Although trauma impacts every area of an individual’s life, there are steps that one can take to help with recovery.


Sofia Wells-Lu

The road to recovery from trauma is not easy, but in the end it is worth it.

Seeing them at school walking through the hallway brings a nauseating blur of panic. Your heart races, your ears ring and your hands shake. You anxiously sweat and want to crawl out of your skin. Nothing seems real around you, and you feel disconnected from your body as your mind tries to pull together coherent thoughts.

Seeing them at school walking through the hallway brings a nauseating blur of panic. Your heart races, your ears ring and your hands shake.

Trauma is a black cloud hovering above you, waiting to strike down at any time. It is a ticking time bomb of built-up anxiety that will be released by a trigger. It is an empty room with the walls closing in on you.

You may wonder, ‘Why? Why do I have to deal with this? What did I do to deserve this?’ However, the fact of the matter is you did nothing wrong, and although having to deal with it feels unfair at times, you must know it is not your fault.

A traumatic experience can happen to anyone at any time. According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is defined as an emotional reaction to a horrible event such as a rape or a car accident. About 70% of the population will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime with a small portion — 6% of the population — developing post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

There are four main categories of PTSD symptoms — intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and shifts in physical and emotional reactions. Some indications of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, staying away from triggering places, outbursts, trouble sleeping, being startled easily and thinking about the event itself. Many people who have gone through a traumatic event will initially experience a few of the symptoms, but they won’t be the same for everyone.

Trauma doesn’t have a defined appearance; it impacts people of all races, genders, ages and backgrounds differently. We have both faced trauma in our seventeen years and still suffer from intense fear and stress due to it. Our traumas are different, but they both occurred unexpectedly at the hands of people whom we trusted.

Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts ooze into our everyday lives. It is frustrating to cope with trauma caused by someone else’s actions. It feels utterly out of your control. Phrases, people and places can cause memories to hit you like a ton of bricks, making it hard to function. It is challenging to focus on schoolwork in and out of the classroom as we feel constantly on edge and get sidetracked with thoughts of the past events which have traumatized us. We struggle to keep up with the pressures of school, extracurriculars and relationships.

It is frustrating to cope with trauma caused by someone else’s actions. It feels utterly out of your control.

The people who were the specific causes of our traumas have tainted the school environment for us with their presence. With a possible trigger around the corner, school days feel long and hopeless. Many teachers do not understand, and we do not feel comfortable enough to fill them in on such events. Teachers should respect what students need and feel comfortable sharing, but they shouldn’t disregard that their students might not be okay. They should make a point to truly ask how each of their students is doing and make themselves open to whatever response comes their way. When students aren’t turning in their work on time or don’t seem to be giving the effort they usually do, the first thing a teacher should do is check in with them and make sure they are doing alright. When a teacher follows through with these actions, we feel more valued and heard.

Our relationships with other people are negatively impacted by the lack of trust we have developed due to our traumas. It is hard to be open with other people and feel secure in doing so. Taking the mental energy to heal and cope can make it appear as though we are being apathetic and do not care when in reality we are trying our best to survive. Trauma makes you question things you never thought you would, including participating in self-harming acts — it is truly terrifying. Being afraid of your thoughts and yourself is not something that you are alone in though; we’ve been there too.

Through our experience, we’ve found there are many things others can do to help make the coping process easier. One of the most crucial parts of supporting those who are coping with trauma is the language a person uses when referring to trauma and survivors of trauma. First of all, a person should not diminish the trauma another person has experienced by jokingly referring to a minor inconvenience in their own life as “so traumatic” or saying things like, “I’m getting PTSD from this.” Misusing terms can make a person who has experienced trauma feel as though you think their trauma is exaggerated or “not that bad.”

Along with misusing terms, joking about trauma is not your place unless you have experienced the trauma yourself. People who have experienced trauma will sometimes use humor as a coping mechanism, but it’s their trauma to joke about, not yours. Some people will be okay with others using humor. However, that does not apply to everyone and does not make you telling trauma-related jokes appropriate, just insensitive. 

In trying to have conversations about a specific trauma, you should never blame the survivor or question their truth. It did not occur because of the way they were dressed. It did not happen because they were sending “mixed signals.” It only took place because of the perpetrator’s poor judgment, their inability to tell right from wrong and their lack of boundaries. Questioning a survivor’s choices or asking why they did or didn’t do something differently can be a serious detriment to the person and their mental well-being. Many survivors already deal with feelings of guilt — they don’t need someone else to put even an ounce more of blame on them. It will just make the struggle to get through each and every day that much harder.

Questioning a survivor’s choices or asking why they did or didn’t do something differently can be a serious detriment to the person and their mental well-being.

If you know someone who is healing from trauma, be patient with them. They should not be made to feel guilty about what they need to process and cope with. In a relationship, whether that be platonic or romantic, they do not owe you physical affection nor the details of their experience. Do not pressure them into sharing anything they don’t want to, but be open to listening to the person. Take the time to learn the things that trigger the person as well as the things that help them. Practically everyone who experiences trauma needs a friend — a friend who will go with them multiple times to the guidance office until someone is there to help them or a friend who asks ‘how are you?’, waits for the answer and then no matter what the answer is, offers a hug.

If you are reading this and have experienced trauma in your own life, there are things you can do to minimize the effects. It is important to take care of yourself and meet the physical and mental needs of your own body. Taking a break when necessary and giving yourself extra grace during recovery is important. Recovery is a different length for everyone, so seriously, take as much time as you need whether that be a few weeks or years. Take some time away from your phone to process and just be with yourself. Feel the feelings. Even when it feels overwhelming to have so many emotions that create a tornado of thoughts in your head, it is important to express them, through talking and reaching out to others, crying or screaming.

It is challenging to speak up and tell others what you are going through, and it is even harder to seek help. If you cannot confide in someone at home and do not already see a mental health professional, there are people in the guidance office at school, like the Student Family Advocates who are available to talk as well as help connect you to someone else. 

Even if you haven’t spoken up, we see you and are proud of you for getting this far. In recovering, it is important to keep in mind you are more than your trauma, you deserve to be loved and it is not your fault.