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Caregiving: PTSD Anniversaries

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by anthony, Sep 7, 2006.

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  1. anthony

    anthony Silently Watching Founder

    Even as a journalist I wondered why so many anniversaries were covered with so much fuss, but I've learned that marking anniversaries is an important thing to do -- and very healing.

    But it can be hard, and it's important to do. With the approaching anniversaries of Hurricane Katrina, the end of August anniversary of my 93-year-old father going to the hospital and the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, I started freaking out in mid-August.

    For about a week there was a feeling of dread -- that something was about to go wrong. Actually I think anticipating the anniversary is worse than living through it -- at least for me.

    I learned about traumatic anniversaries after the Sept. 11 attacks after I did a series of articles on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had the opportunity to interviews dozens of PSTD experts.

    One of the most helpful interviews was with a psychologist who said that people deal with a traumatic event -- especially a death -- via the anniversaries. He said that after the death or trauma there's a fair amount of denial that anything really happened, but at the three-month anniversary it all comes back and it can be a very emotional anniversary.

    "When my own father died for the weeks afterward you say to yourself, he can't be dead, you expect him to call, he didn't seem dead, but at the third-month anniversary you have to tell yourself, 'maybe he really isn't on a long business trip,'" he said.

    "In months four and five you notice the anniversary, but it's not significant, but then six months shows up and you relive the event again, then the memory recedes -- most forget the ninth-month anniversary, but it all comes to a head at the one-year anniversary and later the five- and 10-year anniversaries."

    I have discovered that this is really true. I have also found the weather has a lot to do with reliving past traumatic events. I don't think clear Sunday days in September will ever be the same.

    Knowing in advance that the anniversaries are difficult and which anniversaries will be difficult has been enormously helpful to me.

    Perhaps the marking of the anniversary helps people talk about the trauma.

    "Talking helps people with PSTD because it puts the problems on the table, people express their feelings, they share their feelings with others and people try to make sense out of them -- it is a fundamental way of coping," Brett Litz of the National Center for the PTSD VA's Medical Center in Boston told Caregiving.

    Traumatic anniversaries used to be big part of my life. My mother had to be hospitalized for a biopsy for cancer when I was 7. February in Buffalo, N.Y., is not exactly a happy time, but the prospect of her having cancer, her falling and getting injured in the hospital, the heat going out, neighbors not helping to fix the furnace, my mother pulling her stitches after trying to relight the furnace pilot light -- left me feeling very alone.

    For years I dreaded February, snow not withstanding. But as life goes, the bad anniversaries start to pile up. August was dreaded because of the three weeks my father spent in the hospital after having cancer surgery and nearly dying. Another cancer surgery, another three weeks in the hospital, another set of complications made January a month to dread. June was later dreaded because of another cancer surgery. In July my father had a heart attack, spent three weeks in the Cardiac Care Unit where he nearly died, and left the hospital very weak and 60 pounds thinner.

    Spend enough time caregiving and the bad anniversary months start to pile up, but eventually the bad anniversaries recede and become too difficult to keep track of, and you tell yourself each month has good things and bad things happen and leave it at that.

    But some events are too big to ignore. For me Hurricane Katrina is one. Sept. 11 is another.

    For two years I covered the World Trade Center, so I had no choice but to cover the anniversaries. But looking back, I'm glad I did. They are painful but I find it helpful to know that while Sept. 11 may be painful, that some of the anniversary coverage may be painful, by Sept. 12, it gets better. Sept. 13, better still.

    Some people say they have avoided the movie "United 93" and at first I thought that ignoring events only puts the pain on hold.

    But everyone reacts to a trauma differently, depending on the severity of the trauma, previous trauma, a previous mental disorder, psychological history and social history, so it may take some in New York City longer to deal with Sept. 11, 2001. Some people may need more time.

    Source: United Press International
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