Friday, June 2, 2017

Dear Sugar: Traumaversaries, Yes They are a Real Thing

Dear Sugar:

If you're part of any adoption communities online, especially "connective" parenting groups, you've probably hear the term "traumaversary."  

What is it?
A traumaversary is the anniversary of a traumatic event or season in a person's life.

Why is it significant?
Because traumaversaries can be really hard on a person (and those they love), manifesting in physical symptoms, mental and emotional upheaval, and spiritual warfare.

Why do we talk about traumaversaries in the adoption community?
Because adoption often stems from truama:  removal, change, neglect, abuse, time in foster care, etc.

What's your take on them?
I first came to understand a traumaversary through my own experiences after being diagnosed with an autoimmune, chronic disease.  As a result of my diagnosis, I experienced two different traumaversaries:  one predictable, the other not.

First, the predictable.   I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after a year-and-a-half of illness.  I had progressive symptoms including:  depression, weight loss, constant thirst and hunger, numbness and tingling, exhaustion, dry eyes and mouth, confusion, and memory loss.   I sought the assistance of five different medical professionals, all of whom failed to properly diagnose me.

I was finally diagnosed (and saved) in an ER.  I arrived breathless and thirsty.   After many blood tests and lots of water and peeing (always), a doctor burst into my room, his eyes wide at the lab results cradled in his arm:   my blood sugar was 700 (7x the norm), my a1c was 16.9 (so high it wasn't on any medical chart), and I was in Diabetic Ketoacidosis (my body was eating itself alive and shutting down).    I had type 1 diabetes, meaning, I would be insulin dependent the rest of my life.

By all accounts, by all reason, I should have been dead.  

That was over 11 years ago, and every year, right after Valentine's Day, all the way until D-day (diagnosis day) at the end of March, I struggle.   I'm sad, confused, and angry.  I'm exhausted.   I experience all sorts of physical symptoms.   And I always have a ton of anxiety.  I act a bit manic: always begging my husband to whisk me away to a tropical location until March is over.  

My body remembers the date on the calendar, even when I do not.  In fact, it took me several years to realize WHY I felt so awful for 1.5 months every year.  

Now, to the unpredicatable.

About two years after I was diagnosed, I was struggling to keep my blood sugars under control, so I took a new injectable medication.   At first it made me very tired, but I soon got used to the med and had a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, the medication would help me lower my blood sugars.

One evening, I got up sensing my blood sugar was too low.  I was shaky and my heart was pounding and I was drenched in sweat.  I checked my blood sugar in our kitchen:  50.   Then somehow, I wandered down the hallway away from the direction of our bedroom and passed out, hitting my head on the wall.   The noise was so distinct.

Though I had strained my wrist and spend a few weeks healing from that, my head was fine.   But apparently, I wasn't.  I honestly didn't think the fall was any big deal:  we dealt with it and moved on, or so I thought.  

Every time there's a "thud" of a body part hitting a surface, my heart races and I go right back to that moment I passed out.   It can be a child's arm on the counter top, the kids wrestling on the living room rug and someone bumps their head, or a child playing downstairs by hitting the metal support columns and the noise echoing to the upstairs.  

The noise is very disruptive to my senses.    And I cannot control my reaction to it.   My body tenses up and does what it does.   My immediate emotion, after panic, is anger.  It's not a fun train to ride.

All this to say: traumaversaries are REAL.  Our children cannot control them.  But if they're the predictable type, we can help prepare them and ourselves.

For some adoptees, a traumaversary could be their birthday.   It could be the day they were removed from their biological family, a different foster family, or even the day they came to be in your family. And a traumaversary can also be a season (like mine is) or more significant time period.

What can a parent do if they recognize their child has a traumaversary?
Therapy, keeping your schedule really simple, sticking to your daily routine, lowering your expectations and increasing empathy, discussing it with your child (being proactive), joining a support group, attending an Empowered to Connect training or class, and avoiding any major transitions (including a vacation, moving, attending a wedding out-of-state, switching the kids' bedrooms, etc.).  

Overall, traumaversaries suck, but by identifying them, being proactive, and understanding what works for your child, you can better navigate the challenges.


As you work with your child, meeting his or her needs, I recommend these books on connection, trauma, and healing.  Click on the book image to learn more:

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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