Last week it suddenly occurred to me that I was nearing my anniversary – July 26th. For a minute I had forgotten all about it, but on a random Tuesday it hit me and I felt a bit sick to my stomach. Today is the 3-year anniversary of the day I was admitted to the psych hospital for postpartum depression/psychosis.
I like to take this day each year to share parts of this story on the blog, in hopes that it might help or encourage at least one person. For whatever reason, this year it is proving to be particularly hard. It’s like reopening the wound – healing has taken place, so it hurts to go back and poke around inside of it.
For those who are new to my blog, I’ve written a series of posts over the years about my experience with severe postpartum depression, which led me to admitting myself to a psychiatric hospital for a week. My son was only 4 weeks old at the time. If you’re interested in reading them, you can search the tag “Postpartum Depression” and find all the posts I’ve written.
That experience was really what inspired me to start this blog – I wanted to be open and honest about my struggles with depression and anxiety, and use it as a way to let others know they are not alone.
Before writing this next section, I went back and reread all of my previous posts, including a draft that I have not made public yet. There’s so much more to say, so much more to the story that is not complete. Someday I would really like to write all of it out, but it feels too hard today.
Instead, today I would like to focus on the idea of trauma, and healing from psychological trauma. As the days were leading up to this anniversary, I found myself really struggling with a lot of anger. It was coming out (mostly at Dean) but at everything in life really. I had an appointment scheduled with my counselor yesterday, and I came in seething. As we talked, I decided to bring up to her that Friday would be three years since I was admitted to the hospital. I couldn’t even say it out loud without crying. I didn’t realize how much this simple date, July 26th, was really causing havoc to my emotional and mental state.
As we talked, she said that anger was my way of protecting myself – from the hurt and vulnerability I didn’t want to feel. Once I opened up about this hurt, it was like a huge weight was lifted off of me. I allowed myself to feel sad, to cry, and I realized how hard I had been working to avoid the feelings. My body literally relaxed the tension it had been holding in all my muscles, and I felt extremely exhausted after that session.
I wasn’t sure why this year, year 3, was so much harder than the other years. I thought I was supposed to be getting better, healing, and getting over this experience. It felt like I had gone backwards. My counselor said that sometimes our body only lets us heal little bits at a time – our body is always trying to protect us, so I probably wasn’t allowing myself to fully process the event. Even now, I’m realizing overcoming trauma is a lifelong process – things could be going well and 15 years from now something new could come up for me as a trigger and be really difficult.
The body is really amazing. I remember I had listened to a podcast a while back (I cannot remember which one) that discussed how the body can store trauma, even while our conscious mind is unaware of it. This could mean that somehow your body is preparing for trauma, or is affecting you because of past trauma, without you realizing it. I just think this is crazy – I mean, it’s amazing, but also crazy.
As I was coming into this year, I started researching traumatic anniversaries and came upon the term “anniversary effect” or “anniversary reaction.” This term was defined as “a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience.” Psychology Today says that “the body remembers” and symptoms of trauma can start happening to you before you even realize your anniversary is coming up.
Surprisingly, today I am doing much better than I have been the week leading up to this date. I am thankful for that. Maybe next year will be better, or maybe it will be worse, but I know now that it’s not something I need to “get over” or really expect to get easier. It will change, but it’s okay that I’m still working through it and processing what happened. It’s okay for me to feel sad and grieve things that happened and that were lost during that experience.
One cool thing that I saw suggested on a few websites was to have some sort of tradition on your trauma anniversary – for those who have lost a loved one, it might be visiting a grave site. This tradition could be anything you want it to be – so far, my tradition seems to be writing on my blog. I think I want to start incorporating some element of self-care into it – as a reminder that I am still worthy, and that I am okay. I have definitely learned the importance of self-care as a parent of a young child.
If you’re going through a traumatic event, or have an anniversary coming up, I hope you will take time to be compassionate with yourself, allow yourself to feel your feelings, and maybe create some sort of tradition to help you cope with your anniversary.
As always, I can never stress enough the importance of seeing a good counselor – it has helped me so much through this process. I’m also thankful to the many people who walked us through that event three years ago, and who continue to support my family and I in the years ahead.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with a quote from the HarCo MFT & Wellness Center Instagram Account – mftandwellness – they posted about trauma yesterday and it was so fitting and perfect. Check them out if you live in the area (they’re located in Maryland).
“Trauma knows no bounds of time. Traumatic experiences do not stay in our past, much as we might wish they would. These experiences often follow us and shape our perspective, shift our feelings, change our reactions and impact the way we think about the world. It is important to acknowledge the power of trauma so that we can meet our healing process with the same energy. We must be gentle with ourselves as we peel back the layers of impact, and rewrite our narrative. It takes time, effort, and courage to address the ways in which our experience can permeate our very existence. How can you acknowledge the power of your story today?” -MMH