The 11th day of every month and for the rest of my life I will associate it with Josh’s last. Some days are much harder to cope with than others. This is because I live with Trauma, PTSD and Complicated Grief, all of which are debilitating, and impact on all areas of my life as I try to live with what has happened.
The Oxford dictionary’s definition of trauma is; a deeply distressing or disturbing experience “a personal trauma like the death of a child.” This word, and the definition of it, jumped straight off the page, and spoke to me directly when I first looked it up. This was in the early days of my trauma therapy. This word was mine, it belonged to me and I to it, it also very quickly became the shield that I formed around myself, like a super hero. I needed protection from the reality of what was happening to me, and the trauma stopped me from facing my emotions while isolating me from the reality that Josh was dead. Trauma is not healthy and emotions need to move through your body to avoid long term physical effects. However, sometimes the reality is quite the opposite.
When I fill out a form especially a medical form trauma is there, when I speak to my therapist trauma is there, when I become very upset about the smallest of things, trauma is there. When I look at photos of Josh trauma is there, and when I feel love from family, friends, and the many people in my life that reach out to me and I to them, trauma is there. And, when I don’t understand why I have emotionally reacted to something in a way that leaves me feeling helpless, self-doubting and lonely, while others just carry on as usual as if nothing has happened, trauma is there.
When I try to figure out the person that I have now become, as trauma is responsible for the change in my DNA, I arrive at the same conclusion, and that is that I am now made up of the impact and outcome of trauma. Everything I see, hear and feel includes trauma, every act and reaction has the foundations of trauma. Trauma was forced upon me with no warning, and it filled every inch of me from the very moment when I was told Josh was dead.
I had, no previous deeper knowledge of trauma before Josh was taken from me, trauma was something that I had an understanding of but not the trauma that comes with the violent and traumatic death of a child. It took some time before I was officially diagnosed with Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) this happens when trauma intensifies instead of dissipating. Fighting for justice for Josh for three and a half years was and still is a major and significant factor for the intensity of my trauma which is also coupled with my complicated grief. The definition in the Oxford dictionary for PSTD reads; military veterans suffering from PTSD’. I think it should also read like the NHSs definition; ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events’. And, the Mayo Clinics definition of complicated grief is; ‘the ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing. Signs and symptoms of complicated grief may include: Intense sorrow, pain and rumination over the loss of your loved one. Focus on little else but your loved one’s death’.
The reason why it took me so long to be given my PTSD diagnosis was due to the trauma therapists that I had been seeing for months and their reluctance to commit to a firm diagnosis, I found this very strange especially as they were treating me for it! Thankfully my GP gave me the diagnosis, as she saw the huge impact that trauma had, and still has on my life. Just for the record for anyone who might be wondering why a diagnosis is important to me, having a diagnosis has helped me to direct my focus on coping techniques while working towards positive solutions. I have also read up on complicated grief therapy which is synonymous with attachment theory, this makes perfect sense to me, how could I not be attached to the complications of my grief ans absence if my child. Imagine if you dare, seeing your child on a Friday evening and sitting down to a fish supper that he has cooked for you then hearing them leave for work on the Saturday morning. You have spoken to one another on the phone several times that evening to and ending the last conversation with the words I love you to one another. To then being told that they are dead less than three hours later. Of course I am attached to my grief and yes it is complicated and, no I will never apologise or make any excuses for it because it is part of me, Tracey. I have yet to address a lot of my trauma around the time of arriving at the scene or seeing Josh in the mortuary as when I try to it takes me days if not weeks to come back up for air when I ‘go there’ and apart from holding me back, I have no doubt that Josh is saying, “Mum, take it easy, chill out, don’t go there.”
Trauma, affects my health, both physically and psychologically, from autoimmune diseases, palpitations, aching all over to mention a few. It triggers anxiety, low mood, flash backs which are usually followed by frustration. These conditions developed rapidly from the onset of my traumatic shock. One of the worst conditions is constantly feeling exhausted and suffering with ‘brain fog.’ And, not being able to remember something that you have just read or said or not even being able to get the right words out in the first place.
When Drs, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists assess someone with trauma they look for the initial reactions to trauma such as exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation and confusion. These responses are ‘normal’ experiences and they affect most ‘victims of crime’ and survivors who have experienced sudden life changing and traumatic events.
However, what individuals like me need, and benefit from both in our personal and professional relationships is patience, compassion and understanding. Please stop, and think for more than a “hot second” as Josh would say, and say to yourself if you think someone is behaving odd or detached and you are aware of their experiences, ok this person is amazing and is still standing, be patient with them, be kind. ‘We’ are not here to be brushed aside or to be seen as a risk, an inconvenience, or weak, no we are here to be celebrated, and encouraged, for being determined, strong willed, and life changing if you let us be. We ‘survivors’ have a wealth of advice from our lived experiences, from practical solutions, coping strategies, how to manage, and overcome everyday life changing and challenging experiences. We are also more often than not willing to share, and pass on what has helped us to cope to others who ask for advice. I have met some remarkable individuals who have empowered me by sharing their personal experiences with me either in person, on the phone or when I pick up a book that they have bared their soul to us to give us hope. We are like Dr’s, caregivers, and therapists and we are also advocates, justice seekers and leaders for change and, who work hard to change the narrative and misconceptions about trauma that tend to follow us around.
It is also fair to say, that the life long conditions and challenges for people who suffer with symptoms of trauma, PTSD and complicated grief can also be used to see things in a different light. For example, we tend to see with more compassion, and understanding because of our very painful experiences and the impact they have. For instance, for me, I have always been sensitive to injustices and harms that both people and animals suffer unnecessarily. However, I now find myself crying most days, over something big or small from a random teardrop running down my cheek to a full on moment where the tears keep flowing. My response, and my sensitivity to suffering, impacts me far more now because I truly know how it feels to suffer on such a profound level. Only yesterday I responded and cried while saying no, oh please no, when I saw a picture of a tiny Rondon Marmoset Monkey with her baby in the hand of volunteer who had rescued them from the Amazon fires. These fires have been burning for the past year and have take over 2.5 million animals lives who have died from smoke inhalation or have burnt to death. The article revealed that this innocent animal died as it had been hit by a car as she ran from the fire while her baby held onto her. The image is truly heartbreaking as the baby is clutching its mother, I cried for her and I cried for me, as I thought of not being able to hold Josh as he died. This pain nudges my attention on what I have already learnt about the fires this past year, to stay focused on what is or is not being done by world leaders to put a stop to them, and to pay attention to the remarkable volunteers, the unsung heroes, who give up their time to face the most challenging, and heartbreaking situations, and who do all that they can to help save one such species life, to then care for it and, nurture it back to health. But most importantly my trauma makes me act and seek out ways that I can be part of the solution to help. My trauma has made me become more aware and active about such unnecessary suffering that seems to be happening all around the world more and more everyday. I want to find ways to help change things not turn the page or flick the screen to something else that helps me to pretend that we have nothing to concern ourselves about.
The conditions, and by products of trauma can mean much more than suffering and pain when you put them into action in a positive way. Please don’t get me wrong I am not superwoman by any stretch of the imagination, I just know that I will not let my trauma define me for the worst, I will do whatever I can to help it define me for the better. That commitment alone I owe to Josh’s memory, and to everyone that had to witness what happened to him that fateful night. And don’t think that I am so virtuous or courageous, that I do not look at the beautiful photos that I see of my family, friends and the lives of people on holiday, weekends away, friends around for dinner, plans for the future accompanied with open smiles as they celebrate achievements and accomplishment, and not feel envious or sad, because I do. I miss and I cry for my old life as a mother to a beautiful Son with our future lives mapped out together. I feel all of the emotions that come with resentment, anger and frustration at how Josh’s life was taken from him. By someone who didn’t stop to think for a split second as they raged like the Amazon’s fires, full of destruction as they left nothing but pain and misery in their wake.
When I feel overwhelmed self-doubting or questioning myself about my existence, my trauma acts as my shield, a reminder that the most unimaginable thing has happened to me and yet here I am. Here I am, still standing even if it is behind a shield because I need to take a breath, to be still, and to breathe. I am sometimes just like the person in the room that doesn’t join in with the bigger group of people and their conversation, and when someone points out concern for them someone else responds with reassuring ease, ‘no need to worry about them, they are fine, they are just shy.’ I am more than ok to be seen just like that in my moment with my trauma shield.
My trauma takes me on a rollercoaster all day everyday but because of it I have achieved so much more than I believe I ever would have before. It makes me feel very guilty, and very sad as I think that Josh’s death has made me understand more about unnecessary pain and suffering, injustices and inequalities, and I feel guilty for not having been more active while pushing for change when he was alive.
Seeing the bigger picture that I already thought that I had ‘seen’ and being a part of the solution rather than the problem to the never ending divide, is all empowering to me. I am now in a place where I can focus my frustration towards injustices in a positive and active way.
I dream that I will wake up one day and feel the sun on my skin like I once did and breathe it in freely. To feel the cold evenings like I used when I would welcome the feeling of cosiness, like wrapping up in a thick jumper with a good book, and a hot chocolate. I dream that maybe my life is in fact just one big dream, and that what has happened to Josh has not happened at all and he will just walk in the door and say “what’s for dinner Mum”? after a long day at work. Or that I will wake up to hear Josh’s footsteps pounding down the stairs in the early hours of the morning as he heads off out to work while I shout “can you keep it down please?” but now really wishing that I had shouted out “ I love that you just woke me up Josh because I can say have a wonderful day”. I daydream that I am the old Tracey but I am confused because I also think I prefer this Tracey the one who is doing things that she wished she had done when Josh was alive, making a difference in the world for the better. I want to help others who have experienced trauma, loss, pain, shock and life changing experiences to find hope, purpose and their rightful place in this world, trauma and all.
For now while trauma stops me from feeling the comfort of the cosy thick jumper or the sun kissed feeling of happiness, it will not be my tormentor. Rather my trauma will be my shield and my reminder that positive change can come from a pain that I will never be able to put into words.
This month has been very hard for me as speaking with families who have experienced the worst kind of pain is always going to be life changing. However, it has also been a month with uplifting experiences as I am constantly touched by loving, caring and thoughtful human beings that reach out to me nearly every single day. Next month will be five years living on this planet without Josh and everyday leading up to such a big milestone will be challenging in more ways than one but I will keep working on my trauma to make it work for me.
For anyone who feels that they cannot cope or is in need of some extra support please reach out to the Samaritans on 116 123, call your GP, talk to your family, friends and neighbours, please don’t sit in silence. There are also lots of social media and online support groups that you can join and share your challenges with, you are not alone. If you can’t find what it is that you need or you have found a group but it doesn’t work for you or fails to meet your needs, then maybe think about setting up your own support group. It could be a reading group, cycling, walking, talking etc but it could be just what it is you need to help you, by helping others.
In Josh’s memory and for anyone who has lost a loved one or who has been affected by trauma in any way, we can make the world a better and more forgiving place when we work towards positive change and reach out to one another.
Take care, stay safe, lots of love always, Tracey ???
#trauma #PTSD #complicatedgrief #bekind #reachout #staysafe #4years11months #mysonJosh