Best practices in the days following a traumatic experience
July 4, 2021 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Had a scary experience yesterday, help me process it over the next week

This feels urgent enough that I'm not using anonymous although I feel like I should. I was swimming with my eight year old son yesterday in a lake right near a dock. He's a strong swimmer who has been in the open water before but suddenly he got spooked and climbed on top of me. I was pushed under the water multiple times and sincerely thought I was going to die. My nasal passages still burned this morning. My son and I were pulled from the water by a friend at the dock. He was never in danger because he was on top of me.

I feel dramatic saying this was a "traumatic" experience, but I think it was. I'm still upset by it. I've been bursting into tears on and off all day and having some dark thoughts. It really was very scary. Even writing this question is making my heart beat faster.

Assume profressional mental health support is not an option right now--I'd happily pay out of pocket for it but am on the wait list for several locations. What are the best things I can do RIGHT NOW and in the next few days to not make this experience longer lasting and more traumatic than it has to be? Compounding all this is that I'm trying to play it light for my son, as I don't want him to know how scared I was. Unsure if that is the right thing to do either.

PLEASE no comments about water safety or whatever. Sincerely not what I need right now
posted by Ideal Impulse to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oof that does sound scary and I don't think your reaction is overdramatic. I'm glad you're ok.
Your body got a huge rush of panic hormones and they're all swirling around in you still, causing a hangover. Flushing them out is a good first step to feeling better.

Drink lots of water to flush out stress chemicals
Sleep to let your brain process what happened
Exercise to burn off adrenaline
Do things that make your body feel good: eat delicious things, have a bath, rub on lotion, cuddle or massage if that's doable, etc. Whatever feels sensual, physical, grounding and pleasurable, to boost happy hormones
Watch a light comedy and try to laugh out loud, again to boost happy hormones

I think your impulse not to discuss it with your son right now is also a good one.
Hope you feel better soon!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:39 PM on July 4, 2021 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Play Tetris. There was a study a few years back about how playing Tetris after a traumatic event can help reduce future PTSD symptoms, although if I remember correctly the best time to play was 6 hours after. It might help and wouldn’t hurt to try, especially if you play at the times when you are having the memories.

Also I’m sorry this happened. It sounds so scary and really makes sense that you’re having a hard time now.
posted by fleecy socks at 7:41 PM on July 4, 2021 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing what nouvelle-personne said.

I'd just add to reach out to a kind, validating person in your life who is willing to hold space for you to talk about this. It's often whether we feel supported in the aftermath of a trauma that dictates whether it's stored as trauma in the sense that it keeps popping up unprocessed months or years later.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:42 PM on July 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: CDC guidelines on what to do after a traumatic event.

Nthing that the absolute largest predictor of whether a traumatic event results in PTSD is the support received after. Reach out to friends and family to process this. It absolutely was scary and awful and anything where you think you’re going to die definitely qualifies as trauma—actually this is one of the questions we ask when gathering trauma background in the mental health field (“Was there ever a time where you or someone else was in danger and you thought you/they were going to die?”). Sorry you experienced this and I hope you can get good support. Remember: the majority of people are resilient after a traumatic event, but you also aren’t weak if you aren’t.
posted by brook horse at 7:54 PM on July 4, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: If (medical) cannabis is legal where you are, try eating an edible before bedtime. I did this the day after a nearly fatal hiking accident, and it made the experience much less intense, so I stopped replaying the memory over and over again in my head.
posted by monotreme at 8:21 PM on July 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s ok that you’re still upset! It takes time to get over! I had a similar near-death-feeling on a lake several years ago and it took me a few months to even want to take a bath. It was helpful to me to name my experience as traumatic and near-death to my loved ones so they could be appropriately supportive. I hope you have support to help you process.

Other things that helped me were gentle exercise, somatic exercises like tapping, shaking, bouncing, humming to alleviate panic and ground myself, deep breathing, CBD, and increasing activities that regulate the nervous system. While you’re on the waitlist for therapy you might look into a bodywork practitioner of massage, acupuncture, yoga that can help you process and physically work with you and your body in a way that feels healing and restorative.
posted by stellaluna at 8:26 PM on July 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just coming in to offer support and say you are not being dramatic to think of this as trauma. A long time ago someone played a practical joke on me where I believed I was in deadly danger even though I was perfectly safe. It took years to get over, I think because I kept trying to laugh it off. You are being a great advocate for yourself to seek help with this.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 8:39 PM on July 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: That is very traumatic and you’re not just being dramatic. To get you though the day’s until you can see a professional counselor or therapist, here are some ideas. Take a walk in nature (long or short), practice a hobby with your hands (playing a musical instrument, knitting, table puzzles, cooking), sit with your feet on the ground and do a body scan that brings your energy back down from your head towards the earth. I’m hoping that you have a person or two that can support you during this time, as that’s really important. If you feel that you can’t sleep or concentrate, reach out to your local gp or make an emergency doctors appointment so you can get some medication that will help temporarily reduce your anxiety and help you to function. I’m sending you all of the love and support and I’d really appreciate it if you could update us and let us know how you’re doing and if you need any additional support. You’ll get through this. Be kind to yourself. Reach out for help whenever you need it.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 8:39 PM on July 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I train first aid, and it's a required part of our course to tell people about dealing with their own reactions to trauma: 'talk to someone supportive who you trust, soon' is one of the main items.

Apart from anything else you should treat alarming reactions to an event that alarmed you as completely normal. That is what our bodies do. It is completely to be expected to not be completely OK for a little while, and where 'a little while' will vary from person to person.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:11 PM on July 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Just for support, my son choked once and was quickly helped by me but it took me like two weeks to come down from the heightened sense of being alive / on alert.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:36 PM on July 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are not being dramatic.

This was a legitimately terrifying experience, possibly compounded by complicated emotions - your son was in danger, and used your body to save himself. Of course anyone would want that, but it doesn't lessen your terror for you and for your son.

Agree with the suggestions above - talk to someone as soon as you can, use self-soothing exercises as much as you can. You did a great job in saving your son, now take care of you. And agree, this may be something you share with him 20 years from now, if at all.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 9:43 PM on July 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just sending some internet hugs to say your feelings are very valid; speaking for myself, I have very visceral memories of some swimming pool horseplay that briefly turned scary for me as a youngster and have stuck with me decades later. I share this not to say “this will haunt you forever!” by any means, but only to say that it does indeed sound very frightening and traumatic and I’m glad you’re taking seriously the task of caring for yourself.
posted by Zephyrial at 9:51 PM on July 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oof, what a horrible thing to have happened. I would suggest it's completely normal to still feel very upset and frightened by it - and it sounds hard trying to keep a brave face for your son too.

Completely agree with the suggestions above that it would be good to talk it over with a friend or loved one - a similar thing happened to me in water (kayaking accident) and it felt better once it became 'a story' rather than a very fresh experience. I would say it was natural though to still be frightened or have vivid memories of it for a few days/weeks. I think for me it was important for others to take it seriously rather than brush it off - I expect that may be the case for you, especially if you are having to skim over it while with your son. It helped for me to be upset by what was a genuinely frightening experience.

Then, as suggested, if you can - plan some relaxation time with something you expect to be distracting or funny. A good movie that will make you laugh, a comedian's routine, or a book that you enjoy. It's ok to snuggle up inside even if it's summertime!

My thoughts go out to you - and I hope you feel better soon.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 12:22 AM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What happened to you was definitely traumatic. I’m so sorry it happened to you, and I think it’s good you’re looking for ways to process it.

I have found it helpful to retell the story of what happened over and over: if you can keep telling it to real people you love and trust to support you, that’s great; if you run out of those you can write it down. Do it as many times as you want, till you start feeling better. For me, I find when I retell the traumatic experience I gain some control over it.

Take care.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:15 AM on July 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Therapy is available online now. I'm sure you can find a place without a waiting list, especially since you won't have to go through insurance.

You could also try a crisis phone line. I used to volunteer on a suicide hotline, and quite a few of the callers were dealing with crisis/trauma but were not immediately suicidal. Crisis line workers will be accustomed to helping with issues like this, and listening kindly to difficult emotions, including if you feel anger at your son/guilt for feeling that anger.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 3:21 AM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE)!
It’s a set of progressive exercises that are designed to get your muscles fatigued so you can shake off the stress. It was originally designed to help many people at the same time that went through a traumatic event such as an earthquake etc. They take about 20min and I found them very effective. You can find tons of background info books etc, but all you need is the instruction from this video to get you started.
posted by A! at 3:50 AM on July 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The last time I had something traumatic happen the best thing I did for myself was focus on everything I did right. It is easy to ruminate on could-have should-have would-have. Every time my brain started in on that I gently redirected to the right things I did, no matter how small.
posted by hilaryjade at 8:13 AM on July 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to all of the above, I find planning for the future sometimes helps me. In this case, next time your kid is going to swim, go over safety. Have a floatie nearby that he should go for if spooked. You don't have to say he hurt or endangered you but you can explain that other people are not a good flotation devices, so look for something else when he gets in the water. Or do some more practice with him on floating on his back, etc. If this is too much, maybe have your partner go over that with him.

Swimming is a fun thing that comes with risks. I have had frightening experiences myself and with my kid. You are reacting totally normally.
posted by emjaybee at 8:19 AM on July 5, 2021

Best answer: Nthing Tetris or any other zone-out game — I genuinely think this has helped me not save up my most upsetting memories tbh — but also, is there something you can do to really "be" in your body? Dance party? Zumba class? Yoga? Trampoline park? SUPER intense Simon Says game?

You might like this poem about the seconds after a scary thing.
posted by Charity Garfein at 9:42 AM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You were in real danger; a panicking swimmer can pull one or both people down into trouble. You were also terrified for your child, reacting to screaming. I'm so glad someone was nearby to help you.

Try to frame your response in positive terms My child was terrified, needed my help, I did not let them down. I did not drown, however I managed. as these are significant responses from you.

Take action, which helps you feel in control because it helps you be in control. Take a water safety class, and sign your child up for swimming lessons, and be serious about life vests. I was pushed off a dock when I could not swim (kid who pushed me assumed otherwise), my brother saw the splash and rescued me. His lifeguard training probably saved my life. I took water safety as a teen and a not-great swimmer, and it was really helpful, teaching me good techniques and improving skills and confidence.
posted by theora55 at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hugs. That sounds terrifying. Just wanted to reassure you that long-lasting psychological damage from traumatic experiences is actually relatively rare. Most people recover within a month or so from many traumatic events. So even though your feelings now are intense, they are normal, and it's likely even if you do nothing special, they will resolve on their own. I'm glad your friend recognized your distress and rescued you!
posted by shadygrove at 12:18 PM on July 5, 2021

Best answer: Feeling like you are drowning when water enters your lungs triggers a primal physiological response way beyond any conscious control.

Humans literally use it as a torture technique in the form of waterboarding

This is absolutely, unequivocally, A-1, real physical trauma, and the advice given above to treat it as such is utterly appropriate.
posted by lalochezia at 12:23 PM on July 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also here to emphasize this is real trauma. Also, the feelings and reactions you are having totally, 100 percent normal and appropraite, so don't worry about the fact that they are there. I wouldn't necessarily recommend therapy immediately after an traumatic event, (support I'd absolutely recommend) unless it's something you are already looking into, or needed for other reasons as well. Really what you are going through is considered normal emotional response to a stressful event unless you are currently experiencing suicidal ideation, or are at risk for some sort of relaspe or something severe of that nature.

Right now, what are some things that comfort you? Is there a song or music, is there a food , can you spends some time cuddling with your kid? Doesn't really matter what it is as long as its not substance use honestly, just pick something and try.

You can do some affirmational stuff. You were saved by a friend. Your kid is okay. Simple sentences that you did things right. You didn't swim alone. You were saved!

Can you chat with the friend who pulled you out of the water? It might help just to touch base with them just because they already know and might be able to be there for you without having to recount the experience.

Take gentle care of yourself. You've been through alot and I'm glad you are physically okay.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:57 PM on July 5, 2021

Best answer: Yes to Tetris, and yes to talking to people who love you and who you find soothing.

Also, please know that it's totally normal to feel freaked out and have adrenalized reactions right after something like this. It doesn't mean you'll feel like this in the long term.
posted by hungrytiger at 4:27 PM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: *HUGS* I can't even imagine what you must be feeling right now.

7 Cups has online therapists available. It starts at $150/month for unlimited messages to your therapist. They reply once or twice a day, Monday through Friday.

Link is a referral link, but it's like Whose Line Is It Anyway - all I get are points, and the points don't matter.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 4:48 PM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Random and potentially not possible, but do you have any long-standing tasks that have to be completed? Something like planning to redo a bathroom, going through and discarding old papers/stuff, or making reservations for a trip you have planned? This has helped people I know, the combination of distracting tedium with regaining agency is pretty powerful.

Probably won't be enough on its own but can be a good addition to the things other posters suggested.
posted by hermanubis at 9:43 PM on July 5, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all of your responses; I've read through this read at least ten minutes since posting it on Sunday, and am feeling better. Everything was helpful, but most helpful have been the reminders that it is OK for me to feel bad, but that this isn't forever. I've been focusing on what I did right, and trying to add language to the memories it becomes a story instead of something that happened to me.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 11:28 AM on July 6, 2021 [9 favorites]

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