1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience
When a person experiences a trauma, they can respond with a number of different symptoms. Sometimes you have a delayed response months after the thing happened. Other times your symptoms last for a few days,. Or they could go on for weeks.
At first, the only way I can describe it was that it was like an outer body experience. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was. Almost like I was in a daze outside of me looking at myself going through the motions. I stopped eating for days. I couldn’t sleep. When I’d close my eyes I felt like I was in that room and I couldn’t help but replay those images over and over. It was like being in a never-ending nightmare while awake. My body ached and after a while I was weak from not eating. I knew that I needed help and that’s what I did. Seeing a counselor was not a one stop fix for my symptoms, but it gave me hope that I wouldn’t always feel that way.
What is trauma? A trauma is when a person is exposed to a stressful or traumatic event. Per the DSM 5, trauma and stressor related disorders are grouped into one category and in this category the event can be as severe as witnessing a death, having a near death experience, being physically harmed (assault/sexual assault), or being threatened physical harm. In order to be categorized as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) you must have experienced a type of event of this magnitude. Other big life events or stressors may fall into the Adjustment, Other specified, or Unspecified categories.
What I find most interesting about trauma, is that we often bury those memories to protect ourselves. It’s called repression. You may go about your life, as if nothing has happened. People look at you and you seem fine, so they assume that you are. But repressed memories are like an undercurrent just waiting to bubble over at the right moment. You may think you are fine, but find yourself walking down the same street where xyz happened and all of a sudden you’re an emotional wreck. Even as I write this now, I can feel my pulse jump and my neck and back tense up. Because I remember vividly what that time was like for me and it is still painful. We repress memories to protect ourselves from the pain, but the more we shove them down, the worse it actually gets and the longer it takes to heal.
One thing that helped me was writing. Sitting down and putting on paper exactly what happened in great detail. And once I got done, it was like a release. Like a burden was lifted from my shoulders because it had been stuffed down and hurting for so long. It still hurts but as I re-read and rewrite things, somehow the pain gets a little less. These days I can sleep without waking up in the middle of the night, and I don’t usually have nightmares about the things that happened to me. I’m aware of when I may be experiencing a trigger, (something that reminds you of the traumatic event) and in the process of healing, I’ve found it helpful to avoid those things. I don’t watch shows or movies that contain content that may be triggering, and I give myself a break when I see that I’m having a hard time after being exposed to a trigger.
I would not recommend processing trauma on your own, first seek some sort of counseling or support. You should never attempt to process trauma until you feel you are ready to do it. The hard part is to be prepared for a flood of emotions to return just like it happened yesterday. But if you can get through that, and face those fears, you will heal. Trust me.