Big things happen. Some big things are bad. So are many of their consequences.
In their aftermath, going from day to day can be challenging. Though a number of such consequences relate to state of mind, many do not. The real world pragmatic impact of disaster and adversity must also be addressed. How we proceed in these tasks may change how we see ourselves. Perhaps for the good: we find resilience we didn’t know we had, and adjust our self-view accordingly.
But change takes getting used to. Is this really me? How do I hang on to any sense of “me”-ness, when the world that shaped and supported me has crumbled? Must I find something else big, some heavy-duty effort, to compete with the impact of major adversity?
Not really. It’s the little things that bring us back.
“I don’t have time to think about how I feel.” The disheveled woman gestures at tornado-ravaged debris that once had been her home. “Look at everything we’re contending with!” Her family members are aimlessly stumbling, poking at this or that. She spends the rest of her day dabbing away grime from salvaged silver.
How do we help those in such circumstances? This week our hearts go out to those learning about destruction and personal loss due to flooding in South Carolina. Where do their feelings leave them? How do we comfort, and help them move on?
When circumstances are overwhelming, it’s easy to get stuck. There is so much to attend to immediately following disaster. Especially if the damage is personally catastrophic:
- The entire house is gone, and most of what it held.
- What about the all that paperwork, the ID that tells the world who I am?
- Where are my insurance papers?
- What about my job?
- How do I still get to work?
- Is my place of employment still up and running?
- My parents! Did they make it out okay?
- Are they injured? Do they have their heart medications?
- Where are they, anyway? Did they find a place to stay?
- Where will my family and I sleep tonight?
- How will we get food, or changes of clothing?
- What do we do about money?
- What about Suzie’s big test next week—her schoolbooks?
- Is the school even open?
Incidents like yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College put our resilience to the test. We will grieve because of it. We will each process the tragic incident in our own way. We continue to move on. Life goes on.
For children, it’s more complicated. Their personal resilience is not yet fully developed. They rely on their support system’s resilience to get them through disaster. For most, this means turning to parents and other significant adults for comfort and direction.
What should we say to a child when he or she asks about the horrific? Especially when it involves a shooting at a school, an environmental setting that is so prominent in their own lives. We cannot completely hide such incidents from them, given how they promote so much discussion and media coverage. What can we do to help keep a child from becoming an emotional casualty, after the fact? Continue reading
“Thanks for all you do.” Those who observe the effort, sacrifice and dedication of workers helping others during adversity often share this sincere appreciation. Their kind words do help.
The most critical need for the helper journey is ongoing restoration of the soul. The spirit of what leads us into public service occasionally needs replenishing. Without it we become depleted, “burnt-out” as labeled by the vernacular. It matters not whether we’re helping as a friend or neighbor, an agency volunteer, or a professional responder.
There isn’t one right answer for how to best avoid burnout. We each find our own answer to the question, “What restores me?” Continue reading
Disaster is like that. Trauma often is, as well. It’s like the rug being pulled out from under. All that seems 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
Another September 11th has come and gone. Remembrances were shared, stories told, honors given. We pick up, we move on.
Yet feelings may linger. Perhaps it is something you can’t exactly put a finger on–some vague discomfort. Maybe it’s an unidentifiable sense of loss, anxiety, or anger. Whatever it is, it followed a crescendo as the date approached, and now slowly ebbs as time marches beyond.
Why do anniversary reactions happen? Not just on September 11th, but on any date marking an experience of trauma or loss? Continue reading
If you’ve had anything to do with disaster over the past decade or three, you’ve no doubt run across something called “debriefing.” Critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) started up among firefighters. They used it after especially traumatic responses as a way of tending to unpleasant emotional reactions. They typically got together with their teams and followed a specific discussion protocol, delving into feelings about the incident, then moving toward coping or resolution. They found debriefing very useful for avoiding burnout. Over time, other emergency responders began using the debriefing process.
Eventually groups of disaster and other trauma survivors were collected together and given debriefing. The hope was that it might help them similarly resolve related emotional issues.
Unfortunately, when science caught up and measured the outcome of practicing it among such groups, it found no improvement. Surprisingly, at times it identified more emotional issues among them than among survivors who did not go through debriefing. How could this happen? Continue reading