Like death, taxes, and growing up, trauma is an unfortunate part of the human experience. And for many, trauma gets looked at as a sort of building block — a testament to the human spirit and our uncanny ability to triumph over the most sickening and gut wrenching heartaches. While that’s true, trauma can also significantly impair your life in the most subtle of ways.
Unfortunately, serious trauma tends to get pigeonholed, meaning that people tend to put the most extreme of situations in a single category. Everything else — the sudden death of a loved one (even if they were older and/or sick), a breakup or divorce with a partner, or loss of job or major life upheaval — tend to get overlooked as not being “severely” traumatic. That’s simply not true. After my mother’s death, my half-brother forced me to look around the crowded Chili’s we were dining at and said, “Everyone’s parent in here is going to die,” like it was supposed to make me feel better that my loss would be compounded by theirs. This is just one of the many toxic and harmful examples of the way people who are grieving and experiencing trauma are treated. And it’s because of this, that many people choose to suffer in silence.
I’m here to remind you that your feelings are normal. When you’ve experienced a tragedy, there is no one-size-fits-all method of dealing with it or moving past it. You need to talk to someone. You need to fight the urge to isolate yourself away from family and friends, even though it’s way more comfortable. You need to get back into your routine — wake up, get a shower, brush your teeth, eat breakfast. Even if that’s all you do for the next few weeks or months, then it’s a step in the right direction. Trauma is surmountable.
But I recognize that all of it is much easier said than done. And for those who are experiencing the aftermath of trauma, you’re not alone. I put together a list of the common feelings I’ve had since my mother died four years ago and my dad got sick three years ago. Maybe you suffer with some of these as well. If you do, don’t make the same choices I did and suffer in silence. If we’re feeling the same thing, let it serve as a reminder that it’s normal and that help is out there.
1. You feel anxious in the morning, unsure of what you should do or how you should spend your time, especially if you work remotely or aren’t working that day. These feelings of isolation have only gotten worse due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
2. You fill much of your free time with household projects or creative pursuits; you’ll do anything to not sit alone with your thoughts.
3. You don’t know how to relax. And when you do finally relax, you feel guilty for doing it, reminding yourself that you have better ways to spend your time.
4. You say “yes” to every opportunity, but end up procrastinating all of it until the last minute so you can continue feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied.
5. You have difficulty saying “no” for the real reasons and instead will hide behind an excuse, i.e. “I have plans that day.” You don’t have plans. You just can’t imagine getting ready and going outside and functioning positively when you’re in such a dark, overwhelming headspace.
6. You have spurts of energy followed by crashes because you try to cram in all the happy things you can while you’re feeling good because you don’t know when you’ll have another day like this.
7. You hardly smile. Or laugh. And when you do, it catches you off guard by how good it feels.
8. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You’d rather procrastinate your own happiness until life is stable than actually live it for the fear of how your life could be affected.
9. You’re suspicious of a genuinely good day. Obviously, they won’t last.
10. Nothing really feels like an easy decision anymore. You overthink everything, even something as simple as what you want to do that day, where you want to eat, or how to organize your closet.
11. You don’t really have a clear-cut vision of what your life looks like one, five, or 10 years from now. All you want is for it to be “happy,” but you have no idea what that entails or how to get there.
12. Your definition of happiness changes often. Sometimes, happiness can be bought. Other times, it can be found booking a vacation or making plans to move. Sometimes, it’s a family, and other times, it’s getting your career on the line. You aren’t sure what’s going to stick and “fix” your life, so you change your mind more often than you check your Instagram.
13. You get overwhelmed easily, and you’ll let your text messages, DMs, and emails pile up until it takes hours to go through them. And you’ll continue to do this every. single. time.
14. You recognize that how you feel isn’t “normal,” but you feel unable to switch those feelings of fear off. Fear has become your comfort zone. And sometimes, it’s all your mind has room for.
15. Sometimes, it feels like you’re genuinely choosing to be miserable, but you and I know that’s not true. It’s like your mind is in a constant fog where you know what you need to do, but you physically can’t do it. You can’t do it because you’re scared of being happy.
16. You put yourself in uncomfortable situations, like being around people you dislike or those who hurt you during your time of need because you feel like you should just “get over it.” This is especially true if they’re angry at you for how you acted during your time of grief, so you go out of your way to prove that you’re not selfish (hint: they were the ones who were selfish, not you).
17. You tend to keep the traumatic event “alive” far after it’s expired because your trauma has become a part of your identity. It’s often one of the first things people know about you when they meet you.
18. Your trauma plays a significant role in your decision-making and self-esteem. If you experienced a great loss that caused you great pain, you might compare your life and decisions to theirs when they were your age. You compare your path to those you went to high school or college with or to your own idealized vision of the future you held when you were younger. And, of course, it’s nothing similar which only causes you to feel like a failure for letting life pass you by.
19. You change up the style of your living space often. You’re always looking for a way to reinvent yourself. You crave change a lot more than you used to, and sometimes all you want is to purge everything in your life.
20. You’re frustrated over what seems like the most insignificant things, like when someone asks you to wait your turn or doesn’t acknowledge you, but you’re just so tired of not being able to do what you want to do when you want to do them. It’s not that you’re not understanding of rules, or that you even have a problem with them, you’re just so frustrated that your life has been put on hold that it sometimes triggers you.
21. You recognize that your life was put on hold without your permission as the tragedy unfolded, but now, years later, you’re angry at yourself for keeping it going. You just don’t know how to function without it.
22. You don’t know how to function without the lingering effects of grief or trauma because you were so sad, so depressed, so overwhelmed, so hurt for such an extended length of time that you’re not only scared of being happy, you don’t really feel like you deserve to be. Your mind may not agree with that sentiment, but your heart does because your heart is still broken. And being any kind of happy or functioning or free when you have a broken heart just doesn’t feel possible. So, you’ll read a post like this and relate to it and make the change to get into a better mindset. But the first bad day you have will send you back to this dark place, making the words I wrote here — the feelings you and I both share — feel completely and utterly worthless.
They’re not. But it’s okay to think it is. This is hard, but you’re not alone. You will get through this.