The No One Told Me Series: Secondary Trauma

The No One Told Me Series: Secondary Trauma

I wrote earlier about What to Do When You Don’t Recognize Yourself in the Mirror, and promised to write about more of the nuanced things that self-help books and articles don’t really teach you.

Well, I stumbled across another thing that no one told me.

After my trauma, I found I was hypersensitive to other kinds of traumatic events. I will always tear up when I remember the detective getting a call just like mine on the drive home from giving my statement. I couldn’t attend group therapy for months because hearing about other people’s trauma did not make me feel less alone – it made my heart bleed. It upset me so much I didn’t even want to be alive in a world where this happens on the regular.

This article is about how trauma (of any kind) changes the brain. Researchers performed brain scans on survivors of a plane crash, 9 years after the event. They compared those scans to results from people who were not involved in the crash and found – not surprisingly – that the survivors of the crash remembered it more vividly than those who were not involved.

What may be surprising to some people is that the crash survivors also remembered the terrorist attacks on the world trade centre (which happened just weeks after the plane crash they suffered) more vividly than the control group.

Anther surprise to me:

“This traumatic incident still haunts passengers regardless of whether they have PTSD or not,” … “They remember the event as though it happened yesterday, when in fact it happened almost a decade ago.”

Some people do not develop PTSD after a traumatic event. But the trauma still changes their brain and how it processes new information.

A couple of drowning incidents nearby abruptly ended my days as a lifeguard.
After hearing about the Boston marathon bombing I didn’t want to leave the house for weeks; I was convinced I would die.
The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school put me in bed for days.

All of these things were a normal reaction for someone in my situation but I looked around wondering why my friends and family could go back to work the day after the drowning, the bombing, the shooting, as if nothing had happened. As if there aren’t hundreds of people walking around wounded, traumatized, just like me. I remember thinking of the poor kids at Sandy Hook who would have nightmares for years – just like me. I thought about how scared these people must be, and wished so badly that they would not find themselves in the depths of hell the same way that I was.

This article, and a comic that I recently read (which can be found here) reminded me of an uncomfortable truth I have been ignoring and hiding from for a long time. I like to pretend that I am “better” or “over it” most of the time. But this was another reminder that you don’t “get over” trauma. It fundamentally changes you – your habits, your lifestyle, the wiring in your brain. I am still a little damaged and raw. I remember speaking with a chaplain shortly after the attack. He told me that he’s so sorry, but he’s worked in this field for a long time and unfortunately this will be with me for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to believe him, and I still don’t. But on some level I know he’s right.

I have good days! I am a contributing member of society! I’m a decent student. I have a semblance of a social life! I am gainfully employed with upward mobility. I am competing in a strength competition later this month, and I’m working towards some other big scary goals. BUT I am also still living with PTSD to some extent. And sometimes I need a little reminder of that.

One of the participants in the study was quoted saying:

It gives me some relief to know that something good is coming out of this.

This is a sentiment that I echo fully. If this strikes a chord with you, please reach out! I am more than happy to talk to you, as is the rest of the team.

Author

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

Hi! I'm Elizabeth, a blogger on When You're Ready.org I spent 2 years struggling with PTSD and panic attacks following a violent attack. I want to use my experience and my voice to raise support for others. I desperately want to make the world a safer place for girls and women, especially my two little sisters. Keep talking, Keep sharing. When You're Ready, I'll be here.

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