To read earlier entries about the tornado, click here.
A few days after the tornado, people in the know started referring to it as a "traumatic event".
This was a "trauma" people were dealing with.
Trauma is defined as: 1. A deeply distressing or disturbing experience
2.Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis
I have never really experienced trauma in my life. I have experienced heartbreak, hardship, the deaths of loved ones, both expected and unexpected. I have been in shock before, but the same kind of shock most other people experience when hearing something unexpected or receiving bad news...the type of situations that you respond to by saying "Wow, I'm shocked"..."this is shocking...I'm speechless" ....but I had never lived through something "traumatic".
At my office we have lots of paperwork and reading material on trauma, surviving it and the effect it has on families. Some of it was centred around the events of September 11 2001. I had read it when I came across it, and have attended workshops in the past about the effects of trauma on families...most of those relating to the effects of witnessing or experiencing domestic or child abuse. But none of it really stuck with me over the years.
Now I get it.
I attended a debriefing a couple weeks ago. I was there in a professional capacity but knew it would affect me on a personal level.
It wasn't long before I was fidgeting. I could feel the tears coming and was rooting through my purse for kleenex. I knew the eyes of some key people in the room were on me and I refused to meet them. The speaker spoke of the long term effects that were likely to affect families as a result of the tornado. Things for us, as professionals, to be watching and preparing for. Increased incidents of domestic abuse. Increased cases of family breakdown. Increased mental health issues. I swallowed hard, very aware that the "families" he was referring to could include mine. My family was at risk for all of these things. We were directly affected and as a result were viewed by professionals as those at an increased risk for all of these things.
Then he said something about how 3 months from now families would still be dealing with this, and with issues they didn't even know they had yet. That for the people affected this wasn't going to end anytime soon...the effects would be lifelong and their issues, problems and risk factors would change and continue for a very long time.
My vision was blurry by this point, I was trying so hard to maintain my composure in this professional capacity. I knew I shouldn't, but I looked back at the other professional in the room who was in the same position personally as I was. Our eyes connected and mine spilled over. I abruptly stood up and rushed out of the room, followed by the other professional and a colleague who I am very close to.
3 months from now? I couldn't bare the thought of still dealing with this 3 months from now...I wasn't even thinking about tomorrow right now. Honestly. I was managing by dealing with this literally one day at a time. I couldn't possibly even begin to think about what would be happening 3 months from now. Couldn't consider the possibility that this would still be affecting us.
A quote from one of the "Critical Incident Stress Information" sheets we receievd at that debriefing:
"The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or longer, depending on the severity of the traumatic event. The understanding and the support of loved ones usually cause the stress reactions to pass more quickly. Occasionally the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance may be necessary. This does not imply craziness or weakness. It simply indicates that the particular event was just too powerful for the person to manage by himself".
The speaker also spoke of viewing ourselves as "a house with 4 rooms"; A physical room, an emotional room, a social room, and a spiritual room. Unless you visit each room you will not be whole.
Ask yourself: How are you coping physically with the trauma? your relationship with your body?
In my case, what I notice is around my diet. I am an emotional eater, I have blogged about that in the past. Emotions have ran pretty high lately. In the early days I was not eating regularly, certainly not well. For the first few days while we were without hydro and relying on food from the KOC, YMCA and firehall, we ate sporadically. I had headaches on a daily basis because I wasn't eating in the way my body was accustomed to. The tornado hit on a Sunday at 4pm. I had eaten lunch that day (I have no idea what) and then didn't eat again until at least 8 or 9pm that night at KOC. Even then I didn't eat much due to the shock I was in. That night at Darren's, our first night there, I woke up at about 4am with a massive headache...strong enough it made me nauseous. I rooted through the cupboards in Darren's house looking for Advil (found it), came across a bag of cheerios and laid on the couch in the basemen alternating between nibbling on them and sipping water, willing myself not to be sick in someone else's house the night after a tornado ruined mine. I kept thinking that there was no way I could deal with everything I needed to if I was sick.
Every time I was in the firehall over the next few days I nibbled on something, as there was always plenty of food there. People brought lots of food to our house too, the problem was I didn't feel I could eat much at any given time. My body just wasn't interested.
How are you coping emotionally with the trauma? Your relationship with your feelings?
I have went into some detail about this already in earlier posts. In the first few days I was busy with what needed to be done at the moment. I was surrounded by people and so busy I didn't have time to think. Only when I was alone did my feelings overcome me. And as the days went on, I was alone more often and my feelings overwhelmed me more often. The evening at my Grandma's on the Wednesday during the bad weather says it all. I was not in control of my feelings whatsoever. Since that time, there have been many other instances where I have not be in control of my feelings. In the Director's office at Jack's daycare. Talking to his teacher. Speaking with Makenna's Vice Principal. In my office at work. At home. In the Doctor's office. In the bank. Driving down my street. It's not all the time, and it's not always that bad. It comes in waves and I feel as though I don't have much control over it.
Additionally, I have very limited patience. This has always been an issue for me and right now its magnified. Sometimes when I am having a rough moment or a rough day I am very short with people. Friends. Family. My children. Excessively overbearing or snappy with them. I know this as it is happening and yet I can't stop myself. I apologize and I feel guilty. The week after the tornado I found myself to be really affected by noise and chaos. For 3 days I was surrounded by noise and chaos. Sirens, car alarms, people yellling, chainsaws, generators, big trucks, back up sensors on large vehicles...I was on sensory overload. I craved silence and when I was somewhere that there was a lot going on in a small area, lots of people, lots of noise, lots of confusion...I couldn't take it. It really bothered me and all I wanted to do was escape.
Different people have asked me if I am angry...and I have to say I'm really not. There have been specific things during this process that have made me angry. Dealing with car insurance. Disconnecting and reconnecting services. Insensitive People. I'm not angry this has happened overall, I think I'm still more in disbelief right now. I think maybe if we had lost all of our belongings or if someone from our family had of been hurt, maybe then I'd be angry...but I can honestly say that is not one of the feelings I am struggling with right now. I would say the chief feeling I struggle with is anxiety. That feeling in your chest that makes it hard to breathe. Makes your heart pound and the butterflies flutter. You feel the need to constantly be taking deep breaths. Sometimes I know why its there, sometimes I can't explain it. Where tears threaten for no real reason. All you want is to be alone, but then when you are alone it doesn't make it better...in fact sometimes it makes it worse because then there are no distractions and you have no choice but to be fully aware of this feeling.
But I think its good to be alone and have to fully face these feelings. Difficult, yes, but necessary. The blogging really does help with it.
How are you coping socially with the trauma? How is your relationships with your family and others?
I think Jeff and I have handled this pretty well as husband and wife. I was never angry that he wasn't around for the first few days to handle things at home...frustrated, yes, but not angry. And because I had to handle things without him, we didn't argue about what, how or when things needed to be done. When I did talk to him I told him where we were at, and he had to let me, and others, handle things. I think that was a good thing for us. We were both so focused on what needed to be done in our own worlds that we didn't second guess or argue eachother's decisions. We also both gained enormous perspective that most things weren't worth arguing about that week. We were on the same page when it came to most things and felt like after what we had just went through, a lot of other day to day annoyances didn't matter. He had to trust me with huge life changing decsions,a nd for the most part, I proved myself. As for my relationship with my kids...right now I have to parent in two completely different ways when it comes to the afteraffects of this tornado. Makenna just wants everything to be as normal as possible. Now that we are living on the other side of town where nothing was touched, its very easy for her to do that. She comes and goes from school, does her homework and plays like she always did. She is enjoying her dance class and swimming lessons. She requests that we not drive by our old house if she is in the vehicle, and if we have to, she doesn't look. She doesn't want to talk about it, or write about it, or draw pictures about it. She is excited to look at blueprints and plan her new bedroom, but doesn't want to think about why she is getting one in the first place.
Jack on the other hand, the first couple weeks told every one he came into contact with that his house and Daddy's truck were broken. He asks to drive by our house on a daily basis. He has plenty of questions. He asks when we will be going back to our house and why we can't live there right now. He is always talking about it.
He has become quite clingy to Jeff and I, moreso I. He always was though, so I'm not sure if what he is going through right now is because he was separated from us for 6 days right after the tornado, or if he would have been like this anyway. In addition to being in a new home, he is also in a new daycare and has begun swimming lessons. Both the new daycare and swimming lessons were scheduled a long time ago to begin in September and while he enjoys both, the initial transition from parent to activity is painful. He has cried every day that I have dropped him off at daycare for the last 2 weeks. He has cried at both of his Saturday morning swimming lessons. And while I know he is fine and has fun once I am out of sight, what I get is the crying and sobbing and begging every single morning...and that wears a person down when it happens every single day and that's all they see. I feel guilty. He has cried so much lately I feel terrible. All I want to do is keep him home with me for as long as it takes for him to become confident again. But I know that's not the answer. All I would be doing is encouraging him to regress. While I think he may have been like this to a degree even if there hadn't been a tornado, I know it wouldn't have affected me to the degree that it has. The Mommy guilt...its always a part of parenting and right now its everywhere I look.
As for my relationship with others...I feel like not many people understand. Some do seem to understand me and how best to interact with me, but if they don't they admit that they don't and just want to be there to listen. And that's all I want, when I reach out. - is someone to listen....to let me vent. I don't want anyone to try to "fix" it, or tell me how or what I should feel or do. No one can tell me how or what I should feel. No one should even try. Just listen and let me feel what I feel. Maybe I shouldn't feel what I do in some cases, maybe I will be overreacting, but what I feel is what I feel and I need to be allowed to feel what I feel without being told I shouldn't,or downplaying it, or being told I need to get over it. Most people I am surrounded by get that and are very supportive. Those that don't get that or aren't supportive...I just can't be around right now. Some people seem afraid to bring it up, to ask questions. I don't mind discussing all that has happened. Lets remember, I am blogging it for anyone and everyone to read, I'm comfortable discussing it. It doesn't need to be the white elephant in the room that I'm in. I have had complete strangers approach me in public venues to discuss this blog with me. And I appreciate that. I am always curious as to who they are and how they got to reading it, and the things these people say to me is very encouraging. Thank you to those of you who have had the courage to do that. I really do believe this is therapeutic for me, and I truly value everyone's encouragement and support. That's really all I need from anyone. Encouragement and Support.
How are you coping spiritually with the trauma? Your relationship with nature, the world, and God?
Those are 3 completely different things. As I have opinionated in my blog before, spirituality can mean many things to different people...there is no one right way to be a spiritual person.
The house that we are in now has a nice sized maple tree outside its living room window. Sitting on the couch in that room last week I looked out at it and thought "If the tornado had have come down this street, that tree could have come right through that window into the living room". A few days after the tornado hit, Jeff and I drove down to the beach so he could show me the damage at the Salt Mine. It was a beautiful day and there were families enjoying the beach and playing in the water. I had a hard time with that as that's where the tornado originated from just a few days ago - those very waters. My head knew that it was long over and people get on with life and there was nothing wrong with the water. But my heart said there was no way people should be in it. Once our kids were back in town the second week, they were with me one day as I was running errands and we ended up driving down by the beach. It was before lunch and no one was on the sand or in the water. The kids begged to get out and play so we did.
They played in the sand and splashed in the water like they had so many times previously over the years as I sat in the sand at the edge of the water and watched quietly, not saying anything. I grew up visiting this beach too. I had travelled here with my family as a child every summer. This beach was apart of Jack and Makenna's life, and mine too. Tim proposed to Nicole here. I loved this beach. We watched fireworks here every year and spent countless hours in the water each summer. This was one of the main reasons we loved Goderich and knew the kids would love growing up here. But after all that had happened, on that day I had a hard time allowing them in the water even though it was smooth and calm. It was the first time since returning home that they had done something normal, something that we used to do. And by allowing them to play in the water I felt as though I was saying to it "I forgive you...I am allowing my children to be here and play in the water where this all began...where you helped develop an F3 tornado that scared them and took away their home... because I want to forgive you and want to trust you again". That was hard for me and I knew the power of the moment as it was happening.
I snapped a picture of them on the sand with the Salt Mine in the backround like I had done so many times in the past...only this time the backround was the reason for the picture.
It wasn't long before the rest of the county and the news stations went on with their normal lives...talking about other things, reporting on other stories. I wanted to say "Hey, wait! We're still here!"
How can people be happy, be focused on other things, be all wrapped up in other such trivial details, while we are still dealing with this? Our lives were still on hold, but everyone else was moving on. Its the same feeling you have when a loved one dies and you watch the world carry on without you.
And my relationship with God. You will remember, and many of you have commented on the irony of that now infamous blog post of mine questioning God and the reasons behind why things happen the way they do in life. The post I innocently wrote before the tornado ever happened. The day after I wrote that, a good friend messaged me telling me how she had struggled with the same feelings. She said she reframed her thinking and prayers with the approach of "God, I know you have a plan. I don't know what your plan is but I am trusting you. You know the plan and I will trust in that and accept your plan". It was an interesting approach for me and I thought a lot about in the following week.
And then a tornado made my home that I had lived in for the past 6 years with my husband and 2 children structurally unsound and wrote off both of our vehicles.
And I thought...Okay... So this was the plan?
Again, I have to ask why. Why is this the plan for us?
I was told "God never gives you anything you can't handle".
I would like to point out I was told this by people who had not just lost their home to a tornado.
And now, over a month later...I still wonder why.
But things have happened that wouldn't have otherwise. Good things. In my family, with my friendships, with this writing, in this town. I have to accept that this is our life now, we have to carry on day in and day out and accept all of this as our "new normal". Nothing is going to change the reality of the situation. Maybe this was the plan all along. This tornado is going to be a landmark moment in all 4 of our lives. We will look at things as "pre tornado" and "post tornado". Our kids will grow up into adulthood with the story of how they lost their home to a tornado at ages 6 and 3. That day is a part of their stories now.
But still I wonder why. I want to accept that is a part of some master plan that I just have to trust, but still I question the reasons behind why its a part of our plan...what will come from this and how it will shape our future.
I get it now.
Trauma affects every part of your life. Its effects on you are visible to others on the outside, and it gets inside you and works on you from in there too. It doesn't go away when decisions and progress are made and routines are established. It changes who you are and the way you look at and interact with the world.
When I think about the anxiety and how I need to feel it, to allow it in and wait for the wave to pass, when I think of the people who try to put it into perspective for me, downplay it or encourage me to keep busy, not think about it or move on, when I think about that day with my children at the beach where I allowed them back into the water even though I felt fear and dread because it was that very water that the tornado formed on...I look at the quote I received from the debriefing session:
"We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the fullest". ~Marcel Proust.
I get it now.
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