Have we become a culture that uses words such as trauma as excuses to remain unhealthy and justify our behaviors?
I wake up around six o’clock in the morning. I purposely slept in the clothes I was going to run in to allow for little effort as possible. I sleepily walk over to the mirror and braid my hair, pull on some socks and slip into my running shoes. I stuff my earbuds into my ears and start my playlist. As I stretch and listen to the music, I can feel the motivation rising to start my run. The sun is starting to come out by the time I get outside my door.
I begin my run. I am lost in my thoughts and in the music. As I turn a corner, I see a group of men walking in the same direction as me, but across the street. I start to feel a bit nervous but convince myself that I am fine. I don’t hear what their conversation is about, but I start to see them making inappropriate gestures in my direction. I try to ignore it, until one of the men crosses the street and starts jogging after me. I don’t remember how many seconds passed before I felt a tug on my t-shirt. Utter terror enters my body and I break into a sprint toward the nearest office building. I remember the door feeling heavy as I pulled it opened. My body is trembling. I cannot control the tremors that are going from my head to my toes.
A man with concern in his face walks toward me and asks me if I am okay. I cannot recall exactly what I told him, but I could feel myself calming down as my body starts to recognize that I am now in a safe place. The man, whom I later learn is named Hector, contacted law enforcement. He invites me to sit down as we wait for their arrival. I explain as much as I can recall to the police officers. They are very sympathetic and encourage me to take my time. One of the officers drives me home and provides me with his contact information and a copy of the report.
I am back in my home. I feel okay. I feel safe surrounded by the stuff in my home that are familiar to me. I give myself time to relax, before I make the phone call to my family to let them know what happened. Of course, they are super concerned and relieved that I am okay. My dad tells me that he has never liked that I run so early in the morning in the particular neighborhood that I run in. My mom asks me if I need them to come to my home. I assure them that I am fine, and I will not run in that particular neighborhood anymore.
Running has become a part of my identity over the years. I look forward to outdoor runs and listening to my playlist. It is a solo activity that brings me joy. In this particular situation, I could have easily allowed myself to give up running outdoors altogether, which for me would be a travesty. I am a person that struggles with anxiety and have been able to develop healthy coping skills in order to alleviate the anxiety, and running is a major component to reducing the anxiety.
I knew that I had to discontinue my usual route because of this situation. It angered me that some random man could completely shake my world and threaten an important part of my life. I could have allowed myself to stop the running and sit in my fear of possibly encountering the same situation and enduring more severe consequences. It would have been easy to do that. It would have been easy to tell my story to others of what happened and how I am even more anxious than before and cannot leave my home. But my story does not stop there.
Before continuing with my resolution, I want to take a moment to speak of trauma. When anyone encounters a situation that is traumatic, it is awful. Those in his or her network of support should provide comfort, understanding, and security. The individual should take time to process what happened, and how the situation affected him or her. But it should never stop there. There should be a mindset of the plan to heal and move on from it, rather than marinate in the trauma and allow it to debilitate the individual.
I should mention by trade I am a psychotherapist. I work in an environment of individuals who have been involved in traumatic situations. There are many who will eventually encompass diagnoses of posttraumatic stress disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, reactive attachment disorder, acute stress disorder or an adjustment disorder. Although these are very real diagnoses that many people live with, it does not mean that they cannot live healthy and joyfully.
As a therapist in this current time, I come across more and more people who have diagnosed themselves with one or more of the above-mentioned diagnoses before participating in a mental health assessment. It is more often than not I will hear one of my clients talk about how he or she researched his or her symptoms and they know that this is his or her diagnosis.
And what is more concerning is I have seen an increase in many people not wanting to get help, but just to hear that they have this diagnosis so that they can inform others that they have a reason for their behaviors and an excuse not to change. This is obviously not healthy, but it appears that trauma is in style. It gives one an excuse to remain unhealthy and even more make those around them feel guilty for questioning their behaviors.
Trauma is subjective. I very much agree with that statement. What is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to another person. However, I strongly believe that a traumatic event does not equal a diagnosis all of the time.
It irritates me to no end how casually the term “PTSD” is used. As I walk through public places, I hear people nonchalantly say, “Oh yes, being around that person gives me PTSD.” or “I cannot go over there because of my PTSD.” I hear sentences like that, or similar ones used in the same tone as, “I really like the food at that restaurant.” or “That is my favorite movie.”
Trauma is serious. I would never will take what one has encountered in a traumatic situation lightly. But the seriousness is being removed from those that truly are dealing with trauma, with those that are using it as an excuse to get out of something or to justify bad behavior.
I know that my last statement most likely ruffled some feathers, and that was my intent. There is a reason why there are trained therapists that provide mental health assessments and therapy. Self-diagnosis is a dangerous game. My non-solicited advice is to quit while you are ahead. You may have encountered a traumatic situation in your life, but that does not mean it is a situation that must be pathologized. And even if there is a diagnosis that abounds, there is a refreshing word that can accompany that diagnosis called remission. Yes, even if you were diagnosed with PTSD, you can heal from it, you can go into remission.
There is a healing component to all of this. It is so important to recognize that healing is possible. The choice is truly up to you.
Now let’s go back to my story. I still continue to run. I had to make revisions to the time and location, but I continue to run, because although it was a traumatic event and a bad memory for me, I did not let the trauma define me and take away anything from. Rather this situation made my skin a bit thicker, made me stronger, and wiser. I could have easily turned this situation into a self-loathing pity party and self-diagnosed PTSD. But what would be the point? To lose who I am in order to make my story spicier?
If I was not able to come up with a resolution to move on, then of course, the next step would be to get professional help. But even with what my profession is, it is not okay for me to walk around stating I have a diagnosis without participating in a mental health assessment and regular therapy.
So please hear me. My purpose is not to lighten trauma, but rather let us remember to be wise in the words we choose because of the seriousness of true trauma. There are truly people that suffer from trauma so severely that words fail them to even describe the intensity that it does to the core of the soul of their being.
Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that it is possible to encounter a traumatic situation and to come out of it without it resulting into a diagnosis. Using the term trauma and making self-proclaimed diagnoses is not only wrong, but it is also disrespecting those who are truly suffering.
So, take a moment… Are you obsessed with uttering words such as trauma as a way to justify reasons not to change? You are the true expert in your true intensions. Think before you speak… Words are not just words… It’s simple, think before you speak…
“…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”