It was Wednesday, the 10th of June or July, I forget which. I had gone with my mother to a craft night at a friend’s place. That morning, a friend and I had been discussing our graduations and sharing photos. Everything seemed okay. I sensed nothing wrong.
I can’t remember what time it was; all I knew was it was sometime past 7 p.m. I don’t know what exactly I was doing when my friend messaged me. I will not go into details about what happened, but she needed an ambulance and was not in a state to get one herself. I spent the next hour on the phone with her, trying to convince her to call an ambulance before I called one myself. I don’t recall much of the rest of the night other than the sound of the ambulance sirens in the background of the 911 call and my own screaming as soon as I got home because I thought I had lost her.
It has been about five months since it happened. My friend is now doing better, making a lot of progress. I am nothing but proud of her. We are both in agreement to not discuss the incident with each other as it’s better for our friendship and mental health that we do not. I have tried to come to terms with the fact that I have been traumatized and it will take me a very long time to recover.
What compelled me to write this article after months of starting, deleting, and reworking is the subject of trauma outside of PTSD. PTSD is a topic I covered in simplistic detail in some of my first articles. In my lifetime, I have experienced various sorts of trauma, from dealing with my partner’s psychotic breaks to being preyed on by a woman five years older than me when I was 15. The situation with my friend was intense, and the aftermath left me with immense feelings of anger, guilt, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. When I learned my friend was okay, I initially reacted with anger. Then I became emotionally exhausted. I was lethargic, and it took me several days to feel “secure” again. Then the clinginess started. It was mentally taxing for both of us; it stayed like that until my therapist assisted me with creating boundaries and working through my trauma. We fought. We struggled to find a semblance of a healthy friendship again, where I was not scared that she would get hurt, and she could reestablish her autonomy despite my panic attacks.
Trauma is often associated with PTSD, but by itself, it is a little more challenging to comprehend. It is, according to Integratedlistening.com, a “response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope.” Anyone can have it. The young, the old, war veterans, firefighters, students, and stay-at-home mothers. If at any time someone goes under a highly stressful, emotionally impacting, and dangerous situation, the chances are that that person will feel traumatized. Following trauma, according to WebMD, someone can also have the following symptoms:
- Flashbacks of the traumatic event or parts of it
- Trouble relating to/connecting with loved ones, friends and co-workers
- Physical symptoms of headaches, chest pain, and nausea
- Strong emotions include being moody, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed and irritated
- New sensitivities to loud noises/smells/other stimuli
- Trouble sleeping/insomnia, or the need to sleep more
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble enjoying activities you used to like/love
Out of all of those symptoms, flashbacks and strong emotions have been my main struggles. I will add that the most innocuous things can trigger a flashback, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. In my French class last semester, I watched a film with my classmates, and a simple scene involving a pet goldfish triggered one for me. I tried to calm down and to go back in, but I had a very severe panic attack and ended up leaving class that day. I was embarrassed. Why would a fish of all things trigger that? Flashbacks are something I will cover more extensively in a later article. Still, fundamentally they are a sudden involuntary recurrent memory that a person can re-experience according to RAINN. They can be very vivid or mere sensations. They can be fragmented. Anything that resembles something from a flashback, whether it be a phrase, a smell, or even a sound. Whatever they are, your triggers are valid, and you have the right to request that others respect your triggers. You also are not required to divulge to anyone why you have them or what caused them.
I have not been diagnosed with PTSD. In fact, according to Yuval Neria, a Ph.D. at Columbia University, I may never be. Most people do not develop PTSD, which is where a traumatic event causes profound and disturbing thoughts long, long after the traumatic event. I have, however, come to terms that I was severely traumatized, and it will be a very long time before I’ve healed to be fully open with what happened. I’ve also come to accept that it may never happen: I may never fully recover, I may always have issues with specific topics and need to avoid places that remind me of it. This Christmas, I was invited to the house where the trauma occurred, and, instantly, I felt repulsed and declined the invitation. I don’t want to remember or be reminded of that night. I am, to this day, going to therapy to treat my trauma. Like before, I am going to ask my professors if any of the subject material we will cover contains my triggers. For now, active avoidance is my best strategy to keep my mental health well and myself able to engage with the text without developing an aversion to it.
If any of you are experiencing or dealing with trauma and are ready to start working to mend the damage it has caused, I recommend speaking with a therapist. Our on-site counsellor and the Peer Support group are two other good options that are available on campus. I know what it feels like to survive and keep living day to day despite what you have undergone. You may not heal entirely, but you are resilient, and you will heal at least a little, in time. I believe in you.