Whether you are the one experiencing the trauma or you are the supporting person, it's always hard to talk about the actual trauma. When I found out about my cancer, I didn't talk about it publicly (or privately) for over a year for several reasons:
1. I had a plan: to beat it and talk about it later (what an epic fail lol).
2. I didn't want to be a victim of my circumstances and for others to pity me.
3. I wanted to be "normal" and talk about anything else but my cancer. It was enough of a constant reminder that my life could fade away at any moment, so anytime I could, I didn't give it any thought.
I was eventually forced to talk about it when things came spiraling down and my life was on the line. My holistic treatments were so expensive, and I was running out of time. My sister-in-law Melissa (one of the very few who knew what I was going through), begged me to ask for help. I finally went live on Facebook and shared the news. Had I not done so, I would not be sitting here today writing this blog.
So this is how my friends, family, and my own mother found out I had cancer. I hid my lumps with my long hair and in pictures for a long time. When they were visible, I would simply say that my lymph nodes were very swollen, and I am healing naturally. I didn't use the word "cancer". I didn't want to give it any power over my life.
But now I have split feelings about having waited so long to tell people:
I feel bad that some felt left out. Some still resent us to this very day for not letting them know what we (as if affected my direct family as well) were dealing with. They wanted to be there, to support us, to be a part of the healing journey from beginning to end.
On the other side of the spectrum, I am glad I waited. It's already hard enough to process your own emotions, let alone the emotions of others who love you and don't want to see you suffer and yet, you feel guilty to cause the ones you love pain because of what you are going through. I had time to gather some strength and courage to deal with my own feelings prior to sharing with others which, on a very small scale, made it easier to process their reactions.
So all this to say, there isn't a cookie-cutter approach to having this type of "talk". Sharing hard news is always tough, but there are a few things that helped me along the way, and I want to share them with you.
I call it the "Song and dance" approach. Sometimes you feel like talking about it, sometimes you don't. Chronic illnesses last a long time, and they should not be treated as five-day cold when it comes to "talking" about it with friends and family who want to know and stay up to date about your well-being. But how is your support system supposed to know when you are in the mood to talk?
YOU (the person with trauma):
Tell your support system what "support" means to you. If you need for your loved ones to keep you company or check on you often, let them know so that they know how to support you. Talking about your feelings to others can be a great way to get out of your own head.
Say exactly how you feel at the moment. If you need emotional support, advice, prayer, say it. Take the guessing game out of the equation. "I'm feeling sad right now and the tunnel is dark". "I'm afraid of not knowing what my next test results will look like".
If you are more like me and don't like for it to be the subject of every conversation, say that as well. I dreaded the "how are you doing?" question. I used to tell my friends to tell me how they were feeling instead of asking me. This helped tremendously to keep me distracted from my circumstances. Plus, I was often out of breath, so making them talk was very "Helpful...lol".
Take the burden off your shoulders to having to be strong and happy so that your support system worries less about you. They will worry no matter how hard you smile.
YOU (the support system):
Remember that you, along with many others, love the trauma person. This is not a funeral, this is a new adventure. Keep in mind that they are constantly being asked "how are you feeling?". So address the elephant in the room by asking more specific questions. I call them ACTION QUESTIONS. If you know this person's lifestyle, see how you can get involved and support. They may need help with a few of the following areas:
-Be the "point of contact" person to keep everyone else updated. You can create a team of volunteers who would share tasks.
-Support not only the person with trauma, but whoever else is directly impacted by the trauma.
-Do the grocery shopping
-Meal prep/drop off
-Babysitting/ distracting the children/ help with homework
-Ride to medical appointments
I know for sure that my support system contributed to my healing by providing this type of support for me. It helped my mind be at ease and allowed me to focus on simply healing.
Don't take offense if you are not in the loop. Some people may get updates on a good day. Things change on a consistent basis with a chronic illness. Take it as if comes, whether it comes directly or indirectly. This does not measure the closeness of your relationship in comparison to others as it may not be intentional that you didn't get updates at the time it was given.
Don't feel obligated to keep in touch and constantly check on the trauma person, unless they ask. Live and enjoy your life to the fullest. The trauma person would appreciate that so much that you are happy, healthy, and thriving. This would give them more to talk about in your next conversation.
Do what you can. This is not a caring competition. The person with trauma loves and appreciates you no matter what.
These are all tips given based on my personal experience and from my perspective. I know in my heart that my support system helped save my life with all their love and care for me and my family. I received so much love and support, and the conversation got a lot easier over time. I hope these tips will help you guys navigate through healing a little easier as there are no instructions on what to do or what say in hard times to support someone you love.