Somebody you know may have died or been injured. Your experience was a very personal one, but this pamphlet will help you to know how others have reacted in similar situations. It will also show you how you can help normal healing to occur and to avoid some pitfalls.
Normal feelings and emotions always experienced
Everyone has these feelings. The experience of other disasters has shown that they may be particularly intense if:-
- many people died
- their deaths were sudden, violent or occurred in horrifying circumstances
- no body was recovered
- there was great dependence on the person who died
- the relationship with the person was at a difficult stage
- this stress came on top of others.
Nature heals through allowing these feelings to come out. This will not lead to loss of control of the mind, but stopping these feelings may lead to nervous and physical problems. Crying gives relief.
Physical and mental sensations
You may feel bodily sensations with or without the feelings described. Sometimes they are due to the crisis, even if they develop many months after the event.
Some common sensations are tiredness, sleeplessness, bad dreams, fuzziness of the mind including loss of memory and concentration, dizziness, palpitations, shakes, difficulty in breathing, choking in the throat and chest, nausea, diarrhoea, muscular tension which may lead to pain, e.g. headaches, neck and backaches, dragging in the womb, menstrual disorders, change in sexual interest.
Family and social relationships
New friendships and group bonds may come into being. On the other hand, strains in relationships may appear. The good feelings in giving and receiving may be replaced by conflict. You may feel that too little or the wrong things are offered, or that you cannot give as much as is expected. Accidents are more frequent after severe stresses. Alcohol and drug intake may increase due to the extra tensions.
The following make the events and the feelings about them easier to bear
Activity and numbness (blocking of feelings) may be over-used and may delay your healing.
Remember that the pain of the wound leads to healing. You may even come out wiser and stronger.
Some do's and don'ts
Don't bottle up feelings. Do express your emotions and let your children share in the grief.
Don't avoid talking about what happened. Do take every opportunity to review the experience within yourself and with others. Do allow yourself to be part of a group of people who care.
Don't let your embarrassment stop you giving others the chance to talk.
Don't expect the memories to go away – the feelings will stay with you for a long time to come.
Don't forget that your children will experience similar feelings to yourself.
Do take time out to sleep, rest, think and be with your family and close friends.
Do express your needs clearly and honestly to family, friends and officials.
Do try to keep your lives as normal as possible after the acute grief.
Do let your children talk to you and others about their emotions and express themselves in games and drawings.
Do send your children back to school and let them keep up with their activities.
Do drive more carefully, and do be more careful around the home.
Warning: accidents are more common after severe stresses.
When to seek professional help
- If you feel you cannot handle intense feelings or body sensations.
- If you feel that your emotions are not falling into place over a period of time, you feel chronic tension, confusion, emptiness or exhaustion.
- If you continue to have body symptoms.
- If after a month you continue to feel numb and empty and do not have the appropriate feelings described. If you have to keep active in order not to feel.
- If you continue to have nightmares and poor sleep.
- If you have no person or group with whom to share you emotions and you feel the need to do so.
- If your relationships seem to be suffering badly or sexual problems develop.
- If you have accidents.
- If you continue to smoke, drink or take drugs to excess since the event.
- If your work performance suffers.
- If you note that those around you are particularly vulnerable or are not healing satisfactorily.
- If as a helper you are suffering "exhaustion".
Do remember that you are basically the same person that you were before the disaster.
Do remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Do remember that if you suffer too much or too long help is available.