Have you ever had the experience of feeling mildly or severely depressed but for no reason you can identify? It happens to us all the time. For example, one day, you are aware of having a headache, feeling tired and gloomy, but you do not know why. Friends and co-workers comment you need to be more enthusiastic. They comment you seem irritable and temperamental and that you were not aware that you acted that way.
Sometimes it takes someone who is a close friend, or it may take your spouse to remind you that today is the anniversary of your mother’s death, losing a good friend, or having been in a disaster some years ago. Suddenly, your memory is jogged, and it all falls into place. You realize that you have been mourning one or another of these tragic or traumatic events.
Every year, around December first or near the end of November, I feel “upset.” I thought I had mourned her loss and should have no difficulty remembering when she died. Still, in the business of my life, I completely forget that it is the anniversary of my mother’s death decades ago.
Now it is even worse for me. My wife died seven years ago of cancer. We were married for fifty years. Each year, as the anniversary of her death approaches, I feel depressed. However, I am aware of the reason I feel depressed. This year something different happened. Near the end of March, I became depressed. Here, I did not have a clue as to the reason. I suddenly jumped up from a deep sleep one night, and the reason for the depression flooded my mind. The day of our wedding anniversary was approaching. I was having an anniversary reaction to our wedding date.
Anniversaries are powerful occurrences, whether we remember them. Many people, including myself, feel depressed, anxious, or physically ill but do not know why. Further exploration during the session often reveals that something terrible happened to them many years ago. The revelation is sometimes shocking because the event has been repressed. Upon recovering the memory of the anniversary, many people are shocked that they could have forgotten such an important event. Only a few people initially doubted that memory could affect today because it had occurred long ago. Still, they eventually admit to the truth of the event’s impact on their lives.
Some people suddenly fall ill, have an accident, or even feel suicidal without knowing why. In tragic circumstances, an individual may attempt suicide because of the depth of their depression. Some attempt suicide upon the anniversary of a loved one’s death many years before.
It is known that older adults who have been married to the same person for many decades suddenly pass away on the first anniversary of the death of their deceased husband or wife. It is also reported that individuals die when they reach the age at which their parents pass away. For example, there are those who, if a parent dies at age 65, will become ill and die when they achieve the same age of 65. An example of this was the death of Elvis Presley at age 41, the exact age at which his mother had died.
Such reactions as survivor guilt, in which an individual is convinced they should have died with family and friends in an accident or disaster, can provide an early death. In addition, unrealistic and unresolved guilt or grief reactions can lead to illness or death at or just before the anniversary of the death of a spouse, mother, father, or child.
Certain things can be done to avoid or minimize a repeat of a tragedy or loss. While it is normal to experience grief and depression after the death of a loved one, that reaction should gradually decrease during a six-month to one-year period after the death. If this does not happen, the grieving individual should be referred for psychotherapy and medication.
Medication can relieve depression, but therapy is necessary to work through and resolve many thoughts and reactions to the loss.
In the same way, those who have lived through severe traumatic events should be helped with psychotherapy so that they come to an understanding of their survivor guilt and other feelings and reactions connected with PTSD.
The main point to be kept in mind is to remember that events that happened in the past continue to affect and influence our lives, even if we do not think so. It is important not to dismiss past tragedies and losses but to acknowledge them and let them into our awareness. The brain is a great computer that storehouses many memories and emotional reactions to those memories.