Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Vu's

Presque vu, French for "almost seen", is also known as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. The failure to retrieve a word from memory combined with a partial recall and a nagging feeling that the retrieval of the word is imminent. 

Jamais vu, "never seen", is the phenomenon of experiencing something that you recognize in some way, but nonetheless seems utterly unfamiliar. 

Both are often associated with the more well-known déjà vu, "already seen", the sensation that something currently being experienced has already happened, whether it actually has or not.

All of these can occur to some degree and regularity in a healthy brain. But, more severe or prolonged forms of them are often associated with brain damage or illness.

Survivors often experience life during and after trauma tangled up in an emotional braid similar to the phenomenons of the three Vu's.

There is a lot of overthinking and active imagining which happens when facing trauma, as both a part of stress and hopefulness. We dream and rationalize. We study worst case scenarios and best possible outcomes. We adjust to current situations as we struggle to heal. We think happy thoughts and give in to the misery of worry. We are altered by the idea of pain and loss.

We imagine so much so often in thinking about the idea of our crisis, that when faced with the actuality of it, we can feel overwhelming emotional sensations which resemble the Vu's.

Feelings like we have done this or been here before, or that what we almost know is about to be fully understood or explained, or that even though it should be familar because we prepared for it, it is beyond our expectations or understanding.

Fear and pain can set our emotions on an almost conductive edge, where any stimuli can over stimulate and expand out quickly without warning. 

Our thoughts can play havoc on our expectations and actually alter how we cope with our realities. Our truths can be so big that to fully face them we need to take them apart and give the pieces a surreal dream quality. It is a normal reaction to damage and part of coping during healing.

Accept the different Vu's of surviving your trauma, crisis, or illnesses. Embrace these tumultuous triplets.

Recognize there are things we are meant to see, things we will know again, and things we will never quite figure out. 

Allow your emotions to help you adapt to your reality and aid in your healing.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sticky Note Tug of War

People leave Post-It-Notes to remind themselves of all manner of things. Sticky notes are a billion dollar industry because memory is a tricky thing. 

But, memories at their core, are sticky yet fluid conundrums, especially during times of loss or grief. They adapt and change depending on how, when, and why we look back at them. They become what we need them to be or become the validation we seek.

They are the emotional outlet to ourselves, the pieces which make up our whole, including the good and the bad, the beautiful and the hideous.

If we need the comfort of nostalgia, we alter our memory to reach for the best of what has been, sourcing out a safe place from our past.

If we need to validate a hurt or lay a blame, we hone in on the mistakes and failures in the past to give our current pain merit.

If we want to reconnect with something or someone we've lost that we wish we hadn't, we'll instill the memories with a dreamlike quality, removing all imperfections for a flawless reminder of what once was.

We play with our memories as often as they play with us. A tug of war of emotions, safe places, and reminders.

The truth of a memory lies somewhere in between, with all the positives, negatives and beautiful flaws of life, shared with people and places in all their imperfections.

Survivors spend a lot of time in the past, because it is so much a part of how they got to where they are, so much of what they lost, so much of what they're trying to hold on to, and so much of what they are fighting to get back to. 

But, most tellingly, because during times of pain and crisis, the future becomes harder to envision. It can be so difficult to imagine a tomorrow that we cling to the past for our hope. We turn to what was or might have been to find our way to what might yet be.

Our memories hurt and comfort, support and destroy. They are our foundation and the bricks we use to rebuild or reshape ourselves. 

It is alright to remember yesterday, if in doing so it gives us the strength for tomorrow. Because, with our memories, we never have to be alone, even during our loneliest moments.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Swiss Mister

Seventy years ago today, American forces dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb would be dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Since records weren't reliable during the chaos after the destruction, conservative estimates are that over 250,000 human beings were killed by the affects of the initial bombings, resulting injuries, and the radiation sickness which followed. But, the actual death toll may have been much higher.

Weeks after the attacks, on August 30, 1945, a Swiss doctor and delegate of the International Commitee of the Red Cross, whose major task during the war had been to oversee the observation of adherence to the Geneva Convention in POW camps and create neutrality so Red Cross ships could get supplies through, received photographic evidence and telegraphs revealing the horrific conditions in Hiroshima. Dr. Marcel Junod than organized a mission of aid and became the first foreign doctor to reach Hiroshima. He brought with him an American investigation task force, two Japanese doctors, and 15 tons of medical supplies. For five days, he visited every major hospital, distributed supplies, and personally gave medical care to the wounded.

After the war, he continued his humanitarian work with UNICEF and the Red Cross. Later, he had to retire as a surgeon due to an illness which prevented him from standing for long periods of time. So, he dedicated himself to medical research and anesthesiology, which would allow him to continue to help people while sitting down. He treated patients literally until the end of his life. Working as an anesthesiologist, Dr. Marcel Junod died of a heart attack during an operation.

Following his death in 1969, the International Committee of the Red Cross received over 3,000 letters of condolences from all over the world; and in 1979 a monument to Dr. Junod was inaugurated in the Hiroshima Peace Park, where each year on the anniversary of his death a meeting is held in front of the monument to commemorate his service to his fellow man.

The last words etched on the back of this monument are from his book Warrior without Weapons, "Those who call for help are many. It is you they are calling."

Aid is vital to helping people survive, not just in times of war or large-scale crisis, but following personal traumas and private illnesses as well. Whether with medical, financial, or emotional support, people need people. No one survives alone.

We should never turn a blind eye, but keep our eyes and hearts open. We must be willing to help with our own hands.

"It is you they are calling," are powerful words of truth. No one should stand by while another suffers, whether in front of them or half a world away. Empty empathy serves no one. Take action, even if only to reach out and hold someone's hand when they are hurting. Give of yourself to others in their times of need, for someday you may need help yourself.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Loose Change

During their initial year of recovery or following a significant relapse in their sobriety, alcoholics are discouraged from making any major life changes for the first year.

Major changes can include anything from a new home or new job, starting a new relationship or ending an old one, getting married or divorced, or committing to any sort of new life decision or altering your life's course in any additional way. 

The same could be recommended for all manner of survivors when initially faced with trauma, crisis, or illness.

Most people, whether a survivor or not, don’t like to be told what to do. In fact, we can all be stubborn when we feel someone is trying to tell us what to do or how to feel. Sometimes when we are trying to regain our footing, the more we are told what not to do, the more we want to do them. We rationalize and override that in our case there is no point for these suggestions and that they are not relevant to us. Advice can get casually brushed aside and recommendations go unheeded, because we know best.

However, this is not an attempt at controlling us or having us relinquish our own control. It isn't about limiting our lives or hindering our potential to heal and find happiness. It's not about less control, but about having the time to understand the underlying nuances and true needs of our situations more completely.

For alcoholics, sober is a totally new view, with emotional spikes they were previously too numb to fully experience. For survivors, sobering realities are an altering view within an emotional roller-coaster we have never experienced before. Both can suddenly feel great clarity and less blind. The view can be exhilarating or induce spiritual vertigo. It carries with it both the positive and the negative, whose edges sometimes blur making it difficult to distinguish the differences.

The idea of not entering into or exiting out of our important relationships is recommended, because during these fragile times we are already dealing with volatile, unpredictable or overwhelming emotions. We are seeing the world with new eyes, trying to figure out where we now stand in our lives, experimenting with new sources to inspire our future, and grappling to find inner stability. We are in the process of learning how to live with this new version of ourselves. 

During this, we are experiencing our feelings with a new depth of intensity we may have never experienced before and it's often too easy to believe that intensity is due to others. We need time to evaluate and explore these feelings honestly until we can find our own footing enough to truly know the path we want to walk with someone else. 

Clinging too quickly to these "in the moment" intensities can become complicated, as we grow and come to terms with our own changes. We risk wrapping our recoveries in someone else, tangling our healing, instead of anchoring them first within ourselves. 

If it unravels, this can be disastrous later, because we have put so much of who we have become into it too soon. We need to recover and know ourselves better, before we can truly share ourselves with someone else in any long-lasting meaningful way.

As we are changing inside, it is natural to want to make major external changes outside as well. The idea of making a move from the familiar to the unexplored can feel exciting and empowering, especially if we have been weighted down with hardships and darkness. It is easier to recreate who we are on a blank canvas where we have not yet made mistakes and our mistakes are unknown to others than it is to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

While it is important to be open to change, especially when it is coming at us with such force, we need to maintain and trust our sources of stability before embracing additional emotional outlets. We need to not act rashly or overreact emotionally.

Transformation is very hard, but fulfilling work. Rebuilding ourselves is a task, but it's important to attempt the reconstruction with the bricks at hand before throwing them out and replacing them with new ones. 

There will indeed be changes ahead as we get to know these new versions of ourselves. But, we need to be take the time to find out who we are before making major changes which help define us. It will help us make the right choices for the right sort of changes in the long run.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Witness Me!

In Mad Max: Fury Road, the thirty-long-years awaited forth installment of George Miller's epic post-apocalyptic Mad Max movies, lies a shocking film of powerful feminism and the raw dehumanization of humanity packaged as a high-octane thrill ride. 

The cult followers and soldiers of the film's villain are known as the War Boys. At first glance, they are as expendable as the vehicles they drive, which in any Mad Max movie is pretty expendable. They believe their greatest sacrifice is to die for their leader. Over the course of the film, in the moments right before they commit to this sacrifice, they paint their mouths with chrome to be shiny and, in a frenzied vocalization of martyrdom, shout a battle cry of "Witness Me!"

Two words brutally brilliant in their complex simplicity.

On some level, we all want to be recognized. We all want to be remembered. We want our struggles not to go unnoticed and our sacrifices to matter.

Survivors know this battle cry in deeply private and often hidden ways. 

We don't want to be a burden or hurt those we love with our suffering. We don't want to be pigeon-holed by our illness or trauma. We don't want to make a fuss or rock a boat. We are not looking for accolades or special treatment. No one rationally wishes to be a martyr.

But, there is a powerful need to be noticed, a desire to not have our fight be forgotten or our pain ignored. We want to mean something and matter beyond the moment of our struggles. We want our damage not to define us, but empower us.

What we attempt to survive as human beings deserves a battle cry, a reminder to the world to take notice that we are here and are fighting. 

We all matter. Each battle we fight matters. Each brave breath should be remembered and recognized. We endure beyond our moments here on Earth.

We need to bear witness to each other, acknowledge our bravery and our uniquely, special worth. We need to shine.

Witness me, each and every day. One breath at a time.