'I thought I was going to die' - a reader's trauma

'I thought I was going to die' - a reader's trauma

By Portarlington Psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy, Operation Transformation Expert

Anne writes “Two years ago I was driving my car. It was a Saturday and I was just returning home from shopping. I was stopped at a junction waiting to pull out.

The next thing I saw was a car coming from behind. He was travelling so fast, I could see he was getting closer and closer.

I knew he was not going to make it. There was a big bang. I was hit. There was a massive jolt of pain in my neck and back. I thought I was going to die. To make matters worse I was pushed across the road, another car just missed me.

I was shunted into the wall opposite, the front of the car folded, smoke was coming from the engine.

I struggled to get my seat belt off. I thought I was going to be stuck in the car and it would go on fire.

As I write, Dr Eddie it’s like a movie playing in my head. I can see it all. I got out eventually, dazed, the ambulance & Gardaí were called.

Two years on I still get flashbacks, I jump at the slightest bang and my sleep is disturbed. I am irritable and I think I am depressed. Can you help me?”

Dr Eddie's response

From my nursing and psychiatric experience, I can confirm that your road traffic collision RTC (we stopped calling them accidents) is a traumatic event.

Traumatic events may induce disturbing images, flashbacks, an inability to forget, sadness, numbness, befuddled thoughts and concentration, irritablity, jumpiness, and insomnia.

You may wonder if you will ever get over it, or even if you are going mad.

Anne, your thoughts and sensations are a normal reaction to traumatic stress, and show that your mind is working to come to terms with this event.

In an attempt to make sense of what happened, your mind constantly goes over it. These experiences are intrusive, but trying to block them out will not stop them. It’s like a beach ball pushed under water, it will pop back up.

After a traumatic event, we go into protection mode and the ‘Fight & Flight’ mechanism gets activated.

Symptoms can include tense sore muscles, trembling, palpitations, fatigue, sleep disturbance, irritability and inability to relax.

The trauma forced you to realise that there is danger in the world so your body stays on red alert, prepared for instant action, as if you are still under threat.

High adrenaline keeps you keyed up, tense, jumpy and unable to sleep.

The good news is that you are not stuck with these feelings. Go to your GP and seek a referral to a psychologist experienced in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

With appropriate interventions the outlook is positive. Anne, I encourage you to take that step towards your recovery and reclaiming your life.

The following may help:

Talk through your feelings. Gradually get back to work. Keep up enjoyable activities. Spend quality time with others. Get lots of rest and relaxation. Try not to block out memories, refuse to discuss feelings, or act as if nothing happened.

Do not avoid reminders of the collision, but do not dwell on it all the time. Do not use alcohol or other drugs to numb yourself.