When Trauma Happens, Learn to Look for the Light

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by Katie Griffith |

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Happy January! I hope you have been enjoying 2022 so far.

A new year can often feel like a fresh start, providing a renewed sense of hope and courage. Even if you are feeling overwhelmed by the darkness right now, I hope you can still take life one moment at a time and catch glimmers of light as they shine through.

My family and I had a pretty uneventful New Year’s Eve at home. We shot off some fireworks in the evening (sorry, neighbors) and then put my youngest son to bed. The rest of us planned to ring in the new year together, so we had some time to kill. We searched for a movie and decided on “Encanto” on Disney+. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should! I’ll try not to share too many spoilers.

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The movie takes place in Colombia, and centers around the Madrigal family and their enchanted home. Early on, a traumatic event takes place that suddenly changes the family’s entire course in life.

I was immediately drawn in. My own family was affected by trauma four years ago when my son, Noah, was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). Our lives were forever changed that day.

But what exactly is trauma? The American Psychological Association (APA) describes trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”

We who are caregivers to loved ones with FA have compassion for them, but tend to be hard on ourselves when we struggle with their diagnosis. We expect ourselves to be strong enough to carry the load, and then experience guilt and shame when it becomes too heavy for us.

In “Encanto,” when the Madrigals’ household starts to fall apart — both literally and figuratively — Abuela Alma faces her own fear that she wasn’t strong enough to protect her family from difficult situations. Her guilt had been weighing on her far too long. As she sat with her granddaughter, Mirabel, at the site of a tragedy that happened long ago, she finally realized that she had done the best she could under traumatic circumstances.

If you are a caregiver, have you felt weighted down by expectations for yourself that just aren’t attainable? What if you were to give yourself the same compassion that you have been extending to others?

To do this, one must first admit that they have experienced trauma. A loved one being diagnosed with a rare disease is a traumatic event. Yes, it was traumatic for the person who was diagnosed as well. It isn’t a competition to see whose trauma is most severe — trauma is trauma.

For those who are dealing with trauma, the APA offers the following four tools to help you cope:

  1. Lean on your loved ones.
  2. Face your feelings.
  3. Prioritize self-care.
  4. Be patient.

Please don’t try to go it alone, with the weight of the world on your shoulders. As Mirabel reminds her abuela in the film, “Even in our darkest moments, there’s light where you least expect it.”

Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


Lillie Brown avatar

Lillie Brown

I always enjoy your writings Katie. They always inspire me. You are special. Love you

Katie Griffith avatar

Katie Griffith

Thank you, Grandmama! I appreciate your support. Love you too!


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