I was getting nervous. It was just over a month before the first anniversary of my trauma that I started getting more emotional, anxious and overwhelmed. I was familiar with those feelings. I’ve always felt similar around the day that my mum passed away for years now. That’s when my mood usually starts to change, and I am stuck in my thoughts, surrounded by grief. But I’m learning to deal with it and trying to celebrate my mum’s life and think of the many happy memories I’ve of her. Given this, I knew that I didn’t want to spend the anniversary of my trauma crying into the pillow.
“You know, there are two directions things can normally go and I could have taken either path on my traumaversary,” I remember telling this to my therapist and then, later on, in a Live IG conversation about trauma and PTSD to which I was invited. You can watch the Live IG here. I was always of the opinion that there are two ways you can look at things.
Making it through a trauma anniversary
A year ago, a van hit me as I was crossing a road. I’m still recovering and have experienced several setbacks on the way. However, as much as I’m still in pain, I’m ALIVE! And I’m incredibly grateful for this. So whilst I felt more overwhelmed as the day approached, at the same time I was also appreciating my life more.
So when my therapist asked me how I have been feeling about my trauma anniversary, I told her how I saw it. There were two ways I could deal with it. I could get up in the morning and be sad and cry about what had happened to me. And yes, to be honest, there are days when I do feel like doing this. Times when I wish that day would never have happened, and I wouldn’t have to go through it all. But I also could get up in the morning and thank God that he left me in this world for a bit longer. I have experienced many times how beneficial gratitude can be. Even though it’s not always easy to find something to be grateful for during hard times, research has also shown the health benefits of gratitude.
Given this, I needed to create a plan that would help me on the day of my first trauma anniversary, not to be stuck with sad thoughts the entire day, but to go through the day celebrating my life. Because sure, that’s what I’m most grateful for and not only on my traumaversary. You can watch a short video from the day of my trauma anniversary with a few tips on IG, TikTok or Pinterest.
I understand that this may not be for everyone. And many trauma survivors may be in a position where they find it challenging to practice gratitude. It’s also not always possible to predict what reaction the day will bring or what triggers you may encounter. However, having a plan can help us to prepare and cope better.
Read also ‘How to Support Somone with PTSD?‘
Traumaversary is the anniversary of a traumatic event. It can be the day of your accident, assault or the day you lost a loved one. So if you experience a higher level of stress, anxiety or depression around a specific time of year, I would advise you to check the calendar. Unless it is seasonal affective disorder, it’s most likely you display anniversary reactions. The Anniversary Effect is the memories, thoughts and feelings that occur on or around the traumaversary. Anniversary reactions are truly awful, distressing and emotionally draining. No matter what the traumatic event was.
If it is your first year of trauma anniversary, you may not know what to expect. However, you may be dreading it, and you may notice, as the day approaches, some changes in your behaviour or feelings. It may be also a signal that you need more time to deal with your trauma as you may not be over the traumatic event yet.
How to deal with trauma anniversary reactions?
You may start to experience reactions some time before the day of your trauma anniversary. Many things can be triggers, such as a particular smell, reading a story or watching a programme on TV. I’m writing now from personal experience as it’s what happened to me. I shared this with my therapist, who advised me to limit any intake that can be stressful for me, especially around my traumaversary.
Selfcare is crucial on those days, more so than ever. Show yourself some love! Recognise and acknowledge your feelings; they are part of your recovery process. Look at what may help you to release them. Give yourself time to feel what you feel, write your feelings down, read them aloud and see if you still feel the same. Go out for a walk, create a healing playlist, read healing quotes or the Bible, exercise or cuddle in a blanket. Use as many strategies as necessary, including distractions, grounding techniques, meditation or prayer.
My plan, as mentioned earlier, was to fill that day with gratitude rather than sadness. So rather than being upset all day and thinking why this had happened to me, I planned to get up in the morning and thank God for another year of my life. Of course, life doesn’t always go according to our plans. However, I’m glad that the day of my trauma anniversary started with gratitude, just as planned.
And I was glad that my hubby could take the day off. We marked this day with a lovely brunch followed by shopping therapy and thanking God for another day. We didn’t rush, we took our time and enjoyed the company of each other. Doing something you enjoy is always a good way of lifting your spirit. So if you can, plan some positive events, perhaps a short break or a day out. An option would also be doing some charity work or a fundraising event.
I did a sponsored walk in the summer, and you can read more about it here. So we just decided to spend the day together and soak up some Christmas atmosphere. In past years we spent weekends before Christmas visiting Christmas markets. Last year, I didn’t enjoy the time before Christmas much given my injury and the pandemic. So that’s what I wanted to do for my traumaversary. It was a great way of appreciating life and all the little things that make life beautiful.
If this is your first traumaversary, you may want to perhaps mark it as a new chapter in your life with a new haircut or create a ritual. We went to the church for a service, and I lit a candle afterwards. I spent some time with God and thanked Him that He’s always with me. The year hasn’t been easy for anyone, but He kept His promise and didn’t forsake us. With Him, I know that even if I still have a long way to go to recover fully, I will come out of it stronger than I ever was. Hardships and setbacks aren’t there to break us but to make us stronger.
And you are so much stronger than you think! So don’t punish yourself if this is a hard time for you. Give yourself time to process all you’ve been through. Don’t be hard on yourself or ashamed of your anniversary reactions. This is a time when you need to show yourself a little bit of extra love and compassion. Remember, whilst we are all different and deal with emotions and situations differently, you are not the only one who goes through this. Your reactions are totally normal, and you are entitled to feel what you feel. Just don’t get stuck in it! Instead, give your worries, your pain to God. Ask Him for help and strength. Also, remember, whilst it may be very distressing, the anniversary reactions will pass within a few weeks, and you will come out the other side lighter.
What I was grateful for was also that my hubby could spend the whole day with me. I wasn’t alone as this isn’t a time when you would want to be feeling lonely. So be with people who care about you and understand what you have been through in your life. Having a support circle where you feel able to release your feelings without being judged is crucial. And if needed, find professional help. Perhaps you have been suppressing your feelings and emotions, and they are all coming out on your traumaversary. Perhaps this is the time for you, if you feel ready, to start working on accepting your trauma and to start healing. It’s never too late, and this can be your new beginning.
Read also ‘Year of Healing: 10 Positive Recovery Quotes‘
On the other hand, the day might be something you would rather ignore. And I can’t tell you if this is the right or wrong decision for you. I can only say that it wouldn’t have worked for me.
In my case, it’s only a year but I’m still in pain so it’s hard to forget it. And I’ve been suppressing other trauma for years. They all crawled back out of the woodwork when pandora’s box opened after yet another traumatic event, my accident. So I tried not to ignore it any longer and to deal with it and learn how to be honest with myself and others. Also, not acknowledging it would only have prolonged the feelings I had in the weeks leading up to the day. So I was glad that I found a way of making it through the day in the way I did – with gratitude, God and my hubby on my side and reminding myself of how far I’ve come in the year.
If you are going through your traumaversary, I am sending strength and prayers. Similarly, if you know someone who goes through it, let them know that you are there for them and that they are not alone.
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