April 21st, 2024

Impact of trauma can be felt many years after it happens

By Lethbridge Herald on April 9, 2022.


Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD. The Mayo Clinic website describes it as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the the event.”

It’s a description  of an affliction that many people can relate to. We often hear PTSD being used in terms of reference to soldiers who have returned from combat or even peacekeeping missions abroad. First responders and police, I would imagine, would suffer from PTSD after witnessing or being involved in traumatic events.

But PTSD can affect anyone because of traumatic experiences in their lives. According to the Mayo Clinic “symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to g about your normal daily tasks.”

The Mayo’s website goes onto to say symptoms are grouped into four types which it describes as “intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changing in thinking and mood and changes in physical and emotional reactions.” Symptoms can vary among people and change over time.

If anyone’s had a seriously traumatic event, it may be hard to reconcile with it. I’ve often buried memories of certain events because I want to forget rather than be reminded. 

One of those happened on a lake near Westlock when we were kids. I couldn’t swim and was hanging onto the edge of a dock,as I waded in the water, making sure my feet were touching ground. For some reason, when I was standing on it, an older kid threw me off and I plunged beneath the lake’s surface. I don’t know what motivated me but I remember kicking my legs and reaching out for the dock’s edge to pull myself up. It was terrifying and even worse, nobody seemed to care. Not any adults around, not any other kids. Whatever, big deal. It was nothing to anyone except me.

I still cringe about that when I occasionally think about it. I’m guessing that’s why I’ve never been fond of swimming. Just the thought of that near drowning shakes me. I love water, though, as long as I’m in a boat with a fishing rod in hand. But swimming? Forget it.

The reason this memory came up after decades buried is because I heard this week about the death of a person who along with a couple of others  committed an act of bullying on me when I was a teen that amounted to torture. Pure unadulterated torture.

That person’s name sent shivers down my spine and angered me; it would have ruined my day completely if not for a young Hutterite woman from Raymond who saw me in London Drugs and shyly approached me asking if I’m me. I wish I would have gotten her name but I can be shy, too and I was just humbled beyond words when she told me how much she enjoys my column.

That kindness was a salve that eased the pain of the wound when I thought of the day this individual and a couple of his friends one summer afternoon pinned me down, tied my hands, covered my mouth and put two lit cigarettes in my nostrils.

It was a terrifying experience, one that I thought was going to kill me. It went beyond bullying, it was  pure torture, far beyond what used to be considered normal bullying. 

And bullying was thought of as normal for generations. You couldn’t complain about it because doing so would just prompt worse antagonism. It was the way things were. You were supposed to take abuse “like a man” or be willing to hand it our yourself. 

The latter is something I could never do, the former was necessary for survival sometimes. 

But never as a kid did I ever expect to endure what I did that one afternoon, a memory I’d locked away for decades until Monday. And that’s why I’m putting my previously prepared column for today on hold because it’s important to make the message clear if it isn’t already: there is no excuse for bullying.

Nobody deserves to endure physical or emotional abuse in any circumstance – not in school, not in a playground, not in any place. Nobody deserves that.

What I endured that afternoon, choking on cigarette smoke, unable to escape, in full panic mode, thinking I was going to die, has haunted me all week. 

Since I’ve confided to a couple of people about this event, I’ve heard I’m not alone. A lot of people have suffered bullying in silence and never spoken out about it. 

They’ve lived with the anger and humiliation of long-ago experiences all their lives. 

It’s time to end bullying once and for all. We have to take back our lives from those who feel empowered by hurting others. We have a right to live life on our terms and not be forever scarred by the contempt and malice of bullies.

We need to end the bullying! And we all need to speak up  loudly about, and against it. 

I realize many people change including bullies but that doesn’t matter after an event that scars a person emotionally for life. 

Sometimes change is too late. But it’s not too late to end bullying. 

THANK YOU: I need to say a few quick words of thanks to my co-workers for their assistance on Wednesday when my back prompted an ambulance trip to hospital. Thank you, Trevor Busch for calling 911 and Ian Martens and Bruce Friesen for your assistance and concern. Also thanks to publisher Brian Hancock who called Thursday morning asking if there was anything he could do. I appreciate you all beyond words.

I also want to give a shout-out to Tanner and the crew in the ambulance and to staff at the hospital for their much-needed and prompt assistance.

 I am indebted to you all. Thank you.

And to all of you on Twitter who showed your kindness after I tweeted about this matter, I thank you, as well. I will never forget the compasion and concern all of you expressed to me. And lastly, perhaps most importantly,  I owe thanks to my family for enduring me these last difficult days, getting up with me when I couldn’t sleep, checking on me throughout day to make sure I was alive, doing whatever you could to make me comfortable and letting me know I’m not alone in this battle with my back. Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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