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Trauma, the Chicken or the Egg?

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

There is no denying that encephalitis (e) triggered all sorts emotional responses. E and it’s token acquired brain injury have been a significant event in my life so much so that I can draw a line between the me before August 9th 2017 and the me after August 9th 2021. August 9th was a highly stressful and painful day where I truly thought that my head was about to explode. The terrible head pain that seemed to be affecting several of my bodily responses was so surreal. It didn’t come anywhere close to anything I had experienced before. Deep down, I sort of knew that something pretty gloomy and nasty was going on, but you are rather helpless in those moments. You are a bit like a sitting duck and your fate appears to be completely out of your hands. So although no one physically harmed me and although no physical accident occurred, this illness coming into my life was definitely a pretty traumatic moment for me.

Although a big part of that day/week remains absolutely fuzzy, I do remember being genuinely scared. I do remember gritting my teeth through the pain wondering if that same pain would ever stop or if it would be too late by the time the doctors find what the heck was going on. The pain did gradually subside, but as it did, a myriad of Weird and not so Wonderful rose to the surface. More stuff to deal with, more stuff I had to learn to manage, grieve and accept. But alongside all that new stuff, there was also the loss of the intangible, the loss of relationships & the loss of me. I know, it’s all pretty complex isn’t it...shall we call this a bit traumatic perhaps!

With trauma comes a range of physical and emotional responses. I found that these responses are often a bit of a catch 22 emerging from a chicken or the egg scenario.

Since the illness, I’ve definitely been getting myself acquainted with most of those responses. From guilt, anger, fear, sadness and everything in between to fatigue, racing heart, headaches and so on, my body has experienced a range of responses...many of which were completely new to me. It was a lot to take in and it still is at times. With these sort of responses, it’s easy to feel as though you are loosing control over your body and mind. It is scary. Without support, I can see how someone could easily plunge into the shadows.

How to get passed the trauma?

Resilience is probably a bit of a key word here. Resilience is often defined as someone's capacity to adapt or bounce back in the face of adversity. Some individuals may already have had the opportunity to develop some of the key skills that are typically linked to resilience, others may need additional guidance to find their way through it all. I think that in order to develop your resilience, you first and foremost have to be aware of your emotions, your situation and your surroundings. Gaining an understanding of these items may help you set realistic goals and expectations. In doing so, you will avoid unnecessary pressure/stress, which will help you remain calm and therefore enhance your chances of responding in an appropriate manner. Exhibiting self-control is an important aspect of resilience. It may help you manage the situation with grace, but other skills are also required to help you move past the trauma.

Motivation, the ability to develop new goals and having a good dose of realistic optimism are also crucial to help you stay focused on the task ahead. You don't need to achieve everything at once and sometimes taking things in bite size pieces is much more sustainable...less potential for disappointment too. How you get from A to B and the time required to move from A to B will vary for each individual but your ability to do so, regardless of your pace, says a lot about the amount of resilience that a person has. Everyone will have a different set of limitations, but your ability to persevere in the face of heartache, is a true testament to your core resilience.

Looking back on some of my readings on child psychology, it appears that resilience is often the main indicator of success in a person's life...much more than intellectual acuity or physical strength. If you aren't familiar with the concept of resilience, it is never too late to make this the focus of your recovery. If it feels overwhelming at first, don't be afraid to ask for help. Seeking and accepting adequate support when needed is actually a great sign of resilience so this may actually be the first step for you.

But there is often a but...

Even if you are armed with resilience, every now and again, you may come across situations that will bring the trauma back to the surface. In my case, I'm aware that migraines can be that trigger. Mind you, it makes complete sense given that the first sign of encephalitis was that terrible head pain for me. So when a migraine kicks-in, it often has for effect to jump start emotional and physical trauma responses. Back to that chicken or the egg paradox right? But once again, if you try to apply some of your resilience skills, you may be able to assess things for what they are more accurately. So when you next find yourself in the midst of a challenging moment, you may also be able to focus on that light at the end of the tunnel which will help you pull through this rough patch.

Remember that resilience can be learned at any age. I personally see resilience as a forever work in progress anyway as the world and our lives are constantly evolving. Trauma or not, there is an ongoing need for us to adapt and re-orient ourselves. It takes courage and will to take the first step towards being a resilient individual. That in itself isn't easy, but we all have the ability to learn some of these key skills.

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