When a stranger sees my family, they will most likely see my wheelchair first. I stick out… I get it. After they look away from me, they will look at my wife and daughter who don’t stick out.
Most will assume I am the one who is suffering; the one dealing with trauma. Only a select few will see that I am not the only one dealing with trauma.
My wheelchair is easy to spot. My heart transplant is not as easy to spot, but when you first meet me, you would assume something traumatic happened. You probably wouldn’t guess that I went into heart failure which resulted in countless surgeries and the need for a heart transplant. And, you also wouldn’t guess that I acquired a Traumatic brain injury which led to the loss of all balance, coordination, and the motor function to speak. But, your assumption would be correct: Something traumatic did happen.
If my wife and daughter were with me when we met, you wouldn’t assume much of anything has happened to them. You would probably see my wife smiling and chatting with you, while she keeps one eye on my curly-haired, wild child. You wouldn’t assume that my wife – while pregnant – watched her husband clinically die 75+ times. Or that she had to call nurses into my hospital room every day because I was choking on my own blood. So, your assumption would be wrong: They have had something happen to them, something traumatic.
Invisible Trauma is Still Trauma
In the 4.5 years since I became chronically ill and disabled, my family had to move three times. Each move was for my health and each move was over seven hour away in a new city. My wife, Ali, has had to almost do everything in the moving process (The only thing she hasn’t had to do is drive the moving truck). Because of my physical limitations I could not help very much in any of the moves, so I would sit and watch her do so much work. My trauma has certainly affected me, but if you were to watch her bust her butt to get us moved, you would see that my physical trauma has forced her to carry a lot of weight – literally and metaphorically.
Have you experienced something like this? Have you cared for someone who has experiences trauma, meanwhile you suffer trauma? Your loved one may have visible signs of the traumatic event, while your trauma is invisible. People may even want to help your loved one, but you may be completely forgotten. Before I discuss how you may be expressing your invisible trauma, I need you to hear this: You matter.
My wife, Ali, is rarely an element of focus in the conversation when discussing my trauma. She has had to sit and endure countless people call me a “hero.” She feels the relentless burden of defending me while worrying about my health, which can change in a moment. The crazy part of this is that she is rarely acknowledged. She takes amazing care of me while also being a fantastic mother to do our daughter, who by the way was born 12 days after I was released from the hospital. So, if you’re following: she has been raising her daughter while taking care of her chronically ill and disabled husband.
Before any trauma can be dealt with, you meed to hear and believe this: You matter. You are worthy of respect, you have unchanging dignity, and you are valuable (Genesis 1:26-27). So, if you are fighting to deny your trauma or if no one is acknowledging it, you also need to hear and believe this: Your trauma is real.
Fight to Weep
When you experience trauma, you might be tempted to do one of two things: deny it exists or let anger drive you. While those options are tempting, I beg you to fight for something in the middle. Fight to weep. Don’t let yourself become dismissive or bitter, but let yourself weep. What I mean is that you can acknowledge your pain, feel the pain, and come out the other side in a healthy place.
While, I do acknowledge that through trauma we are able to grow in significant ways, it is equally important to acknowledge that trauma is still traumatic. Just because good comes from hardship doesn’t make or mean the hardship isn’t hard!
How to do you avoid the temptation of handling trauma with neglect or resentment? While I have things that are proven to help, I’m not going to give you a checklist. Here are my best avenues for healthy weeping: counseling, church (Sundays and small groups), grief groups, friends/family, books, reading God’s word, and pray to our Creator and God.
I want to end this by saying that I’m alive, doing well, and writing this because of my wife. I love her and I thank God for her love, care, and friendship. God is good and gracious to me, and, Ali, you prove that.
God is the hero of all things. But, Ali, if it comes down to me and you, you are the real hero.
For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:5