Coping with Tragedy and Trauma at Work
Hello! How I have missed interacting with you! I needed a bit of a Teacher Time Out to get re-centered and to steady my internal level of joy. I really did. With everything that was occurring surrounding the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, I was in a state of intensity and fear. Like so many of you, I spend days speaking with my students about what had occurred and about what we would do if the unspeakable happened. Honestly, the unspeakable needed to be spoken and it needed to be spoken in an honest and open manner. We spoke honestly. We spoke openly. I cried. I fought back tears during different discussions. They needed me to be real, but they also needed me to hold it together so that I could best prepare them for the possibility of a shooting or violent attack at our school.
My students are 6 and 7 years of age. I think that we can best guess what an unexpected act of violence might be like with little ones this age. Will someone freeze and not be willing to run? What if more than one of them chose (involuntarily) not to run or move? Panics? Wets their clothes in fear? What if I am the one that freezes?! As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time in that space. Too much time? I don’t know. I do know, that school just didn’t feel the same. I was looking over my shoulder. Definitely, on edge and on guard. It was not a good place, and no where to “be”. We had to find a way to move forward.
When Tragedy Hits Close to Home
The school shooting was a double-edge sword for me, as well. As a Teacher, I was worried about my own students and my own life. I also had thoughts about something happening at my daughter’s school. Or, happening at my school and my not being able to see my biological children again. Then, also as a South Floridian whose family lives in Parkland.
Both of my nephews graduated from Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School. I was, literally, just there last July to see my youngest nephew graduate. I felt like (feel) like those kids were my kids. While watching the constant news reports, I knew those locations. The bridge that the journalists were broadcasting from due to road blocks was right down from the school. I had driven past that overpass so many times. I knew exactly where the school was located from that vantage point. It was surreal.
After that…. Marches. Protests. T-shirts. News reports. Tweets. Teachers. Families. Students. Classrooms. Guns and gun control. Watching those brave students speak, march, protest, mourn… Monumental! Inspirational!
I needed a moment. As I sit and write this, all of these events seem so distant in time, though it was only a few months ago. I have a greater sense of comfort today. Truly, I was emotionally on the edge. You really shouldn’t have to feel fearful of being at work. Especially, when you go to work every day AND when you have a building full of children that you are responsible for. They are ALL our kids, right?. Keeping them all safe is our priority.
What Can You Do if You Are Experiencing Stress/Trauma?
Give Yourself Permission
One of the first steps in dealing with stress, anxiousness, or dealing with trauma is to give yourself permission to feel what it is that you are feeling. Your reactions are not a sign of weakness, but a sign that something is out of balance or not a healthy fit for your life. Remember your brain is all about self-preservation and it will do everything that it can to keep harm from coming to you. So, it signals you to slow down, focus, relax, eat… whatever it is that you are in need of.
Acknowledge that Something is Out of Sync
Honestly, the first step in helping and healing is to acknowledge that something is wrong. I know that people say that all of the time, but honestly, it really is true and accurate. I need to admit that I am overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, angry, spent, any emotion or reaction that I am feeling. In the case of the school shootings and the subsequent talks about Active Shooters, I was on edge- all day, every day. That was not a good place to be.
I couldn’t enjoy work and I couldn’t enjoy my students. You know that you are not in a good place when you react each time the classroom door opens. I remember telling my students to stop moving around the classroom one day! I really did. Now, what First Graders do you know that don’t move around the classroom. Their movement was distracting the mess out of me. I was not in a good space. I can chuckle about it now, but at the time, I needed to regroup. Thankfully, I was in a space where I was willing to acknowledge that I was not okay and not my true and best self.
Let It All Out
Truly, let it all out. Have a good cry. Dance it out. Sing it out. Shout it out. Box it out. Talk it out. It depends on your personality and level of comfort, but sincerely, get it out. Now, when I say get it out, I mean in the healthiest, safest manner. Please don’t drink it out or dive it out (no speeding recklessly down the highway, even if it might seem wild and freeing). We need to keep ourselves safe, and we need not harm anyone else. Sometimes a good cry or scream can help.
For me, if I put on some great music, sometimes slightly aggressive music, makes me feel better. Throwing on some Beyonce’ and just dancing or singing is what I need. That may not seem like much or like it doesn’t fit the moment, but it’s something that I don’t have time to do often, so for me, it’s an outlet. Old School Hip Hop or Rock n’ Roll may do it for you. Exercising- really getting into it and not worrying about the time- is another technique that helps me to relieve stress and get out of my own head. What works for you?
Talk to Someone
This may be the key to healing or moving forward for you. Talk to someone that you can trust. If necessary, talk to more than one person. Maybe someone on your job might have just the understanding that you need. Perhaps also talking with a spouse or partner can bring you the comfort that you need. If your mother is still with you, sometimes only a mother’s ear can bring you peace and a sense of stability. Likewise, for your father. Sometimes our dads are more problem solvers, but they are usually pretty good listeners, too.
If you feel that you would benefit from more religious guidance, schedule an appointment with a trusted religious leader, or walk up to them after service and share your needs or request an appointment to speak with them. At my Church, there is an offer to come down for prayer at the end of the service, and we also have Alter Call (for collective prayer) towards the beginning of service. Think of what outlets are available for you and don’t be shy about seeking those people or opportunities out. People do care about what you have to say and about what you are experiencing. YOU MATTER! You definitely matter to me! <3
Take Time Away
As Teachers and nurturers, we often have a hard time taking time off and/or time away. However, this is an area that I stronger believe that we all should work towards. Get a Sub. Get a babysitter. Schedule a date night… a girls’/guys’ night. Make an appointment for the spa. Go visit your family or a dear friend that you may not have seen for awhile. Think back to the Safety demonstration that is shared on the airlines prior to take off. Whose oxygen mask needs to go on first and why? Exactly! You can’t someone else if you are not full and well cared for. Please don’t let money be a deterrent. Staycations are just as significant as (traveling) vacations. Unplug. Recharge. Self-care. Self-love. No guilt allowed here. We deserve time to care for ourselves. As you can imagine, this helps to make us better equipped to care for others. So, know that you will be helping your students in the end, as well.
I hope that you are well and have been able to regain a certain sense of normalcy…. A new normal, perhaps. I’m looking forward to writing and sharing more. Please feel free to share how you are doing now. How are you handling the threats from several months ago? Healing? Haunted? How can we support you?