We often try to lead a quiet life. We want to be a good parent, a conscientious employee, an available friend, a loving spouse, etc. Life is then simple and the routine set up. We know tragedies, dramas and horrors exist because the news is full of them, but we feel safe at the same time. Unconsciously, we think that nothing like this could happen to us... Well, no one is protected from health problems. Even though I’m a clinical nurse, I’m not immune to any disease.
When the trauma came, it was an absolute surprise and shock for me. My conception of the world and my vision of myself totally collapsed. My confidence in life and human nature were then destroyed and I felt outraged! I was overwhelmed by the incapacitating and painful symptoms but the reality was obvious: the complications accumulated so I was forced to give birth by an emergency cesarean section and had my ileostomy at the same time.
I had a life, a family and a job. Before the event, I was feeling invested, solid, helpful and efficient, but after, I was no longer able to understand life’s meaning. My conception of things was completely shattered. I didn’t see people and things the same way anymore and I had no interest in anything. My only goal was to watch over my baby who had been pulled out of my uterus two months too early.
I was afraid of everything. My life had just collapsed because of the operation, the ileostomy and many other factors. I thought that I was a weak person who wasn’t able to deal with life’s difficulties, but as a matter of fact, all the symptoms I just listed before are the ones associated with post-traumatic shock and major depression.
After a shock such as the one I was facing, there are usually three phases. This is the moment where the downhill started for me.
Phase 1: The crisis
During this phase, I was totally in shock and literally a robot: I was taking care of my baby, doing the housework and so on, automatically and without reasoning. In fact, I was confused and I had trouble thinking. At this point, my spouse and family didn’t know anything about my situation, even if they had some doubts... I cried secretly in the shower every day.
Then, I felt an intense vulnerability. I was afraid of dying or that something bad would happen to my baby. It was hard for me to recognize reality; I had an impression that all of this was unreal. How was it possible they operated on me so quickly, to give birth to a child in mid-gestation? Why me?
Finally, I felt intense loneliness. From the first days after the birth of my son and the operation on my intestines, there were so many things to do: paperwork to fill out, medical examinations for me or my little one to go through, phone calls to insurance companies as well as my employer, etc. I felt completely lost in all these procedures and assumed that there was no place for my distress.
Phase 2: The post-trauma
After the shock, it’s the assimilation phase. During this period, our whole psychological system tries to react to the trauma, to adapt to it and to digest it. In my case, many symptoms occurred at this point. I had repetitive and disturbing memories (flashbacks): the minutes before going to the operating room, my painful awakening in intensive care, my obsession to see my son because I only had a photo of him, etc. They took place in my head at any time of the day and I had repetitive nightmares every night. I was overwhelmed by anxiety which presented itself with physical signs (nausea, severe pain and migraines). At that time, I was taking several medications to help me live "normally": pills to sleep better, pills to reduce headaches, nausea and abdominal pain, etc. My other symptoms manifested as:
- efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations and places that could be associated with my traumatic event;
- an incapacity to remember important things;
- decreased interest in activities that I once considered important and pleasant;
- a sense of detachment from others;
- difficulty in having caring feelings towards people who were important to me;
- the impression that the future would be dark forever.
My body suddenly became hypersensitive. I reacted to everything and was a bundle of nerves.
Phase 3: The resolution
This is the last phase and it can take two forms. The event and symptom resolution might have been well integrated or the symptoms might remain chronic and a doctor must intervene. In my case, I didn’t reach the stage of symptom resolution, so all of this affected my daily life and contributed to the decrease in my quality of life. I no longer had self-esteem because the fear was still too strong. My scar was still painful and very present. For this reason, I asked for outside help several months after my traumatic event.
Don’t lose courage and hope. Go get help. There are people trained to help you! In my next article, I will explain to you the consequences of my post-traumatic shock, in order words, major depression. I will also give you some solutions to help you in going through this. The after-effects of post-traumatic shock sometimes seem insurmountable. Do you think you have done everything to help yourself, yet you feel that you’re not making any progress because your suffering is still so intense? Why keep trying alone? Health professionals can help you reduce your distress and restore your quality of life.
Remember that you’re not alone and you’re still important.
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