Let’s imagine a frozen lake. Yeah, like in the American movies, where the kids skate and play ice hockey. Or better, like the ones where the heroes walk very slowly so their surface doesn’t crack. Better like the latter.
Rarely do we imagine that that lake can bear any resemblance to our mind, let alone our happiness . Perhaps we live in a reality in which our well-being, instead of being that lake, is a compact glacier, where it is difficult to scratch the surface, and we do not even consider the possibility of sinking.
But what if it could? What if the ice layer separating us from the murky depths was as thin as cigarette paper, and gave us the feeling of being on the verge of breaking. Can you imagine the constant stress and panic we would be under?
This (note the literary licenses), in addition to many other things, is what makes up the reality of a traumatized person, or in other words, one who suffers symptoms typical of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And yet, he continues to live; he doesn’t die of fear, just as we believe would happen to us if we lived the metaphor of ice.
What is trauma and what does it really mean?
trauma has been used by all artistic disciplines to generally exemplify madness. Soldiers who abuse their spouses, traumatized children who become abusers, abused teenagers who become serial killers… And we could go on and on.
But, in an effort to avoid clichés, let’s start with the real meaning of this label in clinical practice. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a diagnostic label that encompasses the symptoms that can occur from having witnessed a life- or limb-threatening event (physical or psychological), responding to it with reactions of intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Symptoms of psychic trauma
However, in broad terms, these symptoms listed within the label would imply :
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event in a persistent way . The person begins to go through moments in which uncontrolled memories of the trauma occur, emotions experienced at the time, and intense discomfort when coming into contact with everything that reminds him or her of the trauma. For example, if one of the things related to the event is sweating, it is possible that this re-experimentation is due to sweating.
- Avoidance of stimuli associated with trauma . All types of strategies are generated that can help to avoid something related to the trauma, even if it is not explicitly so. In the previous example, sport could be something to avoid.
- Symptoms of hyperactivity such as inability to sleep , outbursts of anger, difficulties in concentration, hypervigilance or exaggerated alarm response. In other words, ways in which the mind accounts for the fear of the situation experienced.
- General discomfort and disruption of the person’s normal functioning in any important respect. Trauma may also generate depressive or anxious symptoms; emotions of guilt or shame that challenge the person’s self-esteem and self-concept.
- Dissociative amnesia , caused by shock or by feelings of guilt, shame or anger. It has many negative effects, such as the inability to express what happened in the trauma or to re-evaluate it. Instinctively it may seem useful, since if you forget the bad thing, it is “like it doesn’t exist”, but nothing is further from the truth; unblocking emotions that arose at that moment and rewriting or reinterpreting what happened is basic to recovery.
“Return” to the same
It is important to emphasize that like all other diagnostic labels, this particular one is just a way of calling a grouping of symptoms, of problems, to speak clearly . Just that. “Post-traumatic stress” doesn’t mean: “having a cluster of problems and also being crazy in the head”. Although it is a widespread form of labeling, let’s advocate respect.
But why this particular overkill? It may be because of the morbidity that mental illness can produce, and because of the way it has been sold for so many years. The myth has been generated that traumatized people are broken forever, and this is false . “He is traumatized, he will never be the same.” No, this is not so. Psychic trauma does not imply a chronic situation of discomfort and disorder with no turning back.
Beyond recovery, which is definitely possible and for which there is a wide variety of treatments (narrative therapy, biofeedback, or the applications of cognitive-behavioral therapy and rational-emotive therapy, to mention a few), it is necessary to attack the dichotomous approach that society offers us today with regard to these issues.
The doubt of “being the same”, despite being logical, ends up being more one of those fears of the film than a sentence with a real meaning . In human beings, learning is continuous, and therefore, being the same as before necessarily implies “not advancing” or “not living”. It would be unfair and illogical to demand that no one (with or without trauma) return to exactly the same as they were before. We are in constant evolution, in constant construction.
And in this situation, going back to your old self can be a very hard cliché. An impossible test if we remember the stress and panic of getting lost in the depths. We can give the option of being “the one before” and “something else”.
And it is in that “something else” that everyone has the freedom to live or to move forward. But always both at the same time.