My Difficult Week

My Difficult Week

Last week, I had a tough week.  Now, let me give you some background.  I live with my significant other, Dennis, who goes by Dee, my adult daughter, and my two grandchildren., who are 8 and 5 years old We are fortunate to share a house with enough room for all of us and, even now, when we’re all at home all the time, we can be pretty comfortable.  But last week was tough.

On Monday, my daughter’s work schedule changed.  Changed for the foreseeable future.  And will keep changing for a while. We had worked out a pretty good routine so that she could work, I could  work, and the kids were taken care of.  “Dee” is retired, and he spends a lot of time with the kids, thank goodness. But suddenly, our system was thrown into a state of upheaval and no one knew what we were doing when or what to expect tomorrow.

On Tuesday, I spent hours finishing my taxes. Having my own business, I knew I would owe money. I did not know it would be “that” much money. But that’s ok.

On Wednesday, I got a couple of bills that were more than I expected. And we were still dealing with figuring out new schedules and systems, the kids were out of whack, and we were too. There was more stuff in the house that needed attention. Seemed like everything was demanding my time.

On Thursday, I faced the reality that the kids are not going back to school in person . Not now, probably not for a long time. No, I don’t think it’s safe for them to go back, we probably wouldn’t send them if we could. So in a way it’s a relief to know. But at the same time, the prospect of who-knows-how-long with them home all the time and the on-going support they’re going to need for school to be good seemed overwhelming.  I mean, how do you even do kindergarten on line?

So all of that was just weighing on me. But the worst part of it was that even when I had time to spend on my own work, I couldn’t get in the right frame of mind to actually do anything. Yes, I could see clients – when I have a client scheduled, that time is sacred – the door to my “office” is closed and even the kids know to leave me alone.  But other work?  Blog posts? Making some changes on my website? No. Not even planning – I’d sit down and try to get started but my mind was going in one hundred other directions.

Some of the time, I was thinking, “How am I going to do this? I can’t work like this. Omg, I’ll never be able to build my business the way I want to. I’m going to spend the rest of my life watching kids and doing house stuff and, sigh, nothing will ever get better. I can’t do this!. I just can’t!” I felt trapped, and alone and generally miserable.

 But Thursday evening, I got a message from someone I know just well enough to respect them and their work. They wanted to schedule a consult with me to talk about some work I’m doing. And y’all. Suddenly, my world opened up again. Just the fact that they’d reached out to me, and I had the prospect of an interesting, new conversation was enough to shift everything. Like a kaleidoscope. Just one little twist and it’s as if my life had a whole new perspective.

In that moment, with a big AHA, I suddenly remembered that things change. I had forgotten that. For almost a week, I truly felt like things would be the same forever  – and THAT is not true. We have no idea what’s going to happen next. Suddenly, I was back to my more usual self, where I can embrace uncertainty on some level and take comfort in the idea that change will happen.

When I look back on it, I have to laugh. As miserable as I was, I didn’t do any of the things that I might tell someone else to do to feel better. I didn’t talk to anyone about how I felt, didn’t challenge my thoughts, I didn’t exercise more, my sleep patterns were messed up, I didn’t journal, basically I did nothing but wallow in my own misery. I was lucky that it didn’t take a whole lot to snatch me back out of that mess. And it was a great reminder for me of what it feels like to “be in the stew.” That’s always how I think of it, when I’m sinking in that sort of soggy, yucky feeling – like treading water, but worse, and just barely hanging in there.

When I do manage to climb back out of it, it’s like a new world. For me, it’s like having a big rock to stand on. The stew is still there, nothing’s changed, but I have a place to stand. I can look at it from here, rather than being directly in the middle of it, about to get pulled under. I have perspective and room to breathe.

Note:  I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, to use as the basis for my first “Ten Minute Break” FaceBook Live video.  When it was time to do the video, I discovered that I had a technical issue and had to switch to my iPad and couldn’t access my notes at all.  So the camera is at a terrible angle, and I had to wing it, which I’m not too bad at, but it threw me off track a bit, and then… well, I won’t go into the rest of it.  It was a great exercise in non-perfectionism.

In the future, I’ll be posting the video and the blog post together, but if you want to watch this one, I’ll invite you to visit me on FB here.  The story starts at about the 7:20 mark because I do a brief mindfulness practice first.  Join me on Wednesdays at noon if you want to catch the new ones live.

Second Hand Trauma

Second Hand Trauma

I first became aware of the impact of secondhand trauma back in the mid-90s. I was working as a therapist in a Community Mental Health Center and a lot of my clients were survivors of sexual abuse. So I was already learning about the effects of trauma when there was a dramatic increase in the crime rate. Suddenly, people in the neighborhood were getting shot – and killed.

I began to see first-hand how one person’s death impacted their family and the people around them – their church family, the people they went to school with or worked with, everyone who knew them. Each shooting was a trauma that rippled out and affected the whole community. The ripples touched the staff at our center too – often, when someone got killed, we knew them. Sometimes they were our client, or maybe we knew their mama or their brother and sister or even the person who sat next to them back in third grade. We were connected to them.

One of my former clients was killed, a woman I’d worked with for a long time. After that, I started getting the newspaper at home – first thing in the morning, I’d check the neighborhood section and the obits to see if anyone I knew had been killed.

Stories from those days stuck with me. I remember a teenager in one my groups – we were talking about feeling safe, and she said, “Well, I feel safe in my neighborhood, I mean, you hear gunshots at night, but that’s everywhere.” And I thought, no. No, I don’t hear gunshots in my neighborhood at night, and I felt this deep sadness and a tinge of guilt. I remember a little boy, maybe eight years old, telling me, “Oh, no, my mama won’t let me play outside – it’s not safe.” And I thought about how it would feel to not be able to let your child play in the yard.

But I didn’t even realize it was affecting me til I was at the park one day. It was a beautiful day, and I was walking on a path near a creek and there were some other people around, but not too many. There were these three teenagers – two boys and a girl, and they had a big goofy looking dog with them. Just ordinary looking white kids in jeans, hanging out. And I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that something bad was going to happen. I didn’t know if it was going to happen to them, or if they were going to do something terrible – was that girl going to be ok? Did she really know those guys? Or maybe it was the dog – maybe they were going to do something to the dog? My heart was pounding, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I wanted to go warn the kids to go home where it was safe – and I held it together just enough to know that was crazy and to NOT go say something to them.

I left instead. Went and sat in my car til I could breathe again, and drove straight home. But that was when I knew that the things that were happening to people at work – people I cared about – were touching me on some deep level. It took that panic attack to make me realize that other people’s trauma was becoming my trauma too.

That was the beginning of my own journey – my own efforts to figure out how to manage my feelings – how to hold my own space – so I could be there for the people who were actually going through the trauma. I’ve wandered down all kinds of roads, taken wrong turns, lost my maps, and started over. I’ve collected tool kits and self-care techniques, used mindfulness strategies and listened to TED talks. That’s not to say that I’ve got all the answers, but I know the questions really well. Kind of like in The Wizard of Oz, I’ve met amazing people along the way, and sometimes I’ve been scared and felt overwhelmed. But these days, I usually remember that my ruby slippers will always take me home.

So I know what it’s like to be a compassionate professional and in the middle of it – when it feels like there’s trauma all around you and you can’t think straight. You can feel like you’re losing your self. And you wonder if you can even keep doing the work you love. That’s when I can help. I can help you take a step back and find space to breathe. Help you reconnect with yourself and figure out what you need to be ok, how to keep your own balance and find your own strength. You’ll learn how to manage your own feelings and hold the space you need for yourself. You’ll be able to bring your gifts and talents to the people who need you, able to have a life that lets you shine.

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