So many people with chronic health conditions have experienced trauma due to a medical event. However, oftentimes doctors don’t seem to understand medical trauma, and it can be hard for us to fully understand it in ourselves, too. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network estimates that about 80% of children experience some form of post-traumatic stress following a life-threatening illness, injury, or frightening medical procedure. Medical trauma doesn’t just affect children and there are countless experiences that can trigger anxiety and panic when we are reminded of those traumatic medical experiences. While medical trauma can look like PTSD, it doesn’t always come in the form of a mental health diagnosis.
I was years into my chronic illness journey before I started to recognize that I had experienced significant medical trauma. Medical phone calls and doctor’s appointments cause me extreme nausea and create deep-seated panic. Being dismissed and misdiagnosed by eight doctors in the span of six months has left me extremely distrustful of all medical professionals. My medical trauma is something that affects me every day.
Chronic illness is hard. Dealing with associated medical trauma is also hard. We can all be here for one another. We asked The Mighty mental health and chronic illness communities on Facebook to share some of their stories with us about how their medical trauma affects their everyday life. I hope you can find support and strength from the stories that our community shared with us.
Here are 17 ways our community feels like their medical trauma affects their everyday life:
1. Feeling Panicked Before Seeing Your Doctor
“Just the thought of seeing my PCP throws me into a panic, and I get severely depressed both before and after seeing her.” – Debbie R.
“Now, I have panic attacks when seeing any doctor of any kind because I was treated like I was being a wuss and was made to feel like I was imagining the pain.” – Sarah J.
2. Believing Life Is Supposed to Be Painful
“I have a hard time understanding life isn’t supposed to be painful. It took me a long time to learn how to speak up and fight for my voice to be heard. I also have other chronic conditions. Our voice should be heard and our pain is real. Our voice and our lives matter.” – Kimberley F.
3. Feeling Constantly on Edge and Hyper-Vigilant
“You’re always on edge it seems. You’ve been through so many medical situations that you can’t appreciate when you’ve made it through one because you know another one is most likely around the corner, and you have to have the energy to fight it.” – Aly B.
“A medical mistake now has me hyper-aware of all my body’s reactions to the point I’m anxious and overthink everything.” – Rachael M.
4. Being Hypervigilant About Medications
“I double and triple check all possible side effects of new medications and I’m on high alert when starting, increasing or decreasing medication to the point that it can impact my day to day life and cause anxiety attacks.” – Sayer H.
5. Refusing to Even See a Doctor
“I refuse to go to the doctor unless I am actually incapacitated. This affects my life because I am suffering on a daily basis and I am not able to do most things that I want to.” – Alice C.
“I hate going to medical appointments of any sort. Even though I do need to follow up with doctors regarding my chronic health issues, I never do because I get such anxiety about going into any appointments, especially with new doctors.” – Renee R.
“I’ve completely stopped seeing doctors unless it’s a dire situation because I’m tired of being treated like I’m ‘drug-seeking’ or ‘being a hypochondriac’ because the local doctors admittedly don’t know how to treat my illnesses.” – Diana C.
“I will be on death’s door before I tell someone something is wrong.” – Shayla F.
“Anytime something is medically wrong with me, I wait until I am so sick or in so much pain that no one can deny my symptoms before I will go see someone because I never want to be treated like the girl who was faking it ever again.” – Tara C.
6. Feeling Jumpy and Wary of Medical Professionals
“I jump at sudden noises. If I am out and about and I see someone in scrubs I get really upset and scared and try to go find somewhere to hide. It’s a really frustrating situation for me.” – Allie M.
7. Having A Hard Time Trusting Yourself
“I feel like I have to justify, prove, and explain so many things in my life to so many people. Even small things. I’m afraid of not being believed, especially with doctors. I carry so much anxiety about it after years of searching for a diagnosis and being told I was just ‘depressed’ or ‘sensitive.’ It erodes the trust you have in yourself. It’s hard to rebuild.” – Allison M.
“I have numerous symptoms that seem ‘unrealistic’ or ‘make-believe’ that so many people think I’m faking or it isn’t real. It started eight years ago, and to this day, I sometimes wonder if what I’m feeling and thinking is even real. It affects me every day. I wonder what would happen if I just acted like everything was fine?” – Shan S.
“Even though I knew I was right, some part of me still thought, ‘Is it me? Do I want to stay sick? Am I crazy or did this doctor just gaslight me?’ It made me doubt myself and my own experience and doubt my own voice. I felt as if my voice wasn’t even there because of the amount I was talked over, interrupted or not listened to.” – Elizabeth H.
“I’m afraid to speak up. I’m afraid to say it hurts because doctors frequently dismiss me and tell me I’m fine.” – Vannessa F.
9. Difficulty Sleeping Due To Reliving the Trauma
“I don’t sleep. Too many near-death experiences, that the feeling of falling asleep causes me to wake up in a panic. I want to be in complete control and conscious at all times, which of course is not possible. I also have many moments where I feel as though I am reliving a traumatic medical procedure.” – Jaymee C.
10. Working to Make Sure What Happened to You Doesn’t Happen to Anyone Else
“As a result of my trauma, I went into the medical field. I’m now a professor, a senior provider performance specialist, and the president of a healthcare association, specializing in healthcare quality. I will make sure no one goes through what I did. Every patient should have a voice and receive the highest quality care.” – Rebekah B.
11. Losing Your Sense of Self
“The anxiety that comes with the chronic pain and fatigue has cost me my livelihood, my existence, my sense of self.” – Kathy W.
12. Feeling Anxiety Due to a Loved One’s Medical Trauma
“It’s more or less my spouses’ medical trauma that has traumatized me. She coded in front of me and I watched her have CPR. Now I’m an anxious mess and have nightmares because she has a lot of life-threatening health issues.” – Kara L.
“Watching a parent die slowly and unexpectedly is the source of my anxiety and PTSD.” – Andrea J.
“My medical trauma is related to my mom being seriously ill when I was a teenager and nearly dying repeatedly over a year and a half period.” – Randi D.
13. Experiencing Medical Trauma as a Medical Professional
“Don’t forget nurses also suffer from the trauma as well… We know you are scared, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated and every other emotion that happens. We are too… We truly do care, and want to help.” – Kim C.
14. Having Trust Issues with All Medical Professionals
“I now have trust issues with the medical profession. My husband comes into every appointment and asks every single question possible. I very rarely see a doctor anymore. I’d rather struggle through on my own than have the possibility of being mistreated again.” – Serra C.
15. Difficulty Relating to Other People
“It affects not only my physical relationship with my spouse but our emotional relationship. The pain keeps us from being able to be who we used to be.” – Jen P.
“I can’t relate to anyone especially because I’m hurting 24/7 and frustrated and annoyed all the time.” – Fikerte S.
16. Being “Triggered” by Medical TV Shows and Movie Scenes
“I am very triggered by TV shows and movies that have scenes in a hospital or doctor’s office. The sounds, the beeping, the lights, the setting, people crying or screaming in pain, suddenly transports me back to being in an ER myself, not being believed, waiting hours before getting an IV, being labeled as a drug seeker or medications being pushed on me.” – Kristina R.
“Beeping sounds make me panic, and I can’t watch many medical shows due to experiences I had coming out of anesthesia. It makes me panic and gives me an incredible amount of anxiety.” – Amber M.
17. Not Recognizing Your Experiences as Traumatic At First
“I never considered it trauma growing up, and it’s still weird to think about. Growing up with a disability can be traumatic from all of the uncomfortable procedures as well as the fear because you’re too young to understand.” – Rebecca G.
For more insight and advice about medical trauma, check out these Mighty articles:
- Are Chronic Illness and Trauma Related? Here’s What You Need to Know
- What You Should Know About Chronic Illness-Induced PTSD
- 8 Things I Learned About Trauma After Being Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness
- If You’ve Ever Struggled to Explain Your Trauma, This Lasagna Comic Might Help