Note: This is not a clinical discussion. It’s purely personal, and briefly describes some of my own experiences.
My intent in writing this is just to remind people that despite all of the memes on Facebook urging you to let go of the past “because you don’t live there any more”, the reality is that a part of you does live there, and always will.
About 30 years ago I attended a training presented by what was then DMHMRSAS on recovery from major psychiatric episodes. The presenter demonstrated how it can take up to two years to recover from a manic or psychotic episode, and that if another episode occurred during that two year period, it made returning to baseline and therefore recovery, take that much longer. Of course, this was by way of explaining how challenging it can be to treat someone with what was then called “serious and persistent mental illness” or SPMI.
I recently realized that I’ve had three major traumas (not due to SPMI) in my life, and each time it took me three years (not two) to recover.
The first was when I was 10 and my mother died after a prolonged illness. I really don’t remember much of the years afterwards, but do know I had a hard time, with a lot of anger turned inwards (which some call depression) for about three years. After that, the anger manifested outwardly, as a mouthy teenager. Of course, many teens are mouthy so no one realized what was going on. I certainly didn’t.
The second was when I lost a nearly $9M business about a dozen years ago. I could barely get out of my own way for the first three years after that, during which time there were multiple additional problems tied to the loss of the company (lawsuits, foreclosures, etc). The residual impact went long past the three years, but the worst of it on my thought processes did seem to end around that three year mark.
And the third was the loss of my beloved husband to suicide in the fall of 2016, after several years of failing health. For three years after that, I was basically a mess. Couldn’t think, couldn’t make good decisions, had significant forgetfulness and an inability to do anything remotely difficult. I had widow’s fog but oh! so much more, it seemed.
Today, I still grieve all of those losses. They will always be a part of me and I will always, always wish things had turned out differently.
But, I am “awake” now, if you will. My thought processes are clear, my energy level has returned, and I have focus and the enthusiasm for life that I’d lost.
So, what is my point in writing this?
It’s actually pretty simple. I just had the sudden realization that it takes my mind and body about 3 years to recover from a major trauma. I’ve been very lucky because my family and friends have been as supportive as anyone could hope for.
But too many others don’t get that support. We have a society where grief and hurt and sadness are minimized; where we are told to “buck up, buttercup” and get over it. It’s gone. It’s done. It’s over. And you can’t go back. These are the worst things you can tell someone. Believe me, if my husband hadn’t been taught to “be a man”, he might be alive today.
My plea is that we all try to be more thoughtful, kinder and more gentle when someone has experienced a major loss. Because, you know, it could happen to you one day.