Going through trauma and post-traumatic stress – It’s okay not to be okay

Recently I have been reflecting a lot on what happened to me earlier this year. Going through a health scare with my tumors, and processing the news of my grandpa’s cancer while the world is turning upside-down due to COVID and my family not able being with me – it really took a toll on me, made my friends distance themselves or leave, made my work and master study more exhausting than it already was, and it all changed me. In the past few weeks, a friend of mine who I love and care about so much is going through a lot health-wise and doctors found a tumor in her body as well. The way she reacted and how she processed the difficult news reminded me of how I reacted: I was scared and overwhelmed but tried to be as positive and strong as I can, while feeling pretty lost and alone. And now to be able to be there for her, after going through something the same makes me feel relieved and at ease – because I can relate and hopefully, she will feel like she isn’t going through all of this alone.

When nothing feels okay

Back then, some days I could pull myself together and be social with people and kinda normal until my social battery ran out or I got hit by a wave of anxiety and fear. So something as simple as water spilling would make me feel completely overwhelmed and gave me the feeling that nothing is going to be okay. Thinking things like “Well what if it is cancer? .. And even if it’s operational, going through something like that is traumatizing. And where would I get operated? Here or leaving everything behind and get treated in Germany, ..where all the COVID cases are exploding..”. Going to the hospitals for the tumor scans and check-ups made me feel completely terrified and alone. Most people in your life, either friends, colleagues or sometimes even family, don’t always know whats going on, and even if they do, there is too much going on in their life that they often can not care or have the patience to be there with you. Which is no one’s fault, but in my case, it leads to me losing closer circles because I wasn’t always the fun and comfortable person to be around anymore.

People distance themselves, they don’t ask for coffee or lunch anymore, and rather just keep out of your life. The few guy friends that supported me daily through the trauma and post-trauma, through my mood swings and scare and anxiety, will be the one I am always, always grateful for. After I am done writing this, you bet I am heading over to Jackson and Jimmy’s place to eat their snacks. And as always, I already annoyed my god brother and his friends and we roasted each other today. And I’ll call David later — these friends were there when I wasn’t my best self. So often, when someone is going through something overwhelming, a simple thing like hanging out for lunch, laying on the couch together and watching some Kdrama with Korean food or hitting the gym together – can give the person the feeling that they aren’t alone in this. It’s what I needed in those moments – not a therapist or counseling session, but a friend who makes me feel like my life is normal and still under my control.

After all these things happened, I spend time with online therapy, and also reading and watching content about trauma, post-traumatic stress, and health scare traumas. There are many ways to handle these things and work on them but the most important thing is to give yourself time and patience to go through all the necessary emotions that still arise and follow you, even if you have gotten through the situation.

Here are a few things that I identified for myself, which might help you reflect on and internalize:

  • Expect your symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately. It will take time, there will be triggers and low points that make you feel overwhelmed and drained again. Sometimes its two steps forward, one step back.
  • Try to maintain routines, especially for meals and sleep. The latter, I still haven’t found the right balance yet – I don’t sleep as early and much as I should. My friends and I synced our steps and sleep hours and hold another more accountable now, because our sleep rhythm is just very unhealthy.
  • Engage in happy and mindful activities. Hang out with the people who truly care and make you feel like you and your time together are valuable. Don’t engage in situations that make you feel uncomfortable or pressured to be someone else. I always thrive to maintain a kind and friendly relationship with people. Now, I spent way more time focusing on and cherishing the people that were there when I needed them the most. They are the ones that deserve my energy and time, and they are also the ones that make me feel like I can always be my true self, on good and bad times, on happy days and more overwhelming days.
  • However, there is one thing I realize: Only because someone was there during traumatic times, doesn’t mean you have to hold them on different standards and let things slide. You still have to match the energy, love, and care they give you now. You can not be guilt-tripped into always being grateful for what they did in the past for you. It a toxic trait that you need to address. I tried working it out with someone a while back but at that point, I wasn’t reflective enough to explain that I appreciate and value what he did for me and care about him –but I am not happy with the way our communication and dynamic has been and I felt more like an optional choice than someone who deserves effortlessness and unconditional care and love. It’s hard to phrase these things right, without making the other person feel attacked and I hope one day to get the chance to pick up that conversation again
  • Ask for comfort and patience when you need it. People can’t read your mind, people don’t go through the same trauma and have their own issues and problems. So on days when you feel off and know that your anxiety and post-trauma are getting the best of you, be honest about it and let people know you arent 100% yourself that day. Or just lay on the couch and watch a whole season of your favorite series, works too.
  • Journal and write down your thoughts, routines, plans, and even dreams. For weeks and weeks, I had reoccurring dreams and scares about death and cancer and sickness. Writing down and internalizing my thoughts, my fears, worries but also my milestones and achievements have helped me internalized and sort out the things in life I can control and the things I need to be patient with. Being patient to yourself is such a difficult thing. I mean, often we don’t even talk to ourselves nicely (how often have you called yourself stupid or a dumbass for something trivial? How often did you call anyone else stupid? Probably not as much).
  • Set realistic goals and reduce as much stress as possible. In post-traumatic times, stress is not going to help you heal and feel 100% but it will create more pressure that might lead you to work even less effectively. I have been taking it slower with work recently. And due to some unfortunate events, I also have to take my workout routine slower and less pressuring to reach my body goals, which is absolutely fine and necessary.

(Source based on experiences and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) publications: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml)

As I am writing this, I am awaiting news of my grandpa. I have been learning in the past few months to give myself comfort and calmness in difficult situations, relying on your friends and family help but in the end, you have to be your own best friend and support. Love yourself like you love the feeling when the waiter brings the food. Be as patient with yourself like you are with your delayed online order. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And on those days I eat ice cream or lay on the couch watch Suits again and either way, it is a way to deal with the hard things life throws at us sometimes.

Important is that we are very kind and patient, to ourselves, and to each other – because you never know what people go through and how lonely it is sometimes to get through the bad days. I hope you are doing okay — Take care 🙂


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