• Christina Ketcham

The Weight of the Proverbial Straw: Emotional Trauma & Self-Care Denial

Updated: Oct 9, 2018

When I’m asked why I do what I do, one image comes to mind. A college student is unceremoniously crying on the ground, maybe even wailing, after having scratched the paint on her rental car. On the surface, this was a ridiculous response to something trivial. When looked at more intimately, this was a real-life representation of the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Of course, this student was me. However, when I look back on it, I feel like an outsider watching this dramatic moment transpire and I can see all the pieces falling out of place simultaneously to reveal my deepest distress. My grandmother had finally passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. We were very close and I had been doing all I could to be there for my grandmother, family, and myself throughout this ordeal while keeping up with my education, job and social responsibilities. I had been nervous about the financial responsibility that came with renting a car, but didn't have a choice while my car was in the shop. The thought that I had potentially “messed up” when I couldn’t afford to, literally brought me to my knees.

I remember my then long-distance boyfriend asking me a question, “Why was I staying at my house and not with one of my parents?” It was more of a scold than a question. I could understand his perspective; I could have tried harder to find support in my parents, but that thought never crossed my mind. I was worried about making sure our extended family had space to stay and about minimizing my parents' stress. After all, they were also suffering this loss and I didn't want to be "selfish." Time, wisdom and education have taught me that this really meant that I had fallen victim to a timeless folly – undervaluing your experience for the sake of others. It’s been over a decade, but I know that’s a line I still struggle to define when disaster hits.

It gives me great solace, but also sadness, to know that I am not alone. Now that I’m older, I realize it was not a matter of my inexperience - I’ve seen the same patterns repeating all around me in my family members, clients, and friends, regardless of age and gender. Women especially are often expected to be the caregivers in their families - the one that should drop everything in order to come to the aid of others. Women also often have a myriad of daily responsibilities that can’t be left unattended without the risk of an entire system collapse. It is often not feasible to take time off of work and take on extra roles. The weight and guilt that comes with falling short can be immense. Worse, it can negatively affect the way someone recovers after the unexpected life event. The experience is coupled with feelings of failure, extended stress, loneliness, and possibly never being able to fully process and heal.

I refuse to accept that this should be a fated standard. I created Sereno Relief Services because we all deserve to feel and receive support during our toughest moments without judgement or guilt. My hope is that the services provided by Sereno fulfill the need for practical and directed support for those that feel burdened with a life change while also starting a much-needed societal change in the way our experiences are valued and our pain is understood.

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