Cogjam on the Loose

Why do we have such a hard time making sense out of what’s going on around us these days? Not just what’s coming down from the DC Beltway contingency, but how our own communities struggle so with staying coherent and connected. Why has everything become so complicated and confusing?

It’s not a new mental health affliction. It’s only cogjam on the loose.

That’s right, cogjam–the cognitive logjams that form when stress goes on for extended periods.

What’s Cogjam?

Cogjam is a word I invented to label a certain side effect of prolonged fight or flight. When we experience dire threat, our primitive brains take over, triggering instinctual and hardwired reactions that save our skins. More advanced thinking is temporarily blocked or filtered, so it will not interfere. After all, you might not escape a quickly advancing flash flood if you stop to assess which of all the trees in the forest is the best of the lot. You scramble up the first one that looks good.

Ignoring conscious thought includes ignoring learned social niceties. Getting everybody safely atop the tree of choice may require some really unsocialized behaviors–yelling, ordering, forcing, cursing, touching taboo areas of others’ bodies–as we shove everybody up to safety. Tact and sensitivities might take more time than you have to spare.

After the rowboat or helicopter rescues everyone, stress levels go down. Rational thought comes back on line, and planning begins for any long-term recovery needs. Everybody forgives and reconnects, recognizing that the earlier abrupt behaviors were survival related. Things go back to normal.

But what happens when adrenaline rushes are constant, as is true regarding the socio-political stress piling up over the last year? Sophisticated thought has had less chance to get back on board, limiting access to our best factual reasoning. Reconnecting is much more difficult, too, when episodes of posturing and polarization keep raising anxieties and driving us apart.

That’s cogjam.

How Do we Get out of This Mess?

There are many solutions. So many, that I’m penning a book about the cogjam effect, and the path to healing disrupted community and fractured science. There is hope. We can recover from mental health disaster just as we do after any disaster–one person at a time, each of us in our own way.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, you can start your own healing by spreading the word that there’s more on the horizon than the doom and gloom surrounding the DC Beltway contingency. There’s way too much gnashing of teeth and tearing of sackcloth going on out there. We can move beyond this. Sharing the word will also help you engage compassion, one of the cornerstones to healing both yourself and others.

And don’t forget there are many resources available on the topic of coping with disaster, such as:

When the Ground Beneath Us Vanishes

Disaster is like that. Trauma often is, as well. It’s like the rug being pulled out from under. All that flying carpetseems solid, all that props up our self image, our routines, the view of our world and our place in it, is suddenly no longer there. We are vulnerable, protective coatings somehow stripped away.

How can we go on, in the face of any adverse life event that has left us feeling so exposed? How do we regain a sense of safety, and wholeness?

An adversity’s rightful place on the shelf of our recollections shifts throughout a lifetime. Still, there are ways to coax back a present sense of wholeness and wellbeing, even after disaster. Continue reading

The Many Faces of Helping Those in Need

“You’re an angel.” The woman nodded, her certainty smiling back at me. “I know you are. I can see it in your eyes.”

rescue dog and handlerIt wasn’t the first time I’d received such a whimsical compliment after an interlude with a disaster survivor. Not that I ever fell into believing I’d donned some form of celestial avatar. I’m your usual mortal, bludgeoning my way through common inadequacies and annoying life foibles, the same as everyone else.

My new friend’s star-struck observation did strike at a chord of truth, one that resonates throughout the realm of addressing disaster needs. Contributions to recovery go beyond the feeding, sheltering, and other concrete resources typically thought of following disaster. Just as important is the intangible. Continue reading