I know first hand, what it feels like, the feelings, the body sensations, the way it creeps up on you like a slowly emerging virus, the knockout.
What is secondary trauma?
Sometimes it’s called vicarious trauma, I think they are pretty similar. Simply put, if you spend a lot of time with a person or people who have experienced significant trauma you may have experienced it either knowingly or unknowingly. If you look it up on the web, there are surprisingly few references and when it is referenced, it cites social workers, therapists etc, very little reference is made to parents or foster carers experiencing it. Also many of the definitions are ‘you experience it if you hear of someone else’s trauma’. There is more to it than that, I experience it as I live with 2 children who have experienced significant trauma (they are adopted from a very tricky start in life) and when things are bad or certain times of the year approach, I begin to feel unwell, they have not spoken of trauma.
It is said that sometimes the symptoms ‘mimic’ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but I’m not sure about that.
It’s the same every time, I always think I am getting a cold or virus. I feel drained, tired and have an awful headache. I start to suspect it is something else when a big dose of paracetamol is ineffective. I am very sensitive to noise (sometimes I have to stop to cover my ears), I think I hear footsteps or noises, I feel pulses in my head which are painful and make me wince.
How do I help myself?
The only ways I have found to help myself are to sleep (a lot), take long hot baths, go out on a bike ride, try and take some time out from the people with the trauma, which isn’t always easy when it is your children. When things were a lot worse (while my children were in therapy) I had regular massages, went to yoga, had counselling etc etc.
It used to totally wipe me out like flu, days spent in bed. However, now I know the signs and can check in with my children, I spot and try and deal with it, although I have to ride it out like a virus.
Why am I telling you this?
These sorts of things are not often openly spoken about, not identified, people are fearful to reveal this or have no idea what the symptoms they are experiencing are. I suspect many people who experience secondary trauma feel differently.
I hope it helps to know this.