Trauma and Sandy Hook

After the very recent tragic shootings at Sandy Hook school, I've been asked very good questions about mental health issues. Trauma is something that affects many of us. The closer in we are to an experience, the more likely we are to have trauma symptoms. But even people who are very far from Sandy Hook may find themselves feeling traumatized for weeks following. But for the families hit hardest, they will experience this for  their lifetime.
Trauma symptoms can appear and then go into remission and then reappear. Traumatic events are quite severe on impact and it is , as I have learned from my own journey, unrealistic to expect the trauma to completely leave you. It is more common to experience remission and occasional flare ups. Recovery is about learning how to take care of yourself when you are feeling the symptoms. When we care for ourselves in the pain, we find ourselves very gradually getting relief and release from the symptoms.
Not everyone feels trauma immediately after a trauma. Children tend to feel the trauma many months after the event.
Adults tend to feel it much closer to the time of the trauma.
Trauma and grief are two things. Grieving can also last a long time. Sometimes we are impatient with grief and expect it to pass faster than it actually does. We also need to be very patient with trauma. Go slower. Let go of your expectations and demands on yourself when you are traumatized. There is nothing that you need to do. Nothing is required. Just slow down and don't be afraid of all the emotions. It is normal and terrifying to feel emotionally out of control. But that is what happens to us. One very normal trauma symptom is that we don't feel in control of our emotions. Our emotions are just wildly doing their own thing. Sudden crying, outbursts, feeling emotionally out of control is normal. Your emotional control will return, but it will take time. Lower the expectations and demands on you to give yourself room with the wildfire of feelings. Just give yourself more room to be with yourself.
I was asked a very interesting question about the mind of the shooter at Sandy Hook. Of course, I don't know him, but I can guess that he was very tormented and his mind filled with distortions. Someone wondered if he was in tremendous pain. I don't think he was feeling. If he was feeling, he would not have been able to do such an inhumane act. I can guess that it was the lack of feeling, the lack of empathy, that made him so dangerous.
Will gun control or violence elimination in entertainment, or mental health services be part of the solution? Yes, yes, and yes. I think we are at a loss about where to begin or how to begin. But we must face this unknown with a tangible plan. We can not ignore the things that are triggers to our own violence.
This shooter was not the only unfeeling person. We are numbing ourselves to violence and calling it entertainment. We are unnecessarily over arming our citizens and saying it is in the name of self-defense.
I understand that our national discussion or non discussion about gun control makes us sound crazy.
Unstable people can easily latch onto the crazy part of our culture.
I also think many many families are unable to find help or assistance when their kid is emotionally deteriorating.
There is such a stigma on needing mental health assistance and good help can be hard to find and very expensive. Many good therapists are booked far in advance. The higher need person may not be a good fit with the available therapist. The therapist may not have the right expertise. Some issues require a psychiatrist and finding an available psych with openings and in the local area  can be impossible. I've watched families travel hours to get psychiatric help.
I just think there are many many ways we can each figure out which part of this issue we can make a difference on, which part is your part to get involved in? There is a great deal to do to honor and respect the horrible sacrifice of these children and their teachers and families.
It takes courage to do something, when we don't know what to do.

Put the Joy into Simple Holidays

I'm writing this blog because one of my clients asked me to share these thoughts on my blog, so she could put it in her wallet and carry it with her all year.   She was feeling stressed with the holiday gifting, the pointlessness of the presents, and the way shopping zapped her energy. I explained that I too like to focus on values during the holidays.
I keep my gifting simple by doing it through the year. I don't do my shopping all at once in December. When I am with a family member in a special place, I may pick up a postcard, or small souvenir to later stuff into a stocking.   I like to make handmade gifs for my family. I usually begin these projects in June or August. I spend time thoughtfully looking at knitting patterns and thinking about what my family would enjoy as a gift. I try to keep those gifts simple, not big projects, but I thoroughly enjoy sifting through patterns, looking at yarn, and finally selecting my "gift" projects. I usually pick one, and then replicate it for each person in a different color. Again, this keeps it simple, yet thoughtful.
I also think gifts are thoughtful if in some way they are personalized. There is a local woman who embroiders on anything! I asked her to embroider tee-shirts for my family this year. My family will be surprised and they will receive something they can't just buy off the shelf.
I also spend time noting new things I have tried that I loved and then I buy a couple extra as gifts. This year I tried a special tea from Kentucky and a facial scrubber that I liked. These made great gift items. If I loved it, I'll share it.
Don't tell my neighbors, but I also buy a bunch of great food items from Williams and Sonoma or candles and pre-wrap them with ribbons. If anyone shows up at my door with a neighborly unexpected gift, I have some beautifully wrapped gift to give them as well.
This year we had a dinner party during the holiday season with my neighbors. I asked them all to bring their favorite book from 2012 for a book exchange. It was delightful! And hassle free- the books were already collecting dust on the shelf at home. Now I have a free great read for the holiday considered a "favorite" from one of my neighbors. Love that!
I also make a little holiday calendar for the family. I note a cookie baking day, a family dinner, this year we added a concert in January. My adult-children pick the things they want to join in on, and feel no pressure to juggle between my house and all the other holiday must-do's. I try to plan my activities in the "off" days so my kids don't feel pressure about where to be.
Think about what you value, what you hold dear, and find a way to share that during the holidays. But keep the pressure off of you by preparing for it during the rest of the year. We all have plenty to do in December!