Even if you feel well on the way to overcoming your traumatic experiences or losses, an upcoming ‘anniversary’ of the event can have an extremely unsettling effect. However, with a little planning, a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder anniversary doesn’t have to be something to fear.
A Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Anniversary Wobble Can Feel Like A Setback
It can take time and a lot of mindful work to recover from a traumatic experience and everybodys journey through this process is unique. Recovery means that you have been able to integrate your traumatic experiences into your everyday life and although the memory of them has not gone, you are able to think about your experiences without dissociating from them, feeling overwhelmed or out of control. After a lot of progress toward assimilating a traumatic event it can feel very distressing and demoralising to experience the feelings which can arise from the upcoming anniversary of the traumatic event.
Having reached a point in your recovery journey where you have begun to feel in control again, you may be taken by surprise by the strength of your feelings leading up to a PTSD anniversary date. This period can bring with it the possibility of feelings of depression, agitation, loss of concentration and even dreams or flashbacks. Because of this it is often interpreted as a backward step in your healing but it is very important for you to be aware that this is not the case.
Anxiety Around A PTSD Anniversary Date Is A Normal Part Of The Healing Process
If some of your post-trauma reactions have returned with intensity around an anniversary time, this does not signify that you are ‘not dealing’ with your trauma. It is important that you do not resist or hold negative thoughts against yourself for feeling this way. Instead, try to look at anniversary reactions as one more natural step in your recovery. Once you have a framework for understanding what is happening to you, your reactions become more predictable and you can begin to feel more in control and even begin to embrace the feelings which come your way. Bessel Van der Kolk wrote a seminal book, ‘The Body Keeps The Score’, which explores in depth the notion that our bodies have their own records of the events which happen to us. In the case of a trauma anniversary our subconcious memory systems have the time marked and when it gets close to the date, present us with a series of reminders – often in the form of some of the examples mentioned earlier.
Finding Ways To Honour The Natural Anniversary Process
Anniversary reactions can be managed to reduce their impact. One example of a positive strategy to use in the lead up to such a period is to plan a symbolic ritual that will be personally meaningful to you to mark the occasion. This could be a very simple or more elaborate gesture but the underlying principle is that you choose an action, no matter how small, that allows you to acknowledge what has happened and pay tribute to the person or thing which has been lost. In this way too, you honour yourself for having come this far in your life in spite of the trauma.
Examples of simple symbolic traumatic stress disorder anniversary rituals
- Lighting a candle at a particular time of day
- Taking a moment of silence (alone or with others)
- Making a donation (of money or your volunteer time) to a particular cause
- Attending a service which is meaningful to you
- Planting a tree or special plant
- Taking a walk in a park or gardens
- Requesting a special piece of music be played on a radio programme
Samuel Pepys And His Surgery Anniversary Celebration Dinner
In 1658, in his 25th year, Samuel Pepys took the bold step of electing for surgery to address the ongoing problems he had experienced with bladder stones since childhood. At the time when Pepys had his operation, the procedure was notoriously risky and a huge physical and mental ordeal. Without anaesthesia, patients were at risk of going into shock from the pain, coupled with the inherent dangers due to the uninformed approach to infection and bacteria management within the medical world at the time. Despite the very unfavourable odds, he survived the procedure, having a stone ‘the size of a tennis ball’ removed. Every year, Pepys hosted a grand dinner to celebrate the success of the operation with his closest friends. This was his way of marking his own journey forward from the anniversary of one of the most traumatic events he experienced during his lifetime.
A Native American Indian Blessing Ritual
Native American Indians used a form of a ‘blessing ritual’ for such occations. This ritual consisted of gathering a candle, a bowl of water and some white sage, the herb traditionally associated with wisdom. At the time you have chosen to mark the anniversary you light the candle, dip your fingers in the water and touch your forehead, saying, ‘bless my forehead, that I may understand fully’. Next you dip your fingers in the water and touch your eyes, saying, bless my eyes, that I may see clearly, then you touch your lips with the water, saying, ‘bless my lips, that I may speak the truth, then you dip your fingers in the water and touch your heart, saying, ‘bless my heart that I may carry strength and courage’. Now the sage is crushed between your fingers and you inhale its pungent smell and then you wash your fingers in the bowl of water. The water is poured away while you pause and reflect for a moment and then the candle is blown out.