6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Recovering From Emotional Trauma

1k
1k
3

As we pass our daughter’s November birthday, we also pass the anniversary of her near-death experience. The events which followed that experience overshadowed what was supposed to be a joyous time, leaving an everlasting mark on our lives. For the last three years, the holiday season has served as a time to reflect on all the events, good and bad, which have shaped me into the parent I am today.

With each year that passes my memory of some details fade. I suppose this is one gift of time fleeting away. However, one wish remains constant and intensifies with time. I wish someone would have talked to me about recovering from emotional trauma. I wish someone would have prepared me for what lied ahead. As our daughter moved through a complicated hospital stay filled with life support equipment, convoluted diagnoses and major surgery, I knew recovery was going to be a process. What I didn’t know is that her physical recovery was just one aspect of this new course our lives were on. What I didn’t know is that our progress was going to be painstakingly slow.

Just like anyone who’s been blindsided with an intense and life-altering event, it was going to take some time for my husband and me to recover. The initial ordeal was quick, intense and traumatic. My awareness and recollections of this disaster still, at times, leave me feeling alone. While this doesn’t really surprise me, the bombshell of experiencing an identity crisis was a shock. And one question still lingers: how much longer is this recovery process going to take?

1. I was caught off guard. Of course the events we experienced were an unexpected shock. There was no time for postpartum recovery, bonding or even a moment to truly experience being a new mother again. I was caught off guard by how unprepared I was, after spending months preparing for this birth. Although I knew there was nothing I could have done to prevent this from happening, I was unexpectedly hit by self-interrogating questions of what I could have done differently. I could have never anticipated the feeling of powerlessness and loss of control I felt. Although I was in an acutely fragile state, the element that took me by surprise was my strength. I unexpectedly found the relentless, strong-willed, determined and tenacious person whom I had tucked away only a few years prior. By rediscovering the very person, whom many had considered flawed, I tapped into an unshakable strength I never knew existed within myself.  

2. I needed time for reflection. Once we arrived back home, I found myself feeling lousy. I was filled with an awful level of confusion. I was met with an unforeseen feeling of emotional numbness and felt spiritually disjointed. I quietly experienced flashbacks and uncomfortable moments of emotions flooding my mind. I didn’t expect to experience these things with such intensity. Had I known that what I was going through was normal and productive, would I have fought it so hard? By allowing myself ample time to reflect, I stumbled upon acceptance. I never predicted that by allowing myself to look back on our experiences I would one day make sense of everything and finally feel comfortable enough to stop asking the question, “Why?”

3. I had to allow myself to grieve. This life-altering event was abounding in negative experiences. But someone hit the delete button on some good moments and milestones I would’ve otherwise experienced had this not happened. This was a lot to digest, and I never realized how much time I would need to grieve. There wasn’t one person around who was ever going to give me permission to be an emotional mess. I didn’t immediately catch on to the fact that it was OK to feel and experience my emotions; the depression, fear, distress and outrage. It was only when I felt the intense longing to hear someone tell me it was OK to fall apart that I finally give myself permission to do so. It was then that I accepted my emotions and began to move through the pain of loss. It was also then that I understood this was simply another step toward finding my new normal. Although this process has, at times, presented itself as unwanted change, in its reveal it’s been a transformation in the way I understand and exist in the world. I was unaware that three years later I would still long for my postpartum time back, would still be yearning to have another chance at bonding with my infant. Despite these feelings, I’ve found new meaning in my present and future. 

recover3

4. I would see how other people cope with crisis. I wish I could have anticipated the challenges during the first year after her surgery. As the complexity of our daughter’s care grew, so did the list of expectations of loved ones. During a time when we were struggling to hold ourselves together emotionally, pressure to meet the needs of family set in. A certain level of awkwardness existed when I needed to talk about our daughter’s complexity of care. The few people I chose to talk to offered only blank stares and emotional vacancy.  I instantly felt others’ need for me to repress and disassociate myself from the trauma. I quickly recognized this wasn’t personal but simply how some cope with crisis, and I wasn’t judging. While these coping mechanisms might be appropriate for them, they were unsuitable for me. I could have never predicted the courage it would take to turn down a preferred way of coping and wrestle this experience in my own way, even if it meant being considered an outsider and being rejected. Fair-weathers came and went and, as fate would have it, many others arrived to indulge with gentleness, compassion and grace. I’ve enjoyed many of our oldest friends rising to the occasion and providing some of the greatest support. I’ve grown to accept this as an opportunity to create new relationships with others who’ve had similar experiences.

5. I needed to take one step at a time. Sometimes I wonder how so much time has passed and how little headway I’ve made in this process, but then I look at where I was two years ago. I wish someone would have told me the first year was about survival. I wish I would have had a flowchart exhibiting step one as: “Finding Safety and Security.” I didn’t realize at the onset, but our lives were unexpectedly undergoing a drastic restructure. Everything that was once familiar to me swiftly required reevaluation and readjusting. Jobs, family, friends, routine, money, how I saw myself — like it or not, I was getting a total overhaul. I’ve come to realize this overhaul is leading me to finding a new meaning in this life. This reformation has changed me. I’ve become a better wife and mother as result of this journey. I’ve been granted a new and better understanding of who I am.  

6. I would socially reconnect when I was ready.  We arrived home exhausted– mentally, emotionally and physically enervated. I felt a craving to make up for lost time with my child who was barricaded behind a bedrail for two months. I needed to spend time looking at her fingers and toes, smelling her scent, lying with her on my bare skin. I had to devote time to establishing a new normal. I had no choice but to acknowledge and accept my need to experience the transition period I was immersed in before I could begin to truly reconnect with others. It might have taken almost three years, but when the time was right, I didn’t feel coerced or manipulated. It felt good to enjoy time with the people who have supported me.

recover5

1k
1k
3
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

RELATED VIDEOS

How I Live in a World Without

43
43
1

I’m living without a complete family, without answers and without the future I imagined. My son, who was the light of my world, and my dad, who was the rock I could depend on, both passed away without me knowing why.

Living without a complete family. I thought my family was complete when my son was born two and half years ago. Two daughters and a little boy, but then that little boy died and my family was torn apart. We pulled together, rebuilt and pushed forward. It didn’t mean the pain was gone or that we were over it because no one ever gets over the loss of a child, but we managed to start living again. We prayed about our future and felt God was leading us to move closer to family. Then, four short months of living near my parents, my dad died. The results: I have two gaping holes where my son and father should be. Their absence is felt in everything, not only in my heart but in my every day life. Emotionally, the pain is incredible, sometimes debilitating, often relentless and always present. I look around the dinner table and both my son and dad are missing. Family dinners aren’t the same and never will be again. Two empty seats remain. I don’t get to see my son stuff his face full of turkey this Thanksgiving or open Christmas gifts this year. I will never see him graduate kindergarten, high school or college. My dad will never see my 5-month-old daughter turn one or see my oldest daughter get baptized. He will never get to retire and start traveling again with my mom. I feel robbed of the time we should have had with both of them. People ask how I’m doing and because it’s easier, I’ve learned to automatically say, “I’m doing OK.” Then they ask how my mom is doing, and it’s even more difficult because how do I answer for someone else when I can’t even answer for myself? There’s no true “OK” when someone dies suddenly and out of sequence. I’ve had this happen not once but twice and within a year and half of each other. Both healthy, just having check-ups weeks before: my son at 8 months, 26 days old, and my dad at 57, passed away for no known reason, leaving us with only questions.

Living without answers. I think not knowing how or why makes their deaths even more complicated. I was naïve before, believing life and death, were made up in black and white and that answers were always at the end of a medical examination or doctor’s diagnosis. But now as I live without, in a world void of many of the answers I so desperately wish I had, I realize life is really made up in a world of infinite shades of grey and often there are no answers. SIDS, by its very definition, is the ruling when a baby dies for no known reason. My dad died the same way, but there isn’t even a name for what happened to him. I know this, but making peace with it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. My grief counselor told me it was going to take twice as long as others to get through the bargaining part of grief because accepting the fact I will never know what happened to them compounds the process. Often, I’m flooded with questions and replays of the days when they died. I’ve tried to deal with it on my own, by pushing the questions away or distracting myself by staying busy, but I’ve come to realize the only way I can survive this viscous cycle of questioning what happened is by giving the questions to God, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. Faith is the only thing that combats fear, and when I’m overwhelmed by the fear manifested by the losses in my life, my faith is what sustains me. We must choose not to give into our fear. Fear can have two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. I want to rise up and change my future for the better, not despite my losses, but in honor of them.

Living without the future I imagined. I thought I knew where I was going, where my trajectory for life was taking me. I was one month away from being a self-publishing novelist and realizing a lifelong dream. I had three wonderful children, a good husband, a supportive family and a strong relationship with God. Life was what I imagined for myself. With one sentence from a doctor, “We tried everything we could, but we just couldn’t bring him back,” my future was shattered. How was I supposed to live in a world without my son, let alone plan a future without him? I found myself drifting aimlessly around, going through the motions of what was required of me but not really living. I definitely wasn’t looking towards the future because it looked bleak and empty. But ever-so-slowly, without me even noticing, the days got a little easier, I started to find myself thinking about living in a world with a new future, different from the one I imagined. It prepared me for when my dad died because I’d adjusted with the changes happening around me and I’d learned it’s possible to have an alternate future other than what you expected. “Second choice” doesn’t mean “second best.” Sometimes, it just means “different.” I believe God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad for our greatest calling. I find myself in a place where I can help others in ways I never knew possible, and my family is much stronger than we were before.

Living without will profoundly alter a person; how it alters that person is up to them. Living without has taught me not to judge people because we really don’t know what others are going through. Everyone has a story just below the surface, from the coffee barista to the office assistant, and each of our stories, change us in different ways. My story has shaped me into a kinder, more compassionate person who doesn’t take anything for granted. As the holidays approach and I live in a season without, I’m consciously making a choice to turn outward: to give to the needy, support those who are in pain and help anyone struggling with loss. 

jennabrandt

43
43
1
TOPICS
, ,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

15 Mighty Stories We’re Thankful for This Year

383
383
0

Here at The Mighty, we’re thankful for a lot of things, but the sense of community we share with all of you is something that makes us especially grateful. Whether it’s helping, educating or simply connecting with others, our goal is to create a place where everyone can share their stories about disability, disease, medical conditions and mental health. Before we press pause for the holiday, we wanted to thank you all for visiting our site, and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Here are just a few of your stories we’re thankful for this year:

1. To My Daughter With Down Syndrome on Her Wedding Day

J-wedding

This letter makes us cry every time we read it. And yes, we’ve read it more than a few times.

2. The Brilliant Way This Special Ed Teacher Starts Class Every Day

chris-ulmer-social

This video went viral after we posted it, and it’s easy to see why. The power of positivity (and high-fives) are the perfect way to start the day, and Chris Ulmer definitely has our vote for teacher of the year.

3. The First Time My Son With Autism Got a Birthday Invite I Didn’t Have to Decline

TIMBERKY

“This mom will be RSVPing a hell yes for the first time ever.”

4. Comedian With Cerebral Palsy Models in Fashion Week’s Most Inclusive Show

maysoon

We’ve written about comedian Maysoon Zayid a few times — (her TED Talk is a must-watch). So when she starred in Carrie Hammer’s “Role Models Not Runway Models” this year, we were pumped. And since we’re on the topic, you should also check out Zayid explaining why Hollywood needs to start casting actors with disabilities.

5. When We Asked Ronda Rousey If She Had Apraxia of Speech

laura-smith-lead

She may have lost her latest UFC fight, but here’s a reason why Rhonda Rousey will always be a winner in our book.

6. How This Boy Born With a Partial Skull Proved Doctors Wrong

11863344_297910720401036_2216954165494680229_n

His name is Jaxon Buell, but the Internet knows him as Jaxon Strong, and he’s truly lived up to that name. Born without part of his skull, this baby wasn’t expected to survive more than a few weeks, much less an entire year.

7. A Letter to Those Affected by My Anxiety

slack-imgs.com

A letter about empathy that everyone needs to read.

8. This Barber Went the Extra Mile to Give a Boy With Autism a Haircut

autism-haircut

Hairdresser James Williams had been trying to cut Mason’s hair for months, but he refused to give up until the little boy got a trim. We weren’t the only ones who were thrilled with the results…

9. Man With Crohn’s Posts Personal Photo After Being Accused of Faking Condition

12063449_10153647470197482_8570435921812007011_n

With so many selfies floating around on the Internet, this man made sure his had a lasting impression on everyone. Many individuals, especially those with chronic or invisible illnesses, face challenges when it comes to the public’s perception of their health. This man’s photo showed millions of people that one doesn’t always have to “look” sick to be sick.

10. A Love Letter to My Neurotypical Husband, From Your Autistic Wife

article-image

Her words are just as beautiful as this photo.

11. What the Starbucks Barista Didn’t Know When She Wrote ‘Smile’ on My Coffee

starbucks-img

Sometimes one word is all it takes to make a difference in someone’s day.

12. Teen With Down Syndrome Brushes Off Bullying and Breaks Into Modeling

gigi-pose-2

Madeline Stuart was the first female with Down syndrome to dominate the fashion world, but a number of others have followed in her footsteps. Gigi Cunningham, 17, not only works it at fashion shows, but she’s working to raise awareness for bullying.

13. This Mom Took a Selfie With Her Prescription for a Powerful Reason

USE-669x750

Have you heard of #MedicatedandMighty? After posting a selfie with her prescriptions and teaming up with us, we essentially launched an entire movement encouraging others not be shy about getting help.

14. How Psychology Majors Are Responding to Jeb Bush’s Diss

CSHIJBnWEAAVCyy

Is it just us, or do these psychology majors have far more to offer society than most of our politicians?

15. This Dad Found a Wonderful Use for Restaurants’ Leftover Crayons

CrayonInitiative3

Pure genius.

These are only a handful of stories we’re thankful for. What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

383
383
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What No One Told Us While We Sat Terrified in the NICU

2k
2k
10

Those first few terrifying weeks of my daughter Abby’s life, the doctors told us an awful lot of information. They told us Abby’s chances of getting out of the NICU were slim. They gave us lots of statistics that showed the odds were stacked against her.

leach1

They pointed out every little physical imperfection on her body, from her ears, to the bridge of her nose, to her fingers. They discussed life expectancy, pediatric hospice and DNR orders. 

leach2

They told us she would never sit up, much less walk, but offered assistive technology to make our day-to-day easier. 

leach3

They were quick to set our expectations straight by informing us she wouldn’t be much more than a vegetable, if she lived.

But there was a whole lot the doctors didn’t say.

They didn’t say Abby is so much more than a statistic.  

They didn’t describe the look of adoration that would glisten in Abby’s eyes as she signed “I love you.”  

leach4

They forgot to mention she would, in fact, sit up… and crawl… and walk.  They never said she would do all of this in her own time because she’s just that stubborn! 

leach5

They never once mentioned the stubborn streak she inherited from her momma has made her quite a fighter.  

leach6

Nobody ever really told us how difficult home nursing could be — or how wonderful it would be once we got a team of nurses who genuinely love and care for Abby (and our family!). I don’t remember anyone telling us the therapists who would work with Abby would become friends whom we would trust and whom would be some of Abby’s biggest cheerleaders.  

They didn’t say how she’d follow her brother around the house, tormenting him, or how fiercely he would love her.

leach7

They never said we’d have such a supportive group of people following our little blog and celebrating Abby’s every accomplishment. They didn’t know there would be times when the comments people left on the blog got me through a particularly emotionally draining day. 

 They didn’t tell us Abby’s smile would light up a room or that she could control the world with the simple “more” sign. 

leach8

They didn’t say her beautiful, thick brown hair would curl in sweet little ringlets in the back.  

leach9

They didn’t tell us how our journey would expand our vocabularies until we both felt like we’ve been through a few years of medical school. They didn’t say words like “decannulation,” “gastrostomy” and “kyphosis” would be everyday terms. They didn’t do much to assure us that there really is life after a trach and a vent, and that we really would become pros at all of the medical equipment. 

leach10

leach11

leach12

They didn’t realize she’d love to go through the cabinets and make a mess faster than I could clean up after her.  

leach13

leach14

They didn’t tell us how fast I would cry when singing “You Are My Sunshine.”

leach15

They just didn’t know how much she would change our lives or how she’d bring us closer to each other and God. They didn’t know that our God is a God of miracles, and that He would be performing quite a few in Abby’s little life.

They didn’t know Abby.

Follow this journey on Life as a Leach.

2k
2k
10
TOPICS
,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Elementary School Under Fire for Labeling Special Needs Students With Stickers

605
605
0

Update: On Nov. 30 the parents of students labelled with colored stickers at S.A.N.D. Elementary school announced they have filed a Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity (CHRO) complaint alleging that the labelling of their children was discrimination and caused emotional trauma, according to a Connecticut Parents Union press release. Since federal law prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of race, gender, age, national origin and other characteristics, Hartford parents are requesting a full expedited investigation. In addition, the Connecticut Parents Union has filed a Department of Children and Families (DCF) complaint against the Hartford Public School leadership, alleging “emotional maltreatment” of the students.

Hartford parents will be speaking before the State Board of Education on December 2 to demand an independent investigation into this discriminatory classroom practice.

At a teacher training in a public school in Hartford, Connecticut, special needs students were labelled with colored stickers.

On Nov. 9, special needs students at S.A.N.D. Elementary School had green stickers placed on their shirts, English language learners received yellow, those receiving both English language training and special education were identified with blue stickers and students in general education received red and orange stickers, The Hartford Courant reported. The training was supposed to show teachers how to walk through the classroom and divide their attention between students with differing needs.

Parents were not happy when they found out about the exercise.

I am a parent of a child with special needs,” Victor Cristofaro, a parent and also Vice President of the Hartford union that represents school supervisors and principals, told The Hartford Courant. “How long — let’s think about this — how long will students refer to each other by the color of the dot that was placed on them? How long will they have to deal with that?”

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, Hartford Schools Superintendent Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez told 22 News, “The intention was the right one, the way it played out was definitely wrong.

Dr. Schiavino-Narvaez also said the singling out of students was, “not in line with our values of equity and excellence in the Hartford Public Schools. It was an isolated incident and will not happen again.”

There is an ongoing investigation into the incident and it is not known at this point whether anyone involved will face discipline.

The Mighty contacted Hartford Public Schools and received the following statement.

“The matter has been reviewed and handled appropriately,” Superintendent Schiavino-Narvaez told The Mighty via email.

Get more on the story from the video below: 

605
605
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Runners and Non-Runners Will Agree, This Boston Marathon Tribute Is a Must-Watch

0

“I won’t stop until I get there. I will run, run, run.”

These are lyrics from singer-songwriter Michelle Lewis‘ new single, “Run, Run, Run” — a song that pays tribute to the Boston Marathon with its recently-released music video (below). The 3-minute video features runners who are training for this year’s race on Monday, April 21, including an inspiring duo known as Team Hoyt — a marathon- and triathlon-running pair consisting of Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick, who has cerebral palsy.

“Being from Massachusetts and knowing their story for all of these years, it was so inspiring to be able to meet and work with them,” Lewis told Boston.com’s BDCWire.

The result is a perfect example of what it means to be Boston Strong:

All proceeds from the sales of the “Run Run Run” single through Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014, will be donated to The One Fund.

0
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.