I would like to dedicate this post to all of those who have to deal with frequent traumatic experiences. Nurses, Police Officers, Military Soldiers, Firemen, Doctors, Paramedics, and all others who have dedicated their life to serving others during their difficult times.
I write this with tremendous empathy and a bit of understanding, since I have been in Healthcare my entire career. I’ve also been exposed to unbearable personal trauma in my life. I only mention this to give merit to my words, but in no way suggest that I know firsthand all that YOU have had to experience, and how you feel.
I begin by offering my deepest appreciation, and admiration for the skills that you have developed. I venture to guess that many, if not most of you, have trained yourself to immediately go into action when called upon. You have been able to push personal feelings aside and get right to work. You do your job! But then…
When we are no longer urgently needed, when we have taken care of the medical issues… We…S.T.R.U.G.G.L.E…. In our silent moments, we relive the HORROR of what just happened. We see things…things that cannot be “unseen”… and… that’s just for starters.
Frightened patients begging for reassurance that they are going to live. Family members in shock.. Screaming unreasonable demands… “Don’t you let them die!!!”, or an unfortunate assignment of letting family members know that the patient … “Didn’t make it”.
And War…To be in a position knowing that you are being hunted and might be killed. Then, the reality of watching death in very gruesome detail. Can you imagine what that must be like? Then to do it day after day…with no emotional rest?
Living through and dealing with trauma is shattering. That’s right… shattering! Our body responds in such a way, perhaps self preserving, but none the less emotionally destructive.
Let’s begin the healing by eliminate one of the most simple hurdles in recovery… ok? It doesn’t matter how tough you are, how long you’ve been doing your job, or if you have in your mind that dealing with this shouldn’t affect you… Realize those statements are false. It’s ok to feel that you have been emotionally affected by these experiences. It’s ok! You are not weak or soft. No only is it ok… it is expected, and experienced by many others. Let’s acknowledge that.
Now, lets look at some tools that you can use to get past the emotional challenges of trauma. Just like healing those you care for, it’s time to work together to heal you. If I were to ask you to raise your hand if you’re current solution to dealing with the emotional shock of trauma is …. “To put it in an emotional box in your brain and not deal with it…. Just forget about it!” I would expect to see many hands in the air.
This as well as many other solutions, such as self medicating with drugs or alcohol, are perhaps default solutions that we use out of a lack of a better way. But today, I’d like to offer that “Better Way” for you to consider.
We’ve already addressed giving yourself permission to be emotionally shattered no matter how tough you are. Remember, you are no different from others simply because of your job description. It’s true that continued exposure to trauma might soften the emotional reaction. But even well into your career, there will be that “shattering” moment. Recognize that your reaction is not base upon weakness. This a beginning step… A very important step!
Now, to move forward, you will find it incredibly helpful to talk about what you have just experienced…but…when you are ready. Give your family and friends some guidance. Talking about it does not mean just answering their questions… It doesn’t mean that you talk when they want you to talk. It means YOU talk… they listen, and within your timeline. Family and friends need to be encouraged not to suggest what you should do, or think their part is to offer solutions to your issues. Rather, actively just listen, as you begin to release these harrowing thoughts from your mind.
You have been through something extremely difficult. The purpose of talking is to tell trusted other just how difficult it was to experience what you did. Talk about how you felt then, the changes it has had upon your emotions, physical differences, and even some insecurities relating to your performance as a medical provider. Get it out. Get it all out! This will not be done with one simple conversation. When you talk, you release the overwhelming cloud of darkness, and in essence, feel that now others are aware of how you feel and can shoulder some of the burden.
Avoid talking to those who say, “I know how your feel”. That to me is such a shut down, and always ends my conversation. If they know how I feel, why should I keep telling them? The purpose of talking is to convey how you feel. That expression is where the healing comes… If it takes 10 minutes, or 10 months… keep sharing your feelings.
Some might find it helpful to share these conversations in a support group. If you feel that you are burning out someone specifically with your conversations, a support group is another outlet. You can find groups that meet in your area by looking online.
It’s also important to talk about your trauma at a level that you are comfortable sharing. Initially, stay away from “Triggers”. Let me explain this. After 10 years, I still have a hard time picturing in my mind certain things about my son dying. My triggers are seeing him at the crash site, and seeing the doctors at the hospital perform CPR and announcing his death.
You too have triggers with the trauma that you have experienced. I invite you to push those specific visual moments aside for now… we’ll get to them later. You need to be emotionally stronger than you are right now, and the triggers are quick to stop your progress. When the triggers pop into your mind, acknowledge that they are there, and place them safely behind your emotional door. Don’t lock the door; know that it is there for you to visit when the time is ready.
Avoid isolation. When you are alone, it places you back into our own mind which is still fragile. If you are by yourself, keep yourself busy with a distraction like TV, games, music, etc.
Now, are you ready for the greatest step in healing? Here it comes….
When we are hurting, our focus is, rightfully so, on US. But by changing the focus from you to others is a surprising gift of strength. Spend your day being kind. Do things for people who need help. Send someone a card of gratitude for being your support. Help a neighbor move. Any and all acts of kindness will heal your mind. I have found this one step to be the most effective in my ability to move past trauma.
If you are in healthcare, seek out a patient or troubled family member. Reassure them that they are not alone. Let them talk, YOU listen. Focus on the positive things that you do every day where you are making a difference. Over time, the pieces of your shattered emotions will begin to find their rightful place. A sense of normalcy will return. Give it some time… not forever, but some time. How much time? We all heal at different time intervals. But you can always use this as a gauge.. “Are my weeks getting better or not?” Progress, even in its smallest douse, is reassurance that healing is taking place.
If you have gone months without progress, it’s time to introduce additional solutions into the mix. See your medical professional team, whoever they are.
And…. What to do with those triggers behind the door?? When you feel healthy enough to open the door and deal with what’s there, you will be surprised!!! There is nothing more to deal with! You have successfully dealt with your traumatic experience. Your strong now! Those triggers can stay there forever. Those are images that you can let go of… and if you continue to surface on occasion, you know where to put them.
I choose to think of my son in so many ways. That picture in my mind of seeing his death is a picture that I choose not to look at very often. When it pops up, I know where to place it in my mind. I then open up all of the other doors of happy times with my son. He’s not stuck in that moment of time… tragically wounded and dying. So why would I look at that picture? To me he lives on, and so do his happy memories.
Can we both be pleased this day that you now have some tools to deal with the trauma in your life? I’m proud of you for choosing a profession of helping, and humbled to offer my guidance to assist you through it. My prayers are with you. You are my friend!
(I will be posting a blog specific to P.T.S.D. Watch for it =)