Being Beaten by Baguettes

Assault with alliteration. And carbs.

I love alliteration, and I love bread, so the title of this post came naturally to me. It actually manifested long before the content did. But I knew that a title that trips off the tongue so tantalizingly should not be tossed out. (See what I did there?) I had to find a way to make use of it. But how?

And then I had an exceedingly bad day.

We all have those, of course. But I didn’t handle the situation well at all. It was entirely too triggering, and I therefore had a massive melt down. Whenever someone witnesses that occasional coping flaw of mine, I can see them looking at me like I’ve become completely and utterly unhinged, and the look of confusion and discomfort on their face makes me feel worse. Off I slide into a negative spiral. It’s not fun. (It could be argued that it’s not exactly a picnic for those who helplessly bear witness, either.)

Welcome to my world.

It’s really hard to explain an apparent overreaction to someone who is basically cool, calm and collected. They are seeing a minor thing and what appears to be an over-the-top response thereto. To that I say: you have no way of knowing what negative memories one has rotting in the basement of one’s brain. You don’t know which straw will be the last one for the camel. You see a surface situation and a surface reaction, but you don’t see the crux of it. You don’t see the scar tissue or the deep, deep down final freakin’ straw of it all.

So back to the headline. It alludes to assault with alliteration. And carbs. So here’s what I came up with to accompany it.

Imagine this: You’re walking down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris (lucky you!), and you happen to see a man hit a woman with a baguette. Naturally you are startled by this. One does not witness such a contretemps every day. Oh non.

Before you can react, the man disappears down a side street. You aren’t even sure you got a good look at him. Was he dressed as a mime? (Probably not, or he would have been on the receiving end of the assault. But I digress.) It all happened so quickly. It’s hardly surprising that your main focus was on the yeasty weapon he chose to employ.

When you turn back to the woman, you see that she has dropped to her knees and is doing that kind of chest-heaving, exhausting, cleansing cry that most men cannot imagine. (Unlucky them.) They don’t understand the subtle healing powers of some negative emotions.

But why such a strong reaction? I mean, yeah, it was a strange situation, but after all, it was bread. There are much worse things in this world to be hit with, literally or figuratively. Bread probably won’t even leave a mark. Nevertheless this “hysterical” female is drawing a crowd.

Why is it that so many of us default to judgment rather than comfort? Do we have to agree with her feelings for them to be valid? Must we empathize in order to feel compassion?

For all you know, this woman is being stalked by that man, and this was not the first baked good she had been pelted with this week. Perhaps baguettes remind her of her recently-deceased and much-beloved father who owned a boulangerie not far from this very spot. Perhaps she has a health issue that magnifies even the slightest pain to excruciating heights. Maybe she has a serious problem with food that is not gluten free. It could happen.

I’ve never understood people who believe there is a right way and a wrong way to feel. We are all individuals with different life experiences and different trauma. Our feelings are our own, and we have every right to express them as long as there’s no violence involved.

It may not be easy, especially with strangers, but if you see someone suffering, offer comfort, not judgment or solutions or any phrase that begins with “you should.” Just acknowledge their feelings and offer your presence in whatever way you both feel is appropriate. Don’t pony up unsolicited advice or roll your eyes.

I would like to think that if I saw a woman being assaulted on the street, even if it were just with a pillow, I’d ask if she needed help, or a hug, or just wanted to talk about it. This type of offer allows dignity and agency to be restored to the victim survivor. This gives a fellow human being the opportunity to gather him or herself and take the next step on what will most likely continue to be a very complex life path.

Only the receiver can know just how many “baguettes” they can take before they begin to feel like these implements of destruction are actually baseball bats. And that’s as it should be. But because of that, it behooves all of us to cut people a bit of freakin’ slack.

And… now I’m craving bread.

Choose your weapon wisely.

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Does Forgotten Pain “Count”?

Are you being cruel to yourself if you can’t recall how that cruelty feels?

During my latest meander through the maze that is cyberspace, I stumbled upon an article entitled, “Twilight Sleep: The Forgotten 20th Century Method Of Childbirth That Erased Memories”.

Twilight sleep sounds heavenly. No pain, no memory of childbirth. You go in, and next thing you know, your baby is in your arms. That sounds vastly superior to the method I’d have chosen, which is to knock me out and wake me back up when the kid is 21 and self-sufficient. Because talk about a time suck.  

Twilight sleep was really popular in the early 1900’s, but it has since (thanks be to God) fallen out of favor. On its surface, it sounds plausible. You give the mom morphine for the pain, and then regular doses of scopolamine throughout the childbirth to erase their memory thereof. Feminists at the time were huge advocates of this procedure. Anything that would make childbirth painless sounded good to them. This article will tell you how historically horrific childbirth could be.

In fact, at about the same time there was a vast increase in the number of mothers who chose to go to a hospital rather than giving birth at home with a midwife. Nobody wants to be in pain if they don’t have to, right? It also caused doctors to explore techniques of pain management in general, which, as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing.

Unfortunately, twilight sleep has multiple issues. Of course those drugs are passing through the placenta to the baby, and some babies were born not breathing. As the procedure became more popular, medical staff that hadn’t been trained had also been known to kill the mother with an overdose of the drugs.

But there’s another horrific reason why twilight sleep fell out of favor. Anyone who had given it the slightest amount of thought would have asked themselves why one would need to forget an experience if it were painless. Therein lies the rub. It wasn’t.

The woman would be administered morphine while still conscious, and I’m sure that felt like a huge relief. But it’s easy to overdose on morphine, so it’s not like the physician could knock the patient out completely or give additional doses once the pain came roaring back. Instead, they would administer the scopolamine to put mom in an amnesic state.

In other words, she felt the pain. She just didn’t remember anything about it afterward. The birthing room had to be kept extremely quiet during this procedure, because the slightest noise or distraction could snap the patient out of the amnesia, and there she’d be, in excruciating pain, and would then remember every moment of it. That sounds like a hellish way to wake up. So the nurses would often cover up the woman’s eyes, and plug her ears so she couldn’t hear anything. And then, because her body was still feeling the pain, they would often tie her hands and arms down and pad her body so she wouldn’t thrash too much. Many women woke up wondering why they had burn marks on their wrists.

So that begs the question: Does forgotten pain “count”?

To me, twilight sleep is a way to torture the body while the mind remains blissfully ignorant. It’s unethical. What ever happened to, “First, do no harm”? It’s like saying that if I drug a woman and rape her, it isn’t really rape because she won’t remember. (Bill Cosby was quite adept at this.)

As far as I know, no studies were done regarding the psychological damage to the unconscious portion of the minds of the women who went through this experience. The body was still in agony. That’s a trauma. Part of you must feel awfully helpless in that situation, feeling pain and not being able to engage the rest of the brain enough to make it stop. That’s got to leave a mark.

I suppose it could be argued that forgetting the pain, if that’s the only alternative, is better than nothing. Personally, I’d rather retain my own agency. I’d want to engage my whole brain in the epic battle against the enemy.

Pain, for the most part, is survivable. It’s not fun and it’s not something I would wish on anyone, but it’s survivable. (Chronic pain, on the other hand… I can see why someone would choose to forget that rather than endure it.) I highly recommend pain management, but I don’t recommend checking out and letting your body go it alone. At a bare minimum, your being would be undergoing inner abandonment issues. Self-trust would be obliterated.

There aren’t really many regulations regarding how a person treats his, her, or their own body. If so, there would be people walking around snatching the cigarettes out of the mouths of strangers. That sounds like heaven to me, but some might disagree. After all, we are the bosses of us. Or at least we should be. (And before anyone lights a fire in my comment section, this does not equate to having to wear a mask or get a vaccine, because those things are about protecting everyone, not just selfish old you.)

There’s a fascinating series, streaming on Apple TV+ right now, called Severance. In it, people are voluntarily undergoing a surgical procedure that severs their home and work lives. The minute they enter the elevator to get to their office, they have no memory of what they do during their off hours, and vice versa. It’s almost as if two people take turns using the same body.

The main character has signed up for this because he is devastated due to the death of his wife, but he knows he must continue to work. Severance means that he will only have to experience his grief while at home, and can function efficiently on the job.

Another character is having an intriguing debate with herself. Her “innie”, or the part of her that works, hates the job and wants to resign. But her “outie” refuses to let her, even though Innie is clearly suffering emotionally. Outie doesn’t care, because she doesn’t remember any of that. Unless both parts of her get on the same page, then no change can happen, leaving the opportunity for change at a distinct disadvantage. Outie’s lack of compassion effectively renders Innie a slave.

So, are you being cruel to yourself if you can’t recall how that cruelty feels? Are you torturing yourself if you don’t recall the pain? Does a person with dementia love someone that they no longer remember?

How much of your brain has to be in sync for you to be you?

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Why I Air My Dirty Laundry

The worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation.

Sometimes, perhaps too often, what I write in this blog makes relatives and friends squirm. I discuss my sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather. I talk about the sexual harassment I’ve experienced on more than one occasion. I describe my struggles with depression and my weight. I talk about my childhood. I rant about politics and other disappointments. I share the many ways I feel misunderstood. I expose my soft underbelly.

There are some out there who wish I wouldn’t do this. They find it embarrassing. They can’t even bring themselves to read my book all the way through, even though it’s an anthology of mostly quite positive posts. (I’ve found that the more someone knows me personally, the less apt they are to actually read my book or my blog. I suspect this will hurt my feelings less and less as time goes by. Time will tell.)

But I have good reason for airing my dirty laundry. I believe that most of us have experienced trauma of one kind or another. It’s a big part of the human condition. Personally, I have always felt that the worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation. It’s easy to feel as if you’re the only one going through stuff if nobody else is talking about it.

And here’s something I can’t stress enough: None of these things were my fault. The trauma visited upon you by others is NOT. YOUR. FAULT. I say this because very few people will tell you this. Nobody told me this. It took me decades to figure it out on my own.

So I talk about it. I talk not only for myself (writing is excellent therapy), but also for those out there who feel like they don’t have a voice. If just one person feels a tiny bit less alone for having read my blog, then I’ve accomplished what I have set out to do.

Perhaps, too, it has something to do with my lack of filter, and my utter indifference to the standard levels of mortification. Or maybe it is more about the fact that I have complete confidence in your self-determination. If something I write makes you uncomfortable, I am quite sure that you will exercise your right not to read it.

Namaste.

Not alone

You Are Not a Plate

You do not have to remain in a broken state.

This meme has been floating around the internet for a while now. I’ve seen several people post it on their Facebook pages. It makes me sad.

You are not a plate

I understand that these people are trying to explain that they have been traumatized in one way or another. Some people have gone through some horrific experiences at the hands of others. Speaking from experience, that isn’t right and it isn’t fair and it changes you. I agree that no one should have the right to be cruel or abusive to anyone else. If only a meme would prevent that. We all know that it won’t.

I also understand that someone saying sorry isn’t going to make everything all sunshine and lollipops again. But I disagree that this show of remorse isn’t helpful. It can be part of your healing process. An even bigger part, albeit a very difficult one, is forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t for the person or persons who have wronged you. It’s for you. It sets you free.

This meme, to me, is a way of saying that you’ve been hurt by the world and you absolutely refuse to heal, or you can’t find a path toward healing. That’s tragic. It says you’ve taken the unwanted abuse and now intend to grasp it tightly, with both hands, for the rest of your life, even though you never wanted it in the first place.

But here’s the thing, dear reader: You are not a plate. You are not an inanimate object that is broken and is then forever frozen in time in that broken state. You are a living, breathing human being.

Healing is not easy. But if you are refusing to work toward it, you’re simply being self-destructive on top of the destruction that has been visited upon you. To remain wounded is your choice. It’s a choice only you can make. Why would you want to do that?

Yes, you will have scar tissue. We all have some to a certain extent. No, you’re not going to be the same as before.

Yes, what happened to you is wrong. But you’re not a plate. You can seek help, or find growth and healing on your own. A way forward is out there if you seek it. You don’t have to stop being a viable human being. Don’t give someone else that power to negate you in that way.

Don’t cling to your trauma so tightly that you can’t use your hands to build a life for yourself. Don’t relegate yourself to the status of a broken plate for the rest of your life. You are so much more than that. I promise.

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Dissociation

It was an effective coping mechanism for me, as things go.

I remember very little from ages 11 through 13. I had been through a lot up to that point. Raised by a single mother, never knowing my father, never seeing one penny of child support, and relying on welfare, I always felt the financial stress radiating off of the head of my household in large, turbulent waves. The earth never felt quite stable beneath my feet. It was as if we could all be washed away at any moment.

Then, when I was 7, she married my stepfather, mostly as a financial hail Mary, and it worked for a time. I was uprooted from my life in the projects, a known quantity at the very least, and transported to mansions and vacations and rooms full of presents. It was all very disconcerting, especially while being an outside observer of a mutually beneficial yet loveless marriage.

Then at age 10, they lost everything. And by that I mean everything. My stepfather lost his job, and everything came tumbling down like a house of cards.

We wound up camping our way down the east coast, and going to Florida, where we hoped to find a better life. This was a culture I didn’t understand. I was taken away from everything I knew, everything that made sense to me. We continued to “camp” for 7 excruciating years.

During my whole childhood, I buried myself in books. Books were my shield against the instability going on around me. A recent meme that I saw on Facebook really hit home. It said, “Reading is just staring at a dead tree and hallucinating. This happens to be my favorite hobby.”

Books were my safe place in an unpredictable world. I carried one everywhere I went. Disappearing into a book was good practice for what was to come.

At age 11, the sexual abuse started. I was unable to cope with having my stepfather, an adult who I was taught would always know best and do what’s best for me, do this. So I went away. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. It’s just what I did.

Oh, I was still there, physically. Unfortunately. But “I” was gone. I had crawled deep inside myself, where no one could touch me or hurt me. I hibernated deep within my mind. I checked out. For two years.

And the funny thing is, no one around me seemed to notice. In fairness, my whole family had a lot to deal with at the time, but from an adult perspective, I find it exceedingly strange that no one saw that I was just going through the motions that entire time.

During that period, apparently, I was learning how to multiply fractions in school. To this day, I can’t do it. People have taught me over the years, and what they say makes sense, and I get it, for about a half hour. Then it’s gone again. Fortunately it is a skill I’ve managed to live without.

I remember “waking up”. Suddenly, one day, I became aware of what was going on around me. It was a very abrupt transition. It was like having the lights turned on and realizing, whoa, there are things happening outside of myself.

I think it had to do with the fact that at age 13 I threatened to kill my stepfather if he ever touched me again, and he looked at me and realized I wasn’t joking. I’d have done it.

And just like that, the abuse stopped. (And yes, I told my mother. She told me I was making too much of it, and she stuck to that opinion and carried it to her grave.)

My stepfather and I maintained an uneasy, awkward, uncomfortable and distant relationship until my mother finally wised up and divorced him when I was about 23. They both died within a month of each other three years later. I kind of expected that to be liberating. It wasn’t, really.

To this day, when things get too much for me, I go away. Usually for short periods. Often it’s just a few minutes, so that I can gather myself. Mainly it manifests in the desperate need to be left alone and the desire to pull the sheets up over my head to take a nap. Sometimes it’s just escaping into a game app.

I also attribute my continuing love of books and sleep, my healthy imagination, and my need for travel and all other escapist pursuits to a minor form of dissociation. So is the fact that I thrive while working alone on my drawbridge. I don’t think that’s particularly unhealthy or destructive. No one gets hurt. The bills get paid. For the most part I’m really happy now, which is very unexpected and never ceases to feel like a miracle. I’ll never take that for granted.

As a psychologist once said to me, I was born 30 yards deep in my own end zone, so the fact that I’m playing on the field at all is pretty darned impressive. Dissociation was an effective coping mechanism for me, as such things go. I survived. I doubt I could give up this lifetime habit at this late date.

Dissociation comes in many forms. At the extreme end, you have multiple personality disorder. I’m fairly positive I never went that far. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you call in sick from work, stay in your jammies, and binge watch Game of Thrones for several hours. That’s not so bad, is it?

Now, if I could just shake the feeling that I’m much weirder and more out of touch than the average person. That would be nice. That would be heavenly.

Dissociation.jpg

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Let’s Just Say He’s Innocent

If there’s nothing to hide, there’s no reason to rush.

I had a nightmare last night that I was held down and sexually assaulted, and when I tried to speak out, I was mocked, threatened, lied about, and publicly humiliated. And a huge group of white men smiled approvingly while it happened.

“Can’t you just investigate?” I asked. “I’ll let the facts speak for themselves, if only you’ll take the time to look. I have nothing to hide. Do you?”

So they pretended to look, but they were in a hurry. They had other priorities. My pain, my trauma didn’t matter. They didn’t care.

I felt like I was brutalized all over again.

If only I had been taken seriously, if only a full investigation had been done. Even if my attacker was deemed innocent, I would have felt heard. But that’s not what happened. These men didn’t care about me in the face of their agenda.

Let’s just say Kavanaugh is pure as the driven snow. (We’ll never know, now.) Why not take the time for a full investigation, then? What harm would it do? In fact, it would do a great deal of good.

Because, today, I’m every woman who has ever been assaulted. I just want to be listened to, with respect. I want the world to acknowledge that what happened to me matters. Couldn’t Kavanaugh’s inevitable confirmation have waited a bit longer for a thorough investigation so that sexual assault victims the world over could feel acknowledged? What harm would that have done?

Before any justice is appointed, we all should be justly taken into consideration. That’s it. That’s all.

And that’s what didn’t happen. Instead, every aye vote felt like a stab to the vagina. Rest assured that we will all bleed our way to the voting booth.

Shame on all of you who were so busy praying that you’d get a judge that would vote your way that you were willing to step on millions of women to do so. Shame. You have shined a light on the darkness of your soul, and none of us will ever be the same.

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_thumb_d_db_Wikipedia_scale_of_justice_2.svg_631px-Wikipedia_scale_of_justice_2.svg

The Anatomy of a Traumatic Experience

It was an unremarkable day. In retrospect, that was one of the strangest things about it. I was walking across the bridge to get to work, as I’ve done thousands of times. The sun was out. I had no plans, really. Think “status quo.”

And then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned, just in time to see the guy hit the water. He had jumped off the next bridge over. There was this big splash, and that’s when time stopped for me. I think I will always carry with me a static image of him hitting the water, the splash and the waves it caused frozen in place. Because at that instant I knew he was dead. I knew it just as sure as I’m alive.

Needless to say, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at the body with my mouth hanging open. My mind started to bargain. “You didn’t really just see that.” “It’s not a body. Someone must have dropped something big and heavy off the bridge.” “This is not happening.” “No. This can’t be happening.”

Then I saw two boats race out from the rowing club. They tried to drag the body out of the water, but they couldn’t. Then the Harbor Patrol came screaming around the bend in the lake, and they were able to pull him out.

Somewhere along in there I had walked woodenly to the drawbridge tower where I work. (The sequence of events is forever hazy in my mind.) I climbed the stairs. “Did you see that?” I said to my coworker.

“See what?” She had been looking the other way. Time had been moving at a normal pace for her. And then I changed that, probably. She went down and talked to the officers on the scene, and then she left, after urging me to call our supervisor.

I talked to the supervisor for a long time. This is not the first time a bridgetender has witnessed a suicide, and it won’t be the last. She offered to let me have the day off, but I didn’t feel up to the commute. I was already there, and I could be traumatized at work just as easily at I could at home. She also strongly encouraged me to contact our Employee Assistance Program and get some counseling, because this was a big deal.

How right she was. I had never seen anyone die before. I’ve seen dozens of people consider jumping, but then get talked out of it. That’s upsetting enough. I’ve seen a few dead bodies, after the fact. But I’ve never seen anyone die before. It changes you.

I spent the rest of the shift feeling stunned and sad and sick to my stomach. I didn’t accomplish much. I kind of stared off into the middle distance a lot of the time. I thought about the jumper, and was heartbroken that he had felt so much pain and despair that he made that irreversible choice. I was heartbroken for the people who love him. I was upset for all the other witnesses, including the ones at the waterfront restaurant who were expecting to have a lovely salmon lunch, as I have on more than one occasion, and instead got an awful memory.

The weird thing was that I could see that life was going on all around me. Boats were happily floating over the spot, unaware that someone had just died there. People were jogging. Cars hummed their way across the bridge.

The waterway had always been kind of a sacred place for me. Now it had been violated. By the jumper? By the boaters? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

I talked to several people during the course of the shift. My crew chief stopped by. He offered, again, to let me have the day off. He reminded me about the Employee Assistance Program. He told me a few stories about things he’s experienced, and how it made him feel. It was really nice of him to stop by. I kind of felt detached, though.

I also called my sister, who was predictably horrified and sympathetic, and a few friends, who were sorry and tried to be comforting. I even spoke to my therapist. But I felt… it’s hard to explain. I felt like I was in a different reality. A different place, where I couldn’t quite reach them, and they couldn’t quite reach me. I could hear what they were saying, but it was like I was at a high altitude, and my ears had yet to pop. At a remove. Alone.

At the end of the shift I expected to go home and have a really good cry, but the tears never came. As of this writing, they still haven’t come. But I can feel them on the inside.

When I got home, I hugged my dog, and then fell into a deep sleep. I was really afraid I’d have a nightmare and wake up screaming with only my dog to comfort me, but that didn’t happen. I don’t even think I tossed or turned. I barely even wrinkled the sheets. It was like I had been in a coma.

When I woke up, “it” was my first thought. But oddly enough, I felt calm. I felt rested. I was in a good mood. Could I have gotten past this so easily? It felt like I had been given a “get out of jail free” card. What a relief. Tra la la.

Okay, yeah, maybe I’ve gotten past this. Woo! What an adult I am! This is awesome! Just in case, though, I did look into sending a condolence note to the next of kin. I spoke to the Harbor Patrol Chaplain. Naturally, he couldn’t give me a name, but he might be able to forward the note on for me. I thought that would be a nice little bit of closure.

I also spoke to the Employee Assistance Program, and set up some counseling sessions, even though I was feeling great. Way to go for practicing self-care, Barb! I felt really mature and well balanced.

In fact, I spoke to a couple of professionals who thought I was probably over the worst of it. But my therapist told me, cautiously, that I’d probably experience ups and downs for quite some time. There’s a reason she makes the big bucks.

Again, that night, I slept well. I was rested the next day, but a little subdued. Nothing major. Just kind of bleh.

And then that afternoon I started to shake uncontrollably. I wasn’t cold. I was just suddenly overwhelmed. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had several semi-urgent things on my to-do list, but it was painfully obvious that I was in no shape to deal. I just… I shut down.

I kind of checked in with myself, and what I got was: I’m afraid. I feel out of control. Everything feels so fragile, like a soap bubble. I’m so exhausted that the air feels like the consistency of chocolate pudding. Everything takes more effort than normal. I just want to be left alone.

Which is kind of good because after that first day, most people stopped following up with me. They were over it. It was an awkward conversation. Life goes on. But I still felt, and still feel to this day, that I need someone to hold me while I cry, and that someone can’t seem to be found.

Yes, there’s therapy in my future, and yes, I’ll learn to cope with my new reality. I know this because it’s not the first traumatic thing that’s ever happened to me. I hope it’s the last, but I kind of doubt it. I am also well aware that things are cyclical. I’ll have good days and bad days.

Perhaps it’s the awareness of the cycles of life that have always prevented me from making the horrible choice that the jumper did. No matter how bad things get, even when the loneliness is so bad it’s physically painful, I know that eventually the pendulum shifts in the other direction.

That, and I could never put someone through what that jumper has put the witnesses, the first responders, and his loved ones through. Never. Not ever.

Having said that, though, I hope he has found the peace that seems to have eluded him in life.

I5_ShipCanal_Web

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Vicarious Trauma

You know shit is getting real when your doctor actually prescribes that you don’t watch the news for a week. Between North Korea and Puerto Rico, my blood pressure is higher than it ought to be. So let the news blackout begin.

For those of you in the helping professions in particular, vicarious trauma is a problem that should be taken very seriously. Counselors, health professionals, firemen, police officers, social workers, soldiers, even journalists get exposed to other people’s trauma on a daily basis, and unless they have hearts of stone, these experiences, albeit secondhand, impact them as well. More and more, as all of us have greater access to disasters on a global scale, I’m beginning to believe that every single one of us is exposed to vicarious trauma.

Do you ever feel like you just can’t listen to one more news item without losing your mind? Are you convinced that one more presidential tweet just might send you over the edge? Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, forest fires… the overwhelming number of Youtube videos showing animal abuse and neglect… it is just too much to take in.

Think of trauma like a pebble thrown into a pond. The ripples that flow outward from that pebble effect all of us. It feels like we can never do enough. It’s exhausting. It makes you feel guilty, or afraid, or angry, or cynical. Sometimes it makes you feel numb, or helpless, or hopeless.

All of these are natural responses to vicarious trauma, but they’re not particularly helpful. It’s important that you learn to practice compassion for yourself as well as for other people. Give yourself a break. Be kind to you. Be sure to give yourself opportunities to engage in things outside your work, or outside the news. Set the burden down every now and then. Center yourself with family and friends. Get local. Allow yourself to have limits.

Most of all, talk to people. You are not alone. We are all getting a bit burned out. We need each other to weather the storms.

hang in

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Facing Forward

I’m on the brink of amazing change, and it all stemmed from a giraffe. You just never know when a figurative cue ball will send your eight ball careening off in an entirely different direction. That’s what makes life so exciting.

I have been watching April the Giraffe’s live feed on Youtube since February. I watched her pregnant belly as the baby kicked. I watched any number of contractions. She kept me company at least 8 hours a day. She became a big part of my life. So when I woke up on April 15th to discover that the birth was in progress, I got really, really excited.

Unfortunately, I still had to go to work. I broke all land speed records getting there, believe you me! And then I immediately logged back on again. Fortunately, the front hooves and the head where the only things that had made it into the world up to that point, so I got to watch the rest of the birth, live.

I’m not ashamed to say I cried some ugly, joyful tears when her calf finally made his entrance, and even more when he stood up an hour later. Life, man. Life! You know? What a miracle it is.

And just like that, I realized I hadn’t been living, not really, for quite some time. It occurred to me that life is like a flowing river, and we float downstream with it. As we go, we see things come toward us and we experience them and then they recede into the past.

But that’s only if you’re facing forward. Many things can cause you to face backwards. Trauma. Grief. Fear. Depression. They all cause you to focus on the past. And if you’re like me, you get stuck there, and try to recreate the past in your present. You want to get back to where you were before everything went so wrong.

The problem with that is you’re still floating down the river. Life goes on. But now you’re not seeing it. Because you’re facing backwards, by the time current events flash past your peripheral vision, they’re already a thing of the past. That’s no way to live.

Time to face forward again. Live in the present. Plan for the future. And don’t do so as half a person, presenting yourself to the world as a broken shadow of your former self.

For example, if you’re grieving, don’t avoid music or experiences that you shared with the person you lost. Why are you narrowing your horizons like that? Would the person you lost want you to only be half of yourself? No. You’re still alive, and to have healthy relationships moving forward, you need to be able to give the next person ALL of you. Yes, grief changes you, and that’s okay. But it shouldn’t limit you, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for continuing down the stream.

So I’m making a conscious effort to face forward again. I’m house hunting, and I’m exercising, and I’m eating right. I’m trying really hard to live in the now. Because life is happening right now, and it’s a precious and limited commodity. I plan to make the most of it, rather than putting it on hold.

And I got all that from a giraffe. Imagine that.

As my friend Carole likes to say, “Onward and upward, into the future!”

river-tubing.jpg

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There’s an Adult in Here Somewhere

Do you ever find yourself overreacting about something, and even you aren’t sure why you’re doing it? If you’re at all like me, it’s not unusual to be triggered by trauma you’ve experienced in the past. Smells, sounds, even behavior that is remotely similar can cause your brain to shout, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

A very common coping mechanism in these instances is that the part of you that experienced that trauma and somehow managed to survive will now elbow his or her way to the forefront and “handle” it. So if it happened when you were 12, for example, years later you will find yourself acting like a 12 year old. It’s gotten you this far, right? But it’s not always the most rational, effective way to function in the grown up world.

It may take practice, but there are things you can do about this. First, start identifying your triggers. What’s going on around you when you overreact? What is it reminding you of?

Once you’ve gotten a handle on what your process is, you can become more adept at being “present” while it’s happening. Then, when that little voice inside you says, “Whoa. I’m really overreacting,” you can actually heed that voice, take a breath and have an inner dialogue with yourself.

This is going to kind of sound silly, but it really works. Talk to yourself as if you were an adult trying to reassure a child. Here’s a conversation I had with my inner 12 year old recently. “Hey. I know what’s happening is scary. Thank you for wanting to take care of it for me. But I’m the adult here, and I should be the one taking care of you. So it’s okay for you to take a break and let me handle this.”

I’m not suggesting you have multiple personalities. But I do believe we all have an inner child who deserves to be acknowledged now and then. Give it a try. You’d be amazed at how liberating it is. Your secret is safe with me.

Danger