Traumatic Grief

I have written a chapter in my book Grief Demystified on the variants of maladaptive, or “complicated” grief and found this blog post earlier whilst scrolling through Twitter: Zuka’s Legacy

I thought this post was so well written from a first person narrative and provides a different perspective on the specific issue of a traumatic response to a bereavement.  Not all deaths, whether traumatic or not will result in “trauma” but there can be a traumatic reaction following a death.

This post was written by a bereaved mother after her son suicided and she has graciously consented to let me re-blog this:

PTSD is not the person refusing to let go of the past
but the past refusing to let go of the person
Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. For the full diagnostic criteria please click here.
Basically when a person has been through trauma, certain events (called triggers) can cause a person to have anxiety, anxiety attacks, or fear. They may avoid situations that may trigger memories, people with PTSD may have nightmares related to the event. It can cause depression, irritability, detachment from others, problems sleeping and problems concentrating..
PTSD is not always an exact replay of the actual event, it’s sometimes a replay of the emotions you felt during the event such as fear, helplessness and sadness (Alice Cariv)

I have had PTSD in the past concerning a bad car accident and a violent relationship with my children’s father but nothing as bad as Zuka’s suicide. When I was in the hospital I was diagnosed with PTSD, I was not surprised, I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have PTSD. I had nightmares every night until I went to the hospital and they gave me a medication to help with nightmares. A couple of incidents have happened that caused pretty major anxiety attacks.

The first one happened the first time we went out after Zuka’s death, We went with very understanding friends for support. It was really hard going out in public and never knowing what make you break down crying. We had a nice dinner and everyone was heading out but I decided to run to the bathroom real quick. On the way out the heavy wooden door banged behind me….Immediately I threw my hands up in front of my face, I was so afraid and felt like I was in shock, I started crying and ran out of there. PTSD can be embarrassing, all the way home I wondered what people who witnessed that anxiety attack must have been thinking.

The next incident occurred when I was at a get together and a guest (who had no idea what happened) brought in his new shot gun to show everyone, I was nervous but when he racked it, I did the same thing, threw my hands up, I was so scared, I started getting out of my chair to run out but my friend jumped up and yelled at them to take the gun out. I think they thought I was afraid of guns, I tried to explain and I was stuttering. It was a very traumatic experience for me, though no one is at fault!

I have had several other incidents, watching movies, loud noises, I just never know what will bring on flashbacks or anxiety attacks. The bad dreams haven’t been about the exact incident but they are about fear and loss.

If you have been through or witnessed a traumatic event that causes reoccurring bad dreams, fear, anxiety, avoidance of situation you may find fear inducing you may have PTSD
Here are some things that may help
Seeking professional help from a counselor, psychiatrist or doctor
Meditation and practice self soothing
Avoid drugs and alcohol which may make the issue worse
Talk about it to a supportive friend or family member
Medication; anti-anxiety medication may help
Take care of yourself, get enough sleep, try to eat healthy meals
Journal about the incident that causes the anxiety attack
be easy on yourself and do not feel responsible for an anxiety attack, it’s not something you can control.
Do some sort of art work or craft to soothe yourself
Here are 20 unexpected coping techniques for PTSD

Check out Kati Morton’s Youtube she has several videos on PTSD and many other mental health videos
Do you have questions, comments or anything you want to share, you can leave a comment below or email me at zukaslegacy@gmail.com

 

Let’s talk about suicide…

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about suicide since the sad announcement of Chris Cornell’s death yesterday.  Most of the information provided is assumptive, and not based on research or statistics.  Here are some of the facts from the World Health Organization’s 2015 dataset:

  1. Suicide is not the most common cause of death; it is the 17th leading method of death worldwide.
  2. Suicide does not just affect young people; it occurs throughout the lifespan.
  3. It is not just men that suicide, women do too.
  4. Close to 800,000 die via suicide each year, with many more attempted.
  5. Suicide can be prevented.

Why is suicide different to any other death?

Suicide is different because the person who we love chose to end their own life prematurely. That sentence on its own is a powerful concept to process, as it throws up all kinds of questions and emotions. It also alters the way other people interact with us as grievers.

There are many reasons why bereavement can be different after suicide and they can include:

  • The questioning of religious beliefs
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Stigma
  • Denial
  • Absence of support
  • Silence
  • Other people’s perception or interpretation of the situation both pre death and of the death
  • Curiosity
  • Police involvement
  • Coroner involvement
  • Rejection
  • Heightened fear of genetics
  • But mainly “why?”

What are some of the reasons for suicide?

Aside from obvious mental health issues, such as drug addiction or bipolar disorder, that may lead a person to suicidal thoughts and actions, there are four psychological needs that need to be met, according to an expert in suicide, Dr. Nicola Tweedie[1] :

Thwarted Love;

We all want to feel loved, accepted, and that we belong.  If we feel isolated or lonely. or excluded from our network groups, this can lead to low self worth. Alternatively, wanting to belong to a displaced group e.g. where there is a spate of teenage suicides in an area, can be seductive.  The perception of joining them and becoming part of the group is a powerful attraction.   Suicide can therefore appear to be a solution i.e. “no-one ever loved me anyway, no-one will care” either as a result of exclusion or the desire to be included.

Fractured Control:

Most humans enjoy predictability, stability, autonomy and some order in their lives.  When there is a perception of no or little control, for example when we lose a job, are declared bankrupt, or divorce etc., suicide can seem like the only option to escape from the situation.

Assaulted Self Image:

In situations where someone has been bullied or subject to any manner of abuse, the resulting emotions can be shame, humiliation, or other associated feelings.  This can lead to the perception that the only way to cope with these feelings, particularly when functionally crippling, is to avoid them.  However if the emotions are too overwhelming, and possibly having a significant traumatic effect, suicide may be perceived as an escape route.

Excessive Anger:

Rage and hostility are associated with frustrated needs, and can lead to the ultimate act of rage against the human form.

Why is suicide different for grievers?

Van Derwal (1989)[2] identified the areas that are qualitatively different for those bereaved from suicide:

  • A prolonged search for the motive.
  • Denying the cause of death due to stigma and societal responses.
  • Feelings of rejection (both by the deceased and sometimes society).
  • Religious questioning.
  • They are more often likely to conceal the cause from others.
  • A heightened fear of a genetic /increased risk of suicide for themselves and their family.

How do we support those bereaved through suicide?

There is a simple answer to that question; in the same way you support anyone through a life event that is overwhelming and devastating:  with empathy, compassion, open mindedness & authenticity.  Just being there and/or listening is enough.

(Please note: The use of the word ‘committed’ with reference to ‘committed suicide’ is not particularly sensitive to the bereaved due to connotations of ‘committing’ a crime, particularly if the griever has a religious affiliation.)

For further resources see:

http://www.annemoss.com – a blog by a bereaved mother after her son suicided

http://www.Samaritans.org  – a helpline and support for anyone feeling suicidal

http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk – for support if bereaved through suicide

[1] http://finder.bupa.co.uk/Consultant/view/183553/dr_nicola_tweedie

[2] Van der Wal, J. (1989-90). The aftermath of suicide: A review of empirical evidence. Omega, 20, 149-171.