My best friend had a terrible car accident 4 months ago with serious brain damage and head injuries, all the doctors said he would not make it, they said they are only waiting for him to die or stay in coma, and that there is nothing left to do. At that time i was absolutely devastated and had a really hard time. He was in a coma for about a month, however after a few successful surgeries he started waking up, and against all odds he survived. Injuries he suffered were great, but now, after 4 months, he is slowly recovering, he learned how to walk again, he recognizes his family and me, his long-term memory is more or less ok. However, his short-term memory is pretty bad, and because of the accident he cant open his eyes, and it is not sure whether he will be able to see again in his life. We are best friends from college, I live in Slovakia, he lives in Czech republic, so we were able to see each other only when in school, but we were always together, whether in school or when we were going out to bars etc. He is recovering in Czech republic, I am currently living in Slovakia, so I cannot see him that often. The problem is, i thought i got use to the fact that he is no longer going to school with me and that I am not seeing him regularly. However, he likes to talk on the phone (of course he is confused some times), and whenever his family calls me and I talk to them and to him, I start to shiver, shake, suddenly I am feeling cold and it takes my body about half an hour to relax. This is nothing serious, but I thought I am over the anxiety of him being hurt or dying, he is recovering and with each day he is getting better. But just a few days ago, when his family called me (after nearly a month or so), I immediately started to shake and experience these feelings again. I would like to know what to do, or how to get over this anxiety, i want to be helpful to my friend, and not feel this weak whenever I talk to him. Thank you
A. Your anxiety associated with your injured friend does not make you weak. That line of thinking is problematic because it reinforces the all too common narrative that psychological distress is a sign of weakness, shame and embarrassment. To be shaken by the trauma of your friend makes you human and it shows that you care. Someone you deeply care about was severely injured in a serious accident. It was unexpected and proof that our lives can change in an instant. Psychologically, that realization can be difficult to manage.
Your symptoms may be indicative of secondary trauma. Secondary trauma involves an indirect exposure to trauma through hearing the first-hand account or narrative of a traumatic event. Simply hearing about the traumatic event can cause symptoms and reactions that are very similar to or even mimic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatments for secondary trauma often involves sharing the story of what happened and talk therapy.
It would be helpful to learn more about compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and self-care. Books on the subject can educate you about day-to-day activities that may help to relieve your stress. I would also recommend counseling for learning relaxation and other techniques to assist with your anxious reactions. Choose a therapist who specializes in trauma survivors. You may only need a few sessions to decrease your symptoms. Good luck. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle