Coming to Terms with Trauma

August 8, 2013

Something we focus on in our Post-injury Care and Recovery (PICAR) research is the difference between everyday stressors and more serious traumatic stress reactions that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This difference is uniquely explored in a recent New York Times article by psychiatrist and author Mark Epstein entitled, “The Trauma of Being Alive.” In the article, Dr. Epstein explores traumatic stress in everyday life centering on the fact that his mother was still coming to terms with the death of her first husband 60 years prior, triggered by the death of her second husband many years later. Dr. Epstein explains to his mother that some trauma never goes away completely, writing, “…the healthiest way to deal with trauma is to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay… The willingness to face traumas — be they large, small, primitive or fresh — is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life.

While many attribute traumatic stress reactions or more serious PTSD to war veterans or victims of serious violence, traumatic stress can and does occur following more “typical” traumatic events, such as injury. Through our AfterTheInjury website, the PICAR team’s research supports parents as they help children recover emotionally from an injury. Although traumatic stress reactions following a child’s injury (such as re-experiencing, avoidance, or hyper-arousal) are normal and typically go away after about a month, these symptoms can turn more serious if left untreated- much like Dr. Epstein’s mother’s reactions to her husbands’ deaths. I agree with Dr. Epstein’s approach that the best way to live with trauma—a normal part of life—is to deal with it head on, and we provide families with the tools and information to do just that.