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The anniversary syndrome — 14 Comments

  1. Joyce,

    I have come to think of ‘anniversary syndrome’ or even ‘date syndrome’ as a not yet fully acknowledged symptom of PTSD. Having lost my mother to cancer at 14 years of age, the date is seared in my memory. I used to have difficulty with my mood starting in July, that I didn’t connect to the anniversary date for the first 10 to 20 years after her death (August 1st). Once I started to correlate it the symptoms seemed to decrease.

    I remember dates all the time, good and bad. I often question my poor husband about our relationship…”do you remember what we did 6 years ago today?”; “this is our 9th 4th of July together, do you remember what we did 9 years ago?”. Fortunately, he is good natured and puts up with my “date obsession”. I attribute my date OCD to a history of a life with traumatic events. I note this because I’m really not much of an OCD type in other areas.

    I have a client I’ve begun to see in the last 2 months or so. Late 30’s, “colorful” family history and I think we are only beginning to build the rapport that will allow her to disclose the full extent of her traumatic past. She has a issues: medical, family, occupational, financial and marital. We spent a great deal of time within the last 2 weeks processing the one year anniversary of the death of a beloved pet she had for 14 years. Perceived as one of a few beings that love her.

    I know of EMDR and thank you for validating it as a treatment modality.

    My thoughts will be with you during this upcoming weekend as an important anniversary date arrives, and my condolences to you for the loss of your husband, as well as the secondary trauma from your neighbor. I hope the media presence is not inappropriately intrusive for you.

  2. I had never heard of EMDR when my therapist suggested it, and didn’t have a lot of confidence that such an “odd” thing would work, but it almost seemed like a “magic bullet” some how. It may be the placebo effect, but whatever it is I am very grateful for it.

    When you have little short term memory new learning is difficult but I have been studying the latest research on the brain…some very interesting stuff in the past few years, just takes me longer to learn things.

    No I had the opportunity to not be interviewed and it is okay. I’m comfortable with it. Actually I am very assertive where things like that are concerned now. I have learned to say NO when I mean no, and YES when something is okay with me. I no longer let other people’s demands influence me where my own welfare is important.

    Learning to set appropriate boundaries when you have had difficulty doing so your entire life because boundaries were not allowed in my family. I was required to “put others first” and was responsible for making sure every one else was happy. I figure now that I am responsible for my own welfare and my own happiness and others are responsible for their own happiness and welfare.

    I love to do things for those I love and for my friends, but I do not feel compelled to do things I am unable or unwilling to do and saying “no, I can’t do that” is okay now. I have to laugh at myself “pre-boundaries” at how I stressed out and worried about meeting others’ expectations of me. If someone was upset with me, I worried about how I had failed to keep them happy.

    The funny thing is that with employees or store personnel etc. I had NO problem setting boundaries, but with my close family and friends, I had “DOOR MAT” tattooed across my forehead. In fact, most of my “close” relationships were one in which I tip toed on egg shells to keep from offending them. If they became angry I would grovel to try to keep them happy. One by one I have eliminated these individuals from my circle of intimacy and while my Rolodex is much thinner, those that are left are SOLID GOLD.

    It is amazing how little “drama” is left in my life….which leaves a great deal of room for peace and contentment.

    I just finished reading a very interesting book “addie, a memoir” by Mary Lee Settle in which she starts her autobiography 100 years before she was born talking about the members of her family and their customs because she was very aware that where we come from and the customs we were raised with highly influence who and what we are, as well as the DNA itself of course.

    I have researched my family’s history thoroughly and was fortunate to have not only names and dates on tombstones but the “back stories” to go with them as well. My family is primarily Scots-Irish and those customs and attitudes have come down to my family of origin, including the alcoholism and abuse on my mother’s maternal side. For generations the males in my mother’s mom’s side have been alcoholics and abusers and the women have been enablers. There’s been at least one male in each generation who was high in psychopathic traits…some bi-polar I think as well.

    Family role theory explains a lot about that “drama” and “script” which is written for us even before we are born. Breaking out of that mold and refusing to play the assigned role upsets the entire familial apple cart and the rest of the family members will go to great lengths to rope you back into playing a part in the :”play.”

    I studied this in school, but didn’t see the evidence of it in my own family for a long time. It is funny how we can learn something and apply it to the lives of others but not see it is in our own life.

    Mary Lee Settle’s family lived on the same lands for nearly 200 years, and my family has lived on this same piece of dirt since 1833 when my first ancestor came to Arkansas even before it was a state. This farm was always “home” even when my mom and step father moved to another town, just as Mary Lee Settle’s parents took her away from the family “home” but it was still home to her even though she traveled all over the world in her acting and writing careers.

    I don’t blame my ancestors or parents for what they passed on to me, either the customs or the DNA, they gave what they had. For some of them it was the
    DNA of psychopathy which I passed on to my son Patrick, or the ADHD I passed on to my oldest son. While my family was over all dysfunctional, there were some good things as well, and I wasn’t completely without nurturing and encouragement.

    But I do know that as an adult ( though all too late arriving at that point! LOL) I can pick and choose what I want to believe and how I behave and what I let effect me. This summer, though I have been aware that it was the 10th anniversary of the plane crash, I think I have been happier, more energetic and more content than I have been in a loooong time, if ever. I some how feel more FREE than I have in the past. With the weight of the past lightened somehow. I’m not sure exactly why that’s so, but it seems to be. That doesn’t mean I can fall in to the abyss again if I allow myself to, but I’m determined to live a healthy life…a balanced life and to continue to grow and learn.

    Your client and her grief over the loss of her beloved pet is one thing I can certainly relate to. The “summer of chaos” when I was living in hiding from the man Patrick sent to kill me, I lost two beloved dogs and my horse I’d had for 25 years. It seemed like everything I cared about was lost that summer. From my home to my animals, and then I became quite ill with rocky mountain spotted fever, so ill my doctor thought I had cancer or some other problem as well as the RMSF.

    My Holmes and Rahe stress scale “score” was over 1500 in a one year period, and over 3,000 in a three year period. No wonder I got sick and emotionally distraught. So taking care of myself is very important to me….eating right, exercise, meditation, and good relationships….very low stress life style and lots of happy things.

  3. you know, DShaklana, your mentioning that “OCD” about dates maybe being a symptom of PTSD…I think that must be true. Losing your mother to cancer at age 14, moving in with a violent “father” and then having him arrested for the “crime heard round the world” all in a period of less than two years must have been horrific (at best). Reading the life story of his victim, and how messed up it was/is, I am very amazed that you turned out “so well” and were able to educate yourself and to function at all.

    And your client that has “every” issue in the world, many times all victims./survivors end up with multiple issues. I have a friend who had cancer and a stroke when she was breaking up with her psychopathic husband, and while she was surviving as best she could, her ex kidnapped her son and only child. Her parents decided she was “faking” the cancer and stroke and actually aided and abetted the kidnapping.

    It seems to hit us TOTALLY and from what seems like every direction. I call it the “spin cycle” because it is like being pecked to death by 1000 geese, no matter which way you turn it seems there is another one right behind you.

    Most of the bloggers here whose stories I know have had that same OVERWHELMING multitude of problems dealing with the offenders in their lives.

  4. I have known the anniversary syndrome and it seemed to go a bit further. The weather was involved and every month, for two years, on or around (give or take a day or two) the same day of my loss, it rained. The grey, overcast skies seemed to fit my mood. There have been a few more losses since then, but nothing like that.

    When the dates land close to a holiday it also makes them difficult to get thru. Every year, you are reminded by the calendar and even the advertising on TV, the radio, the web, that “—>>>>>THIS DAY<<<<<—" is coming.

  5. Joyce, AWESOME article, and one that is very timely for me, personally.

    There are several dates that have an impact upon me, emotionally. There is a whole month devoted to the passing of family members, marriages, birthdays, and so forth – all of which were VERY minimized by both exspaths, particularly birthdays.

    I believe that it is a “normal” recognition of an event that was traumatic – it gives that event a clear date and time, as well as validation that it was, indeed, a traumatic event that really happened. In my view, it’s “normal” to do this, even if we stop doing it somewhere down the road a bit.

    With regard to the PTSD reaction, I totally agree that the “anniversary” thing can exacerbate PTSD symptoms, but I find that certain smells, words, and weather events (such as heavy rain) will send me into a spin cycle more than recollecting the date that something happened. Now, this is specific to me, personally, and I cannot speak about what others feel or experience. This second set of triggers/reactions is something that I’m working on. I still have a kiniption fit when it rains – having survived a flood (in good order, too), I’m always triggered by heavy rains.

    It takes time, but those reactions are becoming less extreme and dramatic for me. Thank gawd for my counseling therapist! LOL

    GREAT article and excellent discussion!

  6. Speaking about weather giving you “down” moods, seasonal affect disorder (SAD) is from lack of sunlight. That’s one reason we “comfort eat” carbs in the winter time…carbs raise our “feel good” chemicals in our brain to counteract the lack of sunlight.

    One winter we had 31 days in a row when there WAS NO SUN and I worked in a clinic without windows…It was dark when I went to work and dark when I left and at the end of the 31 days when the sun finally came out I WAS HOMICIDAL!!! LOL

    Some seasons also “trigger” us, not just specific dates…and sometimes a place may be the trigger. Or a situation may raise our anxiety due to a traumatic event in a similar circumstance. And some triggers just don’t make any sense at all. Since the plane crash I have anxiety when it comes to listening to voice mail, so does my son…not sure why that particular thing, or why it effects BOTH of us equally.

    And today…I lost my cell phone. LOL It goes directly to voice mail so I can’t even call it to find it. Talk about raising your anxiety! LOL And frustration!

  7. Here’s a good article on the body’s response to grief/trauma and stress. It is called the “broken heart” syndrome and frequently especially in the elderly, if one spouse dies, the other one, though in apparent “good health” will shortly follow. The old saying “he died of a broken heart” has been researched in the past few years and a “broken heart” CAN cause serious illness and even death.

    This is why we must work on reducing our stress, and learn to cope with grief in a healthy manner. Stress does KILL literally as well as figuratively.


    • Joyce, stress DOES kill……it creates so many, many physical ailments, but the mental and emotional torment and anguish can be enough to send an individual over the proverbial edge.

      For me, personally, the emotional torment and anguish has been pretty substantial, but I believe that I’ve come a long way. And, interestingly, this thread begins with the article about the anniversary issues. Three years ago, this month, I discovered what the second exspath really was – that I had been living with a fraud for 14 years, and the he was not only a fraud, but the most depraved and repellant of all creatures with only one exception: a child molester.

      Three years ago, I believed that my world had come to an end, and that I would never “live,” again. Today…..right now……I recognize that I have most certainly survived the end of that farce of a marriage, and actually taken my path that I had always meant to be upon.

      Today……..I am SO grateful that that marriage ended. What a terrible, terrible “Thing” that man was, and remains. And, I am so very grateful that it is no longer infecting my life. I’m grateful that I have had strong support and encouragement and that I was able to find excellent counselors to help me sort some of this all out.

      Let the anniversaries come and go – they aren’t MY anniversaries, anymore. 🙂

  8. “anniversaries” come and go and they effect different people differently. About the only one I remember or even think about is the date my husband died, and it no longer has any bad effects on me. If I stop and think about them, I can remember the date my grandparents died, the day my dad died, etc., but if I don’t consciously think about them, the day will pass without me even thinking about them at all. But that was not always so. Those dates when noticed caused deep sadness and pain.

    What I do know for a fact though, is that STRESS and ANXIETY that it produces can cause tremendous harm to our minds and bodies. It literally CHANGES the brain by killing connecting cells, thus impairing our thinking processes in many ways, particularly short term memory. Mine was BLITZED after the aircraft crash that killed my husband, but it IMPROVED over ZERO and though is not even 1/3 (by test) of what it was before the crash, is where I can function now with minor word finding problems or forgetting names. It has taken a LONG time though.

    The last thing that threw me into a long term panic was Patrick’s parole hearing last year. Those are going to come up every three or so years from here on out, and I will have to muster my strength and go for the gusto and protest them over and over and I cannot let them get me down for six months or so every time. It is important for my own health and well being that I can NOT ALLOW that to happen. Being AWARE of that as a TRIGGER I think will help me go through it without the melt down. Will see how it comes out.

  9. Just thought I’d share that it’s been 3 years – to the day – that I discovered that I had been married to a fraud. In the time that it took to unzip a gym bag, what I believed my marriage to be was shattered…….I literally did not believe that I was going to survive that discovery.

    Today, I am very, very poor and very, very sick, but I’m very, very free of dysfunction, lies, betrayal, and deceit. I’ve experienced a number of very defeating events, and I’ve lost a great deal in finances, real estate, and personal property. But, I’ve kept my soul and managed to recover, and I’m finally beginning the process of healing after a grueling emotional recovery.

    I will never be the “same” person that I once was, but I am grateful for that fact. I never want to be that confused, desperate doormat, ever again.

    Joyce, thank you so very much for building this site and telling it the way that it is. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I took the option to move towards it, at all costs.

    HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😀 I’m okay – and, “okay” is GOOD ENOUGH!!!!

  10. Congratulations, Truthy~! You’ve come a looooong way in those 3 years…and you are truly on your way to not only OKAY but better than “just okay”

    We’ve all hit road bumps in health, finances, etc as both part of life and as part of the psychopathic offender injureis, but you know, as long as we can hold our heads up and keep looking toward the “light” then we ARE OKAY. Not perfect, but you know I no longer think I must be PERFECT TO BE “OKAY”—I’m human, I make mistakes, bad decisions, etc but that’ s still OKAY.

    Again, congratulations!!! TOWANDA for you!!! God bless.

    • Joyce, thank you SO much for the vote of confidence, seriously. When this journey finally began, I didn’t think I’d live (literally) through the pain of recovery. What you typed, above, is true: “…perfect to be ‘okay'” is a beautiful affirmation. And, being okay should have always been “good enough.” I’m getting there, and it’s a very interesting journey, at the very least.

      TOWANDA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! to everyone in recovery and healing!!!!!!!

  11. I had for my whole life I think that internal command that YOU MUST BE PERFECT TO BE ACCEPTABLE (OKAY). And of course I was never perfect, I just tried to pretend to be but inside I “knew” I was a failure because I wasn’t perfect. A “syndrome” called the “imposter effect” is what develops. It is when we ARE “successful” at what we do, but we feel like we are an IMPOSTER and that we must hide the fact we are not perfect, etc. I remember the first time I felt this I was in 9th or 10th grade English class and I made 100% on a difficult spelling test…spelling was never my best suit…and NO one else in the class even made 90% and the teacher complimented me for my 100% and MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS “Boy, do I ever have her fooled.”

    I DIMINISHED MY OWN ACCOMPLISHMENTS internally, and in many ways even when I got my degrees and certifications for national exams I still felt like an “imposter” to some extent. I felt like my accomplishments were not perfect so therefore I was not real.

    There is a book called “The Imposter Syndrome” and I think it is a good one. It opened my eyes to what I was feeling. The DSM-V doesn’t recognize this as a “real syndrome” but I think it is VERY real.

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