Category Archives: On Trauma and Loss of Happiness
The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness.
“Incidents of post-traumatic stress disorder have been documented as far back as ancient Greece. The condition has had different labels throughout history.
“In the American Civil War, it was called soldier’s heart. In the First World War it was called shell shock and in the Second World War it was known as war neurosis. In the Vietnam War, the symptoms were described as combat stress reaction.” (CBC News Posted: Dec 17, 2008)
Eight years ago I was in a car accident. Someone else caused it and I was not to blame. No one died. No one was paralyzed or brain injured. Nothing really bad happened.
I should have felt lucky. I should have been grateful. At the very least, I should have simply got on with my life. Instead I sank, inexplicably and irresponsibly, into Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
What right do I have to PTSD? I’ve lived in a peace-drenched country all my life, grown up warmed and nurtured by a loving family. I’ve never witnessed, let alone suffered, any kind of violence or abuse.
I am not a candidate for PTSD. I snuck in the back door, someone with no right to be there at all, quaking and shaking as though some genuine tragedy had occurred when nothing really bad happened to me.
Was it some hidden character flaw, some secret weakness within me? A lack of faith or gumption or plain common sense that I didn’t know the difference between fortune and misfortune?
I don’t know. All I know is that eight years ago I was in a car accident and I endured years of PTSD and depression. And eventually I learned to admit that even though I’m alive and whole and blameless, something bad did happen to me.
Do you recognize the source of your unhappiness? Did recognizing it help you to overcome it?
Every life is full of experiences–some bring happiness closer to us while other events send it away in wild flight. Experiencing a traumatic event can make happiness seem forever out of our reach.
70 percent of American adults have experienced a traumatic event, and 20% of these people will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An estimated 1 out of 10 women develops PTSD. (PTSD STATS – U.S. First Responders Association http://www.usfra.org/profiles/blogs/ptsd-stats#ixzz1rzNTmM3g)
The worst thing about trauma is not the experience or experiences that caused it, however terrible they were; the worst thing about trauma is what happens to the person after.
For those who have never experienced trauma, I’ve adapted an explanation of it from something Angela Hovey, a social worker who deals with trauma and PTSD, told me. It will mean more to you if you do this exercise while you’re reading.
Take out a piece of paper. (Yes, you have to do it on paper, not on a computer.) On that paper, write down your important relationships, and briefly, your role in each one. Using my daughter Caroline, for example, my relationship to her is mother, my role is to protect and care for her. For Ian, my relationship is spouse, one aspect of my role is to love and support him.
On the same piece of paper, write down your profession or job, and one main skill you use in it. Below that, your financial status. No details, just very generally: I own a home, a car, I have some savings, I earn enough to take care of myself and my family.
Now list some of your hobbies and interests, and some plans you have for the future, things you’re looking forward to: a trip, a social event, a promotion, a planned vacation. Finally, write down what you see as the meaning of life. One sentence: I believe God loves and watches over me; I believe we’re here to help each other; I believe I can take care of myself and those I love. Whatever you see as giving life meaning.
When you have finished, pick up that piece of paper, and for the next 30 seconds, tear it to pieces. Don’t stint–keep ripping for the full 30 seconds.
Now, put those pieces back together again.
Stop here a moment. How do you feel about this? Looking down at those pieces of paper that represent your life, do you think you can put them back together again? Do you feel overwhelmed by the task? Do you think they will ever look like the original paper list?
Severe trauma shatters your whole life: your relationships, your ability to perform the roles you previously had, your job and financial status, your hobbies and future plans, your concept of life and what makes it meaningful. Often in as little as 30 seconds.
And then, when you’re feeling frightened and betrayed and ripped to pieces, the toughest part begins: you have to find a way to put the pieces back together.
In 2003, I was in a severe car accident. Every aspect of my life was affected. It took me years to put the pieces of my life together again, but I did it, and so can you. Because of my experience, this blog is not only about the attainment of happiness, but also about the flight, or loss, of happiness, and how to recover it.