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Ask Amy: Tragic accident creates trauma response

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: Recently, I was in a car accident involving a young man who tried to commit suicide by jumping into my car’s path.

My 2-year-old was in the car with me but (thankfully) doesn't seem to have noticed when I hit the man.

The man survived and I found out (through the police who arrived on the scene) that he had jumped into another car’s path a few minutes before.

I was simply the next car to come along.

The man admitted to both the paramedics and the police that he jumped in front of my car with the intent of killing himself. Several officers tried to reassure me that I wasn't in trouble and that I did nothing wrong.

Amy, I can't stop running the events through my head (and, unfortunately, I am having to repeat myself and relive it in dealing with my insurance company).

I feel like I'm drowning in what-ifs.

I think therapy would be beneficial to help me with this traumatic event, but I don't know where to start.

Could you steer me toward some resources?

– What-if

Dear What-if: Traumatic stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Your brain will have its own way of processing this accident, and your brain can also rewire itself again to heal.

Researching your question, I read harrowing accounts of train conductors involved in hitting people who have jumped (or been pushed) onto the tracks. One former operator whose train struck a man was quoted: “As cruel as it makes it sound, for the individual [who is hit by the train] — it’s over. It’s just beginning for the train operator.”

The emotional effects of this sort of unavoidable accident can persist, and can sometimes manifest in physical symptoms.

Because your young child was in the car at the time, I assume your response might be even more complicated – such relief that everyone survived the accident – but guilt that it happened at all, and fear that it might happen again.

Guided desensitizing therapy (perhaps returning to the spot and proceeding through safety), might help. EMDR therapy (using eye movement to aid the brain’s recovery) might work for you.

A daily meditation practice (along with treatment) could help you to breathe through your rumination. I highly recommend it.

You should see a trauma specialist. Your police department’s victims’ services program or victim’s advocate should have a list of local therapists who could work with you.

Psychologytoday.com has a useful database of therapists and support groups, searchable by location.

Dear Amy: I am the mother of two teen daughters, and would love advice on how to help them with a very annoying and inappropriate question they receive quite often (and started receiving in the pre-teen years): "Do you have a boyfriend?"

 

I don't understand why this is of interest to so many people, and why they think it's appropriate to ask, regardless of how well they know them, or when they are in front of other people, etc.

If our daughters answer “no,” to this question, it seems to only prolong the misery with more questions and statements, like "Why not?" or "I don't believe you!"

My daughters haven't found a way to handle the awkward position when so many people seem to regard it as perfectly normal casual conversation, and they want to be respectful to adults.

Or maybe we are being overly sensitive, and it IS perfectly reasonable to ask a teenager about their romantic life?

– Mom

Dear Mom: Gak, I remember this question from my own teenhood! And, as the never-dating high school kid, the question was both intrusive and (bonus!) a surefire way to feel less-than.

Assure your girls that adults tend to ask this because they want to connect, but don’t know how. They’re likely not even particularly interested in the answer.

This annoyance will soon be followed by the also-challenging “where are you going to college” question.

Suggest that your teens find a way to laugh this off, and then distract with a question of their own: “Haha – only my Instagram followers really know what I’m up to. Did you date in high school?”

Dear Amy: Your question from “Worried,” who had started excessively hoarding food in response to the pandemic, inspired me to write.

When Worried gets their hoarding under control I urge them and others to consider donating to a food bank.

Donations have been down at many of our food banks, and they could use the help.

– Overstocked, Too

Dear Overstocked: Great advice. Thank you!

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(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

©2022 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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