Trauma, My Personal Story
It's incredibly common. Here's what worked for me.
I’ve often wondered how we, as a species, get by as well as we do, as most us report at least one traumatic experience in our lives:
“…61% of men and 51% of women report at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes. This would put mental trauma at the top of the list of most-common psychological health conditions.”
According to the American Psychological Association:
“Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”
And never underestimate the emotional impact from the unexpected loss of a loved one, a brutal, and nearly universal, experience.
“Unexpected death was the most common traumatic experience and most likely to be rated as the respondent’s worst, regardless of other traumatic experiences.”
Trauma takes a considerable toll—6.8% of us will at some point suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an often disabling condition. It’s also sobering to think of the far greater numbers who are emotionally scarred by trauma but not disabled. They go on about their lives, but not their best lives.
What follows is my personal story, and what worked for me.
It was 2014, just after my 18-month-long recovery from a disabling illness —
“Dr. Phillips…?…Dr. Phillips…?…” Then she yelled, “DR. PHILLIPS ARE YOU HERE?”
As she was calling my name, I thought, “How many times do I have to ask Amy —I knew her by her first name—to call me Steve?” I watched as her gaze swept across the radiology waiting room, looking for me. I’d already stood up when she called my name the first time, waiting for her to say hi and bring me back to the ultrasound room—After so much time spent there, I knew the drill. But Amy didn’t seem to notice me. Strange.
Although now it feels like memories from another life, I’d been a very frequent patient there in the 2 years spanning all of 2011-2012, when I was at my sickest. The muscles and tendons in my calves and behind my knees would spontaneously tear when I tried to stand up straight, blood pooling in the soft tissue near my ankles. Whereas recurrent leg pain and swelling prompted repeated sonograms to rule out blood clots, countless neurologic symptoms necessitated MRI’s of my brain and entire spine—So I got to know the radiology staff very well. And yet…Amy looked past me as her eyes kept roving, on to the next face, and then the next. No spark of recognition.
In a tone which transmitted my lack of understanding, I finally said, “Amy, I’m right here.” She turned and looked at me, startled at first, then puzzled. A split second later her eyes went wide, a smile creeping across her face, “I recognized your voice but not the rest of you! How are you? You look so great!
Looking back, I can’t say that I blame her for not picking me out of the crowd, I might not have recognized me either—When she knew me I’d been ravaged by illness. Since then, I’d clawed my way back to health, after stumping 25 top doctors. Having lost 50 lbs (a big amount considering my normal weight is 185) and ashen from severe anemia, the last time she’d seen me I was a skeletal and profoundly disabled tracing of my former and current healthier selves. Dependent on a walker for even a few steps, and not being able to sit up or turn over in a lying position on my own, it would take several of the radiology staff members to maneuver me around with care on the various tables due to my weakness and pain.
Still smiling, she said, “I can’t believe the difference. I’m going to get Dr. Miller, he’s got to see you for himself or he’ll never believe this!”