Updated: Dec 31, 2020
We’re in the midst of the holiday season, which is marketed as a time of joy and festiveness. While that feeling may be what many people feel during November and December, there are so many who struggle to get through these days because there are dozens of little reminders and triggers of the trauma they endured in the past.
After my assault, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I had a lot of other medical things going on at the same time, which only compounded everything. I had moments when a memory, a sound, a sight, would bring it all rushing back, and for however long it took—hours or days—I would need to unplug from my life for a bit. I can only imagine how many people are feeling the same way as the days rush toward Christmas and New Year’s.
According to a Sidran Institute study, 1 in 13 people will be diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lives. Think about that. When you’re attending that holiday party or sitting down at the table with your family, chances are good that someone else in the room has struggled with PTSD (even in a socially distanced, ten or less get together). The Covid quarantine and social isolation can also deeply compound depression and other struggles, which can make the reactions of someone suffering from PTSD even stronger. Some will withdraw, out of fear of judgment or shame, or just a total sense of being overwhelmed.
We have to start talking about mental health at the dinner table. We have to have those tough conversations because they’re so deeply important. When Aunt Helen puts her sweet potato casserole on the table, and you’re struggling to smile and keep up with the banter, it’s completely okay to say, “Hey, everyone, I know I’m not myself. I’m just having a hard time right now.”
Too often, we put societal expectations on ourselves to behave a certain way. To laugh at every joke, smile during dinner, and never let the other emotions show. Imagine how things would change—and how liberating it would be for you—if you were honest with your emotions. If you admitted that the scent of alcohol reminded you of that day you were attacked? Or that the loud noises on the TV triggered a flashback? Or that the suffocating crush of well-meaning family members is simply too much today?
We have to speak up. We have to bring these issues to the table. If we don’t, we will lose far too many of our loved ones to the pain of mental health issues, and we will face an empty spot at the holiday table next year.
If I sound passionate about this, it’s because I am. I’ve known people who have been affected by PTSD and I have endured the roller coaster of emotions it can cause. If you or someone you love is caught in the same turbulence, take some time between the dinners and the presents to have a conversation and begin bringing this topic to light. For more on this and more of my story, pick up my book here!