We all have anniversary milestones in our lives, significant and memorable moments and events we recall as vividly as yesterday such as graduating from school, weddings, the first car, the first love, starting a business, buying a house, the birth of a child, etc. Generally, we think of anniversaries as a good thing, meant to remember and celebrate. And then there are those anniversaries that sneak up on you, the ones that seem to approach you in stealth mode, that make your irritable and exhausted or melancholy or just not feeling like the world is on its axis. It’s not a time for flowers and champagne and it’s not because you forgot to send a card. For some it’s a time when going back to bed and covering our head with the covers seems the most attractive option. Those are the anniversaries born from trauma or pain, the ones that shape a stressful period we somehow have to soldier through. Those are called anniversary reactions.
While these anniversaries can sometimes be “forgotten” over time, they often still flare up on that specific date or time of year or when we hear a particular song or smell a particular smell or hear something on the news. Then the malaise sets in and we can’t quite put your finger on it until we pause and reflect upon what is giving us the emotional response we are experiencing: The death of a loved one, a divorce (even if a joyous release), a war experience, an accident, dates and events that have seared themselves into our being even when we thought we were mostly over it can trigger an anniversary reaction. We understand that combat veterans can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it’s not unique just to veterans. And PTSD has a tendency to stay with us for a very long time and may never go away; understanding that can help us mitigate our response to this memory.
Our lives are filled with coping mechanisms we’ve learned through trial and error, and dealing with anniversary reactions is as unique as we are. Whatever tactic we decide on, just knowing what triggers those darker moments in our lives can help us better understand who we are so we can perhaps come to terms with them. Maybe we just need to get out of Dodge for a bit, or take a “mental health” day off, or be with a nurturing, understanding friend or loved one or share time with our children or eat our favorite food. Whatever works. But if the experience is too hard to manage no matter what we do, reaching out to a mental health professional can be a saving grace.
To schedule an appointment with Ben Novell, LMFT, Janelle Novell, LMFT,RPT-S or any of our therapists, please call 951-252-9911.
(Image from mentalhelp.net)