like she should have seen the warning signs that he was going to kill her, they’re more likely to feel traumatized;
or that they should have been able to protect themselves or others – for example, a dad whose son is abused by someone in the community who now feels that he has failed at his job to protect his kids from harm, is more likely to feel traumatized.
Regardless of the event itself (whether it be a break and enter, an assault or even a car accident), there are some things that happen in a person’s brain during and after the event that can cause problems for even the most relaxed of souls out there. One of these brain reactions is kind of like a ‘shut off valve’ for some of your brain functions. Your brain gets focused on its main task of keeping you alive and you can’t really access the logical, and otherwise thinking parts of your brain. That can really screw up what you think you’re going to do or how you think you’re going to react when something goes down. This in itself can cause stress because you don’t know why you’re acting the way you are.
It can take up to 6 weeks (and in some cases longer) before your brain and body seem like they’re back to normal and functioning properly.
The following is a list of common (normal) reactions to a traumatic event.
- numbness, fatigue, weakness
- aches and pains like stomach-ache, headaches and back aches
- changes in sleep patterns, appetite
- nausea, upset stomach, constipation or diarrhea
- chills, tremors, clammy skin, dizziness
- jumping at unexpected noises or touch
- tense muscles, chest pains
- grinding teeth, clenched jaw
- overly vigilante to surroundings / environment
- fidgeting, constant movement, pacing
- decreased attention span, poor concentration, trouble focusing
- blaming attitudes towards self and / or others
- nightmares / bad dreams
- memory problems, forgetfulness
- shock, disbelief, feeling overwhelmed
- anger, resentment
- anxiety, increased stress, panic attacks, feelings of terror
- grief, denial, sadness, depression
- guilt, shame
- irritable, prone to outbreaks suddenly
- numbness, detached, daydreaming, isolating from others
- mood swings
- excessive worrying,
- constantly thinking about the event / incident
- helplessness, feeling out of control or lost
- attempts to avoid or minimize the experience
- increased need to control everyday activities
- difficulties with trust, feelings of betrayal
Not everyone experiences every little thing on the list and some people experience thoughts and feelings that aren’t listed there. Some things might be felt right away and others, weeks later. It’s very personal and individual and feeling or thinking these things doesn’t necessarily mean you need therapy or counseling but person does often benefit from support and understanding from others.