Content Warning: This article contains content that some readers might find triggering.
I used to love dressing up for Halloween and getting in to the spooky spirit! That was before real life Halloween happened… This time of year marks the anniversary of my uncle’s sudden death in a fatal car accident. Pretty much straight after receiving this news I was encouraged to continue as ‘normal’. I went on a night out a couple of days after it happened. I still struggle to look at the photos of that night. It felt so very backwards to be grieving someone while going out dressed as death. But I was ‘getting on’ – keeping myself busy, going out & trying to continue being a ‘normal’ university student, like everyone said I should, but which in hindsight and with my experience of PTSD now, was probably not the best idea. My dread of Halloween has only continued the last couple of years after witnessing a fatal motorcycle accident, and following my father’s first suicide attempt.
Bad things happen to good people all the time. Death is part of life. But some grief can be traumatic or unresolved and take a lot longer to come to terms with.
Be patient with yourself.
Despite these events, I’ve probably dressed up and gone out most Halloweens, not wanting to be someone who lets fear get in their way or stops them missing out on things. Although it’s been fun in parts, being out seeing the graphic face & neck paints, the weapons, the association with death surrounding me on the streets or in a club, it’s always been a night full of triggers that I’ve had to work internally hard to control. Being a highly sensitive person and having suffered with PTSD, all things gruesome and gory that can be associated to someone experiencing real life pain are best avoided until you are better able to cope.
I often feel like I need to walk around with my eyes closed during the few days over Halloween. For me, it’s like having a big cauldron of my biggest traumas all mixed together and then hung out in one big evil display like a cruel reminder. With a photographic memory, images are burned into your mind. Once you’ve seen them, they can’t be unseen, and the associations you then make with past traumas are not easily forgotten. You find yourself reliving the painful moment(s), those that bring back memories of witnessing real life & death; near death experiences; and the real life pain & trauma associated with these. And if you have PTSD or any form of anxiety, you’re likely to already be pretty jumpy. The spooks & ‘boos’ that come with Halloween certainly don’t help with this.
Avoid triggers where you can – things that cause negative emotional responses such as flashbacks; panic; anxiety; reliving painful memories.
I do not wish to ruin anyone’s fun – some of the make-up is incredible! And I am all on board with babies & toddlers in pumpkin & skeleton costumes! – but for those in a similar boat, it’s ok to not join in. If necessary, explain to those that you feel you can why you don’t enjoy Halloween or why you personally don’t want to dress up and go out. And to those that you feel you can’t, it’s ok to make up an excuse or just let them think you’re boring and leave them to go on their merry spooky way – they’re not the kind of person you need to be around right now anyway for your own wellbeing and state of mind. It’s ok to protect yourself. Not everyone will understand, as they have not been through what you have, but most will be accepting and supportive.
You are the only one who can put pressure on yourself to do things that you’re not comfortable with – remember that and you’ll never have to feel pressure again. We do, as humans, tend to overcomplicate things.
I hope and I am sure that I won’t always feel this way around this time of year, but for now, it’s not a healthy phenomenon to expose myself to. So this year, I’m doing my own level of Halloween – maybe painting a pumpkin or two if I feel like it, because I do love pumpkins, and painting is pretty calming. Mum is in charge of trick or treat door-knockers and I will keep myself occupied elsewhere and gracefully wait for it to pass by. When it doesn’t feel so painful I look back over happy memories and choose to celebrate life, not death, and I expose myself to memories that make me laugh, like the one below.
Do what is best for you and your state of mind, no matter what others might think. Be true to you.
(Christmas is another time of year that a lot of us find difficult to navigate. Read how & why I don’t bough down to festive pressures anymore here, and how you can do the same)
This particular painting session was not so calming… the tears, jokes and ‘constructive’ criticism that this GCSE artwork caused is definitely laughable now, and kind of provides us with a little metaphor for life – Just as my younger self did with these pumpkins: Wipe away the tears; keep your head high & keep on going; take helpful advice on board but follow your own intuition as to what will work best for you; recognise & celebrate that you’re doing a great job in your own way; and remember that the end result can actually be a lot better than expected.
Avoidance is not a long term solution.
If you think you could be suffering with PTSD or any form of anxiety and find yourself being triggered by things, your GP, local counselling services, and/or helplines should be able to aid you in finding the best counsellor for you. There is inevitably a waiting list, but sometimes just knowing that you will get to see & speak to someone soon can help a little, and helplines are always there in the meantime: Help Is Here
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