What to Expect After a Traumatic Event

Trigger warning: traumatic events, panic, car accidents

Canada-wide mental health resources: https://www.ccmhs-ccsms.ca/mental-health-resources-1

Online counseling: https://www.faithfulcounseling.com/ (Christian perspective therapy)

A few months ago, while out walking by my house, I witnessed a fatal car and buggy accident and was first on the scene aside from the ones immediately involved in the accident. I won’t share details about the accident here, but needless to say, it was a traumatic experience. I wrote this post a few days after the accident, after researching what is normal and how I should cope with the emotions I was feeling.

Based on my experience, and reading up about what is common when experiencing traumatic events, I wrote out the things that are expected when you witness a trauma. This was a way for me to process those feelings. A few months later, I can safely say the event is behind me, so now I want to put this out there to help anyone else who has experienced something similar.

Note: I do have a degree in counseling studies, but I am not a mental health professional. Experiences will vary based on the individual person and the nature of the trauma.

You will need to talk about it, but at the same time, you won’t want to talk about it. You are free to talk about it with someone you trust, and then not talk about it with others. Don’t keep it inside – tell everything to someone: a counsellor, a spouse, a parent. And then only share as you feel comfortable doing so with others.

You will picture the event, again and again, in your mind, even when you don’t want to. This is normal. This will pass. The thoughts are intrusive, and you won’t want them there, but they will come anyway. This does not mean you are processing it wrong, it means you are processing it normally. Thankfully it will not last forever.

Distracting yourself is okay. Audiobooks, work, and t.v. are helpful until the images are less frequent. As long as you aren’t abusing substances, harming yourself, or harming others, any form of distraction and self-care is acceptable during this time.

You will feel the desire to avoid the location or anything to do with the trauma. This is normal. I don’t know the answers to this, other than to approach it with balance: if you are in a good state of mind, it’s good to proceed and push yourself past fears. But if you are in a bad state of mind, it is okay to wait until you are feeling better to push past your fears. The right thing to do may vary day by day. Consider asking someone to be with you the first time you have to revisit the site of the trauma.

Some moments you will feel strong and like you have handled it well, other moments you will feel like a complete basket case. Both are okay.

The trauma will likely stir up previous traumas. That can be overwhelming. Fears you thought were conquered may come up again. But that does not mean those fears are permanent. They have come to visit, but they will not stay.

Your body will react even when you don’t want it to. You will get tense, or cry, or maybe have some panic attacks. Those are scary. Remember to breathe, remember that you are safe, and everything will be okay. Prayer and meditations are helpful.

You will worry about everyone involved, and think about them often. You may feel heightened responses to people – maybe fear, maybe compassion, maybe anger or grief.

Do not put pressure on yourself to perform at a high level at work, school, or home in the immediate aftermath of the trauma. Your body does not need the extra stress, and you do not have to be at your highest level of functioning. If even those baseline tasks seem too much, do not be afraid to ask for a personal day or two.

You may feel, momentarily, like you are losing your identity. Remember that you are not the trauma, you are not the event, and it is good and right for you to continue to live your life – that means continue to be yourself, have fun, and work hard. Expressing your unique identity outside of the trauma may help you to feel stronger. For me, working out helped me to remember that I am still in control of my life, even when some things feel out of control.

If you have experienced a trauma and need help, please consider calling a trauma hotline or reaching out to a counselor. You are not alone, and you will be okay.

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