And Then Things Change

We met on a beach. In Italy.

I had gotten kicked out of Austria for not having a work visa. I was on a spontaneous vacation.

He and his friends had just been promoted. They were on a spontaneous vacation.

I waded into the Adriatic Sea and introduced myself to the “hot army guys” playing football in the water and from that moment on, he and I were inseparable.

June 1, 1996 Jesolo, Italy

June 1, 1996
Jesolo, Italy

At least for those three days. And then we didn’t see each other for nine years.

I had a career. I got married. Had a son. Got divorced.

And then I Googled him and found him, by this time stationed back in the US. We emailed back and forth, updated each other, discussed a possible visit.

And then, without asking, I booked the tickets to go see him and sent him the flight confirmation.

A year later he moved up here and we were married.

And then we had a daughter.

We’ve been married for nine years this month.

But things change.

This month he moves out.

I will not place the blame on any one thing or any one person, although my inclination is to say it’s all my fault. That’s because I’m the doer.

I introduced myself. I Googled. I called. I flew. When indecision strikes, I think DOING SOMETHING is better than waiting. And that’s not always the case.

Out of respect for my very private husband, I will not blog our divorce.

But for me … I just need to put it out there. At least it feels like I’m doing something.

H

***

P.S. I’m ok. Fine, even. I’ve done this before and know how to put the kids first.

P.S.S. Nor am I going to become an anti-man, anti-marriage, angry person …

P.S.S.S. I really have no idea what I’m doing. Obviously.

What Comes After

Everywhere you look in the media, at least here in Alberta, there are photos, videos, and stories of traumatic events. The area is experiencing floods to that many will never see again. Except some people will.

When they close their eyes, when they try to sleep, in their dreams … they will see the events replayed.

hand

This is one of the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and now that the majority of the danger has passed, you need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of PTSD. Many associate this disorder with members of the military, emergency services, or victims of terrible crimes. However, a Canadian study conducted in 2008 reveals that all of us are vulnerable.

The prevalence rate of lifetime PTSD in Canada was estimated to be 9.2% … Traumatic exposure to at least one event sufficient to cause PTSD was reported by 76.1% of respondents … (and) … included unexpected death of a loved one, sexual assault, and seeing someone badly injured or killed. In respondents meeting criteria for PTSD, the symptoms were chronic in nature, and associated with significant impairment … PTSD is a common psychiatric disorder in Canada. The results are surprising, given the comparably low rates of violent crime, a small military and few natural disasters.

In just a few days, 250,000+ people experienced a natural disaster first hand.

Some were emergency personnel – and I witnessed individuals who self-identified as struggling, and co-workers who stepped up to encourage others to seek help. People who work in high-stress environments, while more likely to experience PTSD, are also more likely to receive information on how to deal with PTSD.

For the rest, I hope that this information helps you understand emotions and physical symptoms you or someone you know are experiencing.

  1. Absolutely everyone is at risk. PTSD is incredibly personalized because your individual trigger can be set off by very personalized stressors.  Your personal history with traumatic events – regardless of whether they are flood related – will determine what you react to. Age, income, gender, personality type, occupation … nothing gives you immunity. You are at a greater risk depending on your perception of the intensity of the situation, how close you are to the event, and how much control you felt you had – or didn’t have.
  2. You are not weak. There is no form of mental or intestinal fortitude that protects you. Do not succumb to the belief that this makes you weak, crazy, silly, unprofessional, or victimized. Do not allow others to minimize what you are feeling, either.
  3. Seek help now. The sooner you recognize the symptoms (see below) the sooner the healing can start. It may be a day or two, it may be a week, it may be a month. It may be longer in many cases, but delaying it and trying to numb the emotions and feelings will exacerbate the situation.
  4. Know where to seek help. Resources are out there. MyHealth.Alberta.ca has some excellent information including resource lists.
  5. Identify the signs. For people who see trauma on a regular basis, like emergency services or military personnel, it is important to recognize unhealthy behaviours and take steps to minimize them. I have experienced PTSD first-hand, and even recently I needed to remind myself of my own signs of stress: emotional regulation issues, anger, impulsivity, over-focused behaviour, the feeling that I have to attack even small problems with the vigor of a full hill assault.
  6. Fill out a self-assessment. Be honest but be instinctual and don’t second-guess yourself. Or fill it out with a loved one who may help identify issues you haven’t recognized in yourself.

So what are the signs? Thanks to Alberta Health Services – who issued a memo for EMS peers earlier this weekend – I have some great info to share with you:

Very Common Signs and Symptoms:

Physical

Nausea
Upset stomach
Tremors (lips, hands)
Feeling uncoordinated
Profuse sweating
Chills
Diarrhea
Dizziness
Chest pain (should be assessed at hospital)
Rapid heart beat
Rapid breathing
Increased blood pressure
Headaches
Muscle aches
Sleep disturbances

Thinking

Slowed thinking
Difficulty making decisions
Difficulty in problem solving
Confusion
Disorientation
Difficulty calculating
Difficulty concentrating
Memory problems
Difficulty naming common objects
Seeing the event over and over
Distressing dreams
Poor attention span

Emotional

Anxiety
Fear
Guilt
Grief
Depression
Sadness
Feeling lost
Feeling abandoned
Feeling isolated
Worry about others
Wanting to limit contact with others
Anger
Irritability
Feeling numb
Startled easily
Shocked

Unless you’re an actual hypochondriac people naturally minimize or dismiss some of these symptoms. “I’m just tired.” “She’s just stressed.” “It’s just a tough situation, he’ll be fine.” “I just need a drink.” And you may feel uncomfortable about approaching someone if you are concerned. You may not know them very well, or you may know them too well and assume they will be bothered by your concern. Or you might encounter people that are just jerks who feel uncomfortable with the whole topic – because it might mean they have an issue, too.

Whether you think you have PTSD or not, self-care after a traumatic event is important: rest more, reach out to trusted people, spend time with people or ask people to spend time with you, realize symptoms are normal and they will decrease over time, maintain as normal a schedule as possible, eat well, stay active and fight boredom, express your feelings as they arise – even if you simply journal them, talk to safe people who love you, seek professional help if required.

Be on the lookout for friends and family experiencing PTSD: don’t minimize their experience, listen, spend time with them, proactively offer to listen or provide assistance, reassure them of their safety, allow them to be private if they need to be, but above all … do not try fix the situation by suggesting that they are “lucky” or by pointing out others are worse off and do not judge them for what they share with you. Be a safe place for them. I cannot overstate the importance of being a calm, receptive person and the power of the words “I am sorry this has happened.” Acknowledgement of their pain is crucial.

Finally, recognize that trauma can be primary (experienced the event) or secondary (sometimes called vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue). All are forms of trauma and all can result in PTSD. There is some great information here for those who find themselves unable to tear themselves away from Facebook or Twitter or the news channel and who may be showing signs of vicarious trauma. When we have a personal connection in some way to a traumatic event, we seek out information about it – and some times it becomes unhealthy. Social and traditional media can feed this particular form of trauma.

YYC Flood 2013 Info Round-Up

I was going to write-up my own Calgary Flood related post, but so many good ones are out there that it seems duplicitous (oooh $2 word!) so I’m including the best info written by others.

Update: June 23, 2013 12:02am: And Then The Water Came by Two Bugs and a Blog
Almost missed this one, another great round-up of resources!.

2013 Calgary Flood – Frequently Asked Questions by Working Mother Chronicles (and she happens to work in the Mayor’s office!)
She is updating it with new information, like Calgary school closures for Monday. And includes wise words like “Right now, the best thing for citizens to do is stay close to home and wait until the clean-up effort begins.” Because I really think we’re going to get hit with some flood-fatigue in the next month. And when donations start to dwindle, volunteer hours can’t be maintained, people start getting tired of hearing about the flood, the Stampede is over … that’s when we’ll need to really dig deep.

Calgary Flood 2013 by Calgary Playground Review
This is especially helpful for families are feeling that space crunch because they are listening to the words in the first blog and staying close to home. I know you want to check out the impressive act of nature – taking your kids to a flooded playground is probably not the best way to do it!

Tweets by Dinner with Julie
You wouldn’t expect a great cookbook writer and awesome foodie to have a ton of flood info … but she does. She is in a flood-affected area and has some great info, pictures and is doing a great job of being an on-the-ground reporter.

YYCHelps website
This is very helpful for those wanting to get involved and help. But don’t forget that even the small things matter. I needed a pick me up today so along with delivering 80 pairs of socks to the High River Fire Hall for first responders, I dropped off 4 Baconators at the army camp there for a friend who just needed a little pick me up too … army rations have no grease, they are pretty bland! If I were to suggest a donation item for any rural group, it would be BUG SPRAY. Pretty sure the mosquitoes think that the promised land has arrived and it’s time to go forth and multiply.

Calgary City News Blog
This will have the most up to date info regarding emergency management plans.

Every area affected seems to have been affected differently – Calgary had 17 communities evacuated, the entire town of High River was evacuated, Canmore was, too but they were also cut off from the east by compromised roads. My main flood experience, as brief as it’s been so far, has been in High River and I think the town will take a LOT of time to recover. Sewer and water treatment plants have been overwhelmed, which hasn’t happened in Calgary.

Stay safe, love on your neighbours.

Highwood River at its peak.

Highwood River at its peak.

Ranch BBQ food truck feeding us for free! TRY THE BEANS!

Ranch BBQ food truck feeding us for free! TRY THE BEANS!

Rescued dogs - waiting for owners to pick them up.

Rescued dogs – waiting for owners to pick them up.

The muck left behind after the water leaves.

The muck left behind after the water leaves.

This is not where it's supposed to be ...

This is not where it’s supposed to be …

Floated together.

Floated together.

11 cats from Heaven Can Wait, all have homes.

11 cats from Heaven Can Wait, all have homes.

Dealing with Loss

How do you deal with loss? Isn’t that a question without an answer? I think so.

Last weekend we lost a friend.

At work today – and all week – so many people are sad. Some are angry that he’s gone.

Some hardly knew him. Some knew him for over a decade. Some were in the inner circle. Some hung about the outer rim.

I posted his obituary to Facebook tonight, wondering as I did if those who were closer to him might get offended. All day we have been preparing for his visitation tonight and sometimes I felt so wrong planning who I was going to carpool with or who was going with whom – it felt like planning a social event. I wanted to make it stop. Make us not have to check in with each other (time? your car or mine? how do you get there?) in the same way we’d plan a party or a night out.

But I realized that everyone has their own way of dealing. Just read his guestbook. Some are private, and close their office doors and honour him the way they know how, by doing their jobs well. Some talk about it, make jokes and remember how much fun he inspired. Some are silent, not revealing their emotion at all.

I’m choosing to talk about him. I’m choosing to tell people who didn’t know Jim Haigh that he was important and special. You didn’t know him? You missed out, buddy.

You missed his laugh, that I hear so loud in my head that I think I could actually open my mouth and it would come out. You missed a passion for his job that was the fuel for a small, just $100 million, empire. You missed watching him talk about “the business” and get so excited that he’d rock forward on the balls of his feet like he was going to launch himself into the crowd. You missed him pacing at the back of the room during the National Sales meetings, listening intently. You missed the empty coffee pots he’d leave that would make you shake your fist and call down the hall “this is how I know you’re in the building, Jim! Empty coffee pots!” You missed dimples. You missed inside jokes and goblets of wine. You missed vision. You missed a mentor. You missed a friend.

You missed Jim.

And so do I.

The Power of Words

On Monday I learned:

People make choices we may never understand – we still love them.

When there is true pain it can block out everything.

We can never know when the words we say to someone may be the last time we speak.

Strong people may not be so.

Crying is never a sign of weakness.

A wish for what you might have said to make a difference can be turned into action: say what you mean today to those you love.

Some friends you choose, some choose you and sometimes you get lumped in and learn to love each other.

There is never any need to compare pain with one another.

Some people leave – but they never leave us.

~~

Words have always been my strength. I rely on them and they always come through for me. But this week I learned that the words I hold in will lose their power. It does no good to think thoughts about someone’s well-being and not express them. We often fear that we’ll be seen as inappropriate or nosey. We worry if things are our business. We through about the words “how are you?” without even an expectation of a real answer.

Words, whether written or spoken, matter. They matter almost as much as touch. Almost as much as a hug. God, I hope that you gave me this gift of words for a better purpose. I promise that I will no longer keep that gift inside. I’ve used words to make money, to put food on the table, for my own selfish desires.

But what about blessing others? What about glorifying God? What about changing lives . . . or even the possibility of changing lives? What about delivering comfort? What about lifting spirits? What about telling someone that they matter?

I will do better.