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July 26, 2014 / 28 Tammuz, 5774
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Emotional Trauma

Emotional trauma takes an invisible toll. Unlike a physical ailment, an illness or a broken leg, the trauma is not visible to the eye. There is no cast that comes off, or symptoms that stop to proclaim the trauma done. There is no six-week recovery period until you are able to renew activity. The depth of the trauma, the extent of the pain is often unknown and an indefinite period of time is often needed for recovery.


Sometimes recovery is never completed. The event may have left invisible scars that will last a lifetime. Because no one sees the scars, people around you have no indication that you are suffering constantly. Your pain may be always present, but unless you show outward signs of depression or anguish, no one knows about it. And so too, no one knows when the trauma is over, when the suffering has stopped, or at least lessened. It is very easy for people to simply assume that you are back to ‘your old self’ and expect you to resume your old routine when the event causing the trauma is over. The truth is that this is usually just the beginning of the healing process and not the end.

D’vora went through “a year from hell.” Her daughter and son-in-law had relocated to Europe. They had had a business opportunity that was too good to be true. Unfortunately, that is exactly how it turned out. The promises made to them were not kept, the health insurance turned out to be nonexistent and in short, the opportunity became a disaster. To make matters more difficult, D’vora’s daughter was pregnant. It was a high-risk pregnancy. Part of the job required D’vora’s son-in-law to travel for long periods, leaving his wife alone. D’vora traveled to Europe frequently that year to see her daughter and lend help and support.

Each time D’vora traveled to Europe, she had to leave her husband’s care to hired help, as his Parkinson’s disease worsened. To add to her worries, D’vora’s mother was recuperating in a nursing home from congenital heart failure. She, too, lived in another state, and D’vora tried to travel to see her each time she went to Europe.

Unfortunately, her mother died three weeks before her granddaughter was born. D’vora got up at the end of shiva and went to Europe to help her daughter with the difficulties of a new, and hopefully healthy baby. When the baby was three weeks old, an exhausted D’vora returned home to her job, her husband’s care, and hopefully a chance to deal with her self. She wasn’t home for more than a week when the call came.

“Now that everything is back to normal,” said the local chesed committee head, “we’re hoping you’ll come back to do the volunteer work you did before your daughter’s pregnancy. Can we count on you next week?”

D’vora felt guilty saying no. But she knew she was as drained as she could be. If she was ever to return to do volunteer work or even maintain her usual difficult lifestyle, she needed some time to heal from the emotional trauma she had been through. She would have to determine when that was, not someone else.

Larry’s wife had spent a winter in a steady decline due to her chronic illness. When she could no longer care for herself in any way and could not safely remain alone, Larry had to put her in a care facility. At that point, his life became physically easier, but he was plagued with hurt, guilt and doubt about his decision for placement. He was amazed at the number of requests that came in for favors shortly after he put his wife in care. People seemed to be assuming that he had more time to give now.

Sometimes work heals and helps one cope with pain and loneliness. But sometimes it is just impossible to take on one more thing in the course of the day. Everyone is different, and there is no right or wrong to healing emotional trauma. An offer of work or a request for help may make one person feel good, and be overburdening to another person.

When asking someone to volunteer, be sensitive to the person’s plight. Give her the space to decide if she can take on this responsibility or not, without putting on any guilt.

Both the person going through trauma and those around her must realize that an emotional trauma is not automatically over once the immediate event is over. Just because a sick loved one has passed away does not mean that the overburdened relative has healed. This especially applies to a well spouse who is always burdened with caring for the sick spouse. Everyone must recognize that time is needed for healing, and that this time frame is different for everyone.

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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