Rid­ing the trauma band­wagon

Tri-County Vanguard - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

Warn­ing: some may find this col­umn trig­ger­ing. They prob­a­bly shouldn’t.

I started think­ing about this when I read about an in­ci­dent at a writ­ers’ fes­ti­val in Van­cou­ver, where an In­dige­nous speaker was ver­bally con­fronted by an au­di­ence mem­ber.

What stuck with me was a line in the Globe and Mail about the scene from a writer who was there: “The room be­came im­me­di­ately trau­ma­tized by all of this.”

Well, prob­a­bly not. Some were prob­a­bly of­fended, oth­ers un­com­fort­able, some maybe even con­fused. Some, for whom the open con­flict may have got­ten piled onto old scars, may well have been trau­ma­tized.

But the whole room? No.

We’re not just nor­mal­iz­ing the ef­fects of trauma now, we’ve reached the point where we are fetishiz­ing it.

When some­thing hor­ri­ble hap­pens, it’s no longer enough to be dis­com­fited or out­raged or even be ex­pected to even­tu­ally be able to cope with it.

Now, we have to be per­ma­nently dam­aged.

Pop­u­lar cul­ture is awash with dam­aged he­roes and vic­tims, all tor­mented by things from their past that resur­face as full-colour flash­backs.

Wounded is in — re­siliency isn’t.

The fact is that ev­ery­body will ex­pe­ri­ence some form of trauma in their lives; it is, sadly, part of be­ing hu­man. Peo­ple around you suf­fer, are in­jured, die — loved

Eric Bourque,

re­porter, 902-749-2532, eric.bourque@tri­coun­ty­van­guard.ca Digby:

Amanda Doucette,


902-245-8054, amanda.doucette@tri­coun­ty­van­guard.ca ones melt away, friends die trag­i­cally, some­times in front of you. Some­times hor­ri­bly.

Dif­fer­ent peo­ple re­act dif­fer­ently to dif­fer­ent things; what dam­ages me may not dam­age you. We are com­pli­cated crea­tures, and the small­est of events may in­jure. Or it may not.

But the mes­sage that’s be­ing sent now is that, if you don’t have a deep, long-last­ing re­ac­tion to any sort of trauma, how­ever tran­si­tory that trauma is, there’s some­thing wrong with you.

And that’s not right. We have to stop ex­pect­ing peo­ple to be in­stantly trau­ma­tized.

I’m not say­ing that there aren’t se­ri­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal re­sults from trauma — of course there are, and, thank­fully, some of the stigma around that kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal in­jury is dis­ap­pear­ing. More money and ef­fort is fi­nally be­ing spent on try­ing to help and com­fort those af­fected by it.


Kathy John­son,


Of­fice: 902-875-3244 kathy.john­son@tri­coun­ty­van­guard.ca

But a men­tal in­jury is an in­jury like any other; it may be two steps for­ward and one back, some­times one step for­ward and two back, and get­ting bet­ter is a pro­gres­sion, like any in­jury.

Think of it this way: if you have an in­jured back, what you re­ally want is for your back to get bet­ter, not to have an aching back to talk about for the next 20 years.

The same is true for a men­tal is­sue like post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der; the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple just want the ter­ri­fy­ing dreams, flash­backs and odd be­hav­iours to go away. Many are quite sim­ply ashamed to even raise their con­di­tion out­side a cir­cle of fam­ily and close friends, afraid that they will be seen as weak.

Some­times, an in­jury in­volves per­ma­nent life­style changes. You may never re­cover enough from your back in­jury, for ex­am­ple, to go back to play­ing recre­ational hockey.

Some­one re­cov­er­ing from the af­ter-ef­fects of trauma may find they can’t stand pub­lic events, espe­cially if they can’t find a place to stand with­out strangers be­hind them. Some peo­ple will al­ways need their back against a wall, and they’ll do ex­actly that. Some need ser­vice dogs to keep peo­ple from ap­proach­ing them from be­hind. Life­styles get re­drawn to cope.

But ev­ery lit­tle scrap of dis­com­fort is not an in­stant source of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der or any­thing like it.

And think­ing that it is cheap­ens the real and last­ing ef­fects some peo­ple are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

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