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

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Why Are There Anniversary Reactions?

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 timevague 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

Once Again . . . The Charleston Shooting

It happened. Too many times, as President Obama and others point out. The weariness of it, perhaps even complacency forming over it, can lead to tuning out tragedies like the Charleston church shooting as redundant, something expectable of American society. Besides, there’s nothing to be gained by forcing ourselves to watch.

The impact on those affected will be there all the same, beyond the tragic deaths: trauma for the injured, for those who observed it or whose loved ones were killed or injured, and sometimes even for those who watch or hear about it from afar.

terror lurkingWe’ve heard it all before, the potential mental health effects of these experiences. Post-traumatic stress disorder gets the most press. But there are as many different potential reactions to trauma as there are people who experience it.

So what do we do about it? The authorities are always telling us to be prepared for disaster. How do you prepare for a mass casualty disaster? What do you do about this type of absurdity, the horrendous and unpredictable? Are we left only with looking for better ways to clean up whatever mess litters our psyches after the crisis passes? What can any one individual do in advance to fight the war on terrorism?

The answer: take back our vulnerability to terror. One person at a time.

Yes, tall words. Even taller-sounding expectations. Is it realistic to expect people to make themselves invulnerable to unpleasant emotions? Continue reading

The Way of Resilience

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.

concentrationEventually 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

Trauma, or Broadcast Drama?

fire emergency“What a mess. Those poor people. How horrible. I’d like to help…but wouldn’t I end up just as messed up as the people on TV look? What about vicarious trauma? Compassion fatigue? Even PTSD?”

It’s true. Helping with disaster isn’t for everybody.

However, if you’re never been through disaster, and you base your perspective solely on what you see in the media, you may not have a balanced view. Dramatic scenes of damage, suffering victims, and emotionally overwhelmed emergency responders are the usual favored fare. They get the most press because they sell advertising space better than stories about those who rise to the challenge. Continue reading

What If . . . That Happens to Me?

worried dog“Everything they say about disaster preparedness makes sense. Sad to say, I’ve never had a personal plan. I haven’t given much thought to the possibility of something like that happening to me. It’s embarrassing.”

You are not alone. In fact, you’re normal. Yes, there is no end to the different types of disasters and crises that might crop up in today’s world. However, if we constantly sat around and thought about every possible accident or tragedy, we’d be too petrified to ever leave home. Letting such disturbing concerns benignly simmer somewhere on the back burner allows us go about daily lives without undue distraction.

The idea behind disaster preparedness is not to dwell on it. It is to simply establish a basic plan. Nobody else can build your plans for you. They need to be individualized to suit your circumstances. Continue reading