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Healing From Trauma and Mental Illness

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In June of this year, I dislocated my pinky. It was x-rayed to make sure it wasn’t broken. Because it was “just” a dislocation, I thought that in a couple of weeks it would be healed and back to normal. I had no idea that healing could take much longer than that.

It’s been five months, and my finger is still crooked and swollen. It still has a limited range of motion. My doctor said that it could take upwards of a year before it healed, and that it may never heal completely. There went my hope for a quick and easy recovery.

Healing, be it physical or mental, takes time. I believed that a dislocation was less traumatic than a broken bone. But they were different injuries, each with their own healing timeline. As much as I would like my pinky to be back to normal, it may not be possible.

My finger may never be straight or have the full range of motion that it used to, but the pain will diminish.

Emotional healing takes time as well. But, because the trauma isn’t visible, people mistakenly believe that it should heal quickly. Like a dislocated finger, though, it can take a long time, and you may never be the same afterwards.

In a similar way, if you have a mental illness, you may become stable on medications, but there is always the chance that you may spiral down again. If you have experienced a traumatic event, you may always struggle in certain situations, like a veteran who reacts to loud noises.

It’s natural to want to heal as quickly as possible. You’re in extreme emotional distress and simply want the pain to go away. You may be frustrated when the progress is slower than you had hoped.

When you’re working on healing and find yourself being triggered, here are some tips to help you get through it.

  1. Take a moment to ground yourself: be aware of your body, of what you’re experiencing physically. Feel the floor under your feet, the sound of the traffic, the smell of your perfume. Grounding can help get you calm down and get your thoughts in order.
  2. Understand your triggers so that you can take precautions in certain situations to minimize stress.
  3. Learn coping skills to help when you’re triggered. Skills such as deep breathing, imagery, and building a stronger sense of self can all help when you experience anxiety, depression, and flashbacks.

There’s a chance that your healing may take a long time. You might never get back to the way you once were.

Like someone with diabetes or other lifelong illness, you may have to be on medication or in therapy for years. You may need them for your entire life. Depression, anxiety, and flashbacks may linger. But, what can happen is that your traumatic event or mental illness moves from the center of your life to an event that happened, that you remember, but that does not rule your life.

You may still be triggered, but you will find yourself less consumed by it, and you will have the skills and the confidence to keep living your life. You’ll learn that you can still have a happy and productive life despite your mental illness. You’ll be better able to ride the waves of emotional stress that stem from a previous trauma.

There is hope for healing. You can still live a wonderful life and have bipolar disorder, or anxiety, or depression. You may have a history of being abused and still have healthy relationships. You can have depression and still laugh and enjoy your life.

And always remember, you are not your illness.

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Healing From Trauma and Mental Illness

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. She's now offering online counseling for residents of Ohio. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2015). Healing From Trauma and Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Dec 2015
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