I'll share a few important take aways I've learned from this whole incident, but there's a little more to the story:
Fast forward a couple weeks and what I thought was going to be just a few sessions of acupuncture treatments for trauma and chiropractic adjustments has left me with an advanced level of emotional overwhelm. That and the building stress continue to leave me functioning at far less than half of my normal capacity. Writing on the book has gone to the wayside and coupled with the launch of my first in-person course a few days after my return, and I'm finding myself challenged on many different levels.
What's interesting is the thinking patterns that are arising. It's easy to be mindful and kind when things are going our way--setting intention and being present for ourselves and others--but what happens when we are under stress for long periods of time?
In the third semester for my Masters at SSU, we had a 10-unit course on the environment. Simultaneously, I was serving on the GE Committee in Lake County and undertaking the launch of what is now Lake Co-op. The layout of the class was such that the first 2/3rds of it was all the bad news about the environmental destruction, climate disruption and overpopulation issues we faced. It was intense and most of us in the cohort were finding ourselves deeply depressed--it was a heavy dose of reality check!
At the time, my annual silent meditation retreat took place over Thanksgiving break, but I still had assignments that were due upon return. It is recommended to not read or write during retreat, but to instead focus on becoming more fully present in the body, with the moment by moment direct experience. I usually sleep a lot the first couple days in retreat, but my stress levels had gotten so high that I was completely exhausted--yet, I thought I could mindfully read for my assignments.
Not a good idea--I not only couldn't relax, but the content that I was reading was so disturbing that I began experiencing heart palpitations, extreme exhaustion, fatigue and overwhelm. I thought I could just experience and observe the palpitations in the body, but when I spoke with one of my teachers, she invited me to put down the books and give my over-taxed nervous system a break. She pointed out that once we've reached the level of exhaustion and overwhelm, it takes very little to push us over the edge--again and again. My nervous system needed to reset itself and could only do so with lots of rest and kindness. The Acupuncturist I'm seeing for the accident concurs.
I don't seem to have the capacity for multi-tasking and planning right now. Which means I'm getting even further behind. Coupled with the extra travel and treatments, I'm panicking about how little I'm able to do.
When I thought I was getting better--the back and neck felt better, I was regaining energy and no longer frightened and on hyper-alert while driving--an attempt to get my exercise routine of golfing once a week (It's 1.5 - 2 hours of walking!) back in place turned me around quickly. I was exhausted in about an hour and had to retreat shaken and disturbed with foggy thinking, wobbly legs and an inability to do much of anything for the next 8+ hours.
Driving again became overwhelming and scary, just like after the accident, and I couldn't think through any decisions past the immediate moment. I was pushed over the edge again. My momentum has experienced another hiccup and I'm flooded with thoughts spiraling toward the negative--old thinking patterns. My typing is full of errors (more than normal!) and I'm seeing vignettes of distant memories of being ill in childhood. The depression I experienced when Shyla first passed is returning and I'm challenged to get the bare minimum needed for the commitments I have in front of me, much less planning for speaking engagements and courses and writing on the next book.
I'm seeing again a time when I should not push through the exhaustion and overwhelm. The good news is that my annual silent retreat is scheduled in just a few weeks. This time, I will honor my body and the retreat instructions and take a much needed rest for healing and to reset the nervous system. As well, to tune into that deeper still voice--that divine whisper--that can't seem to get through the layers of trauma right now to guide my next steps.
Here's a few of the take aways that may be helpful if you experience a traumatic situation:
- Go slow and don't overdo -- even if your body begins to feel better. We've heard this many times before. My acupuncturist, Svetlana Petriowisky of Lakeport, CA, explains that the body's healing continues far beyond the presence of pain. She says pain is the last indicator to present itself and the first one to leave in the healing process. There are many subtle layers to our system that continue to heal once the pain subsides.
- Be kind to yourself -- as you would your best friend--or even more! We live in a culture of high expectations. Knowing when to push through pain is a delicate matter when it comes to trauma in the body. I was feeling much better, but when I became quickly exhausted trying to resume my regular exercise routine, I knew it wasn't the time to push through it. When in doubt, stay to the kind and restful side of exertion.
- Ask for help. How many times have you offered help to a friend that is either ill or injured? You meant it and so do they. While it took me a few weeks to even discern what help I needed, once I asked for it, my friends were there in a heartbeat. A few simple things that helped me: a shoulder massage to release the growing tension and asking for the understanding that I couldn't multitask and process information as quickly as normal.
- Re-prioritize. I had so many added items that needed addressing because of the accident. Contact and conversations with the insurance company, setting treatment appointments, renting a car, working with the autobody shop, picking up medicines and supplements. Each of these added a new stress to my day and I had to take extra time in the morning to discover and decide what had to be attended to that day. A lot has fallen to the wayside, but only temporarily and with conscious consideration.
- Rest! The body's ability to heal from illness or injury is optimum when we are at rest and even more so when we are not under stress. Our biology was not intended to be under stress for long periods of time. Today's fast paced world is demanding and recovery time from stress (much less, trauma) has been virtually eliminated. Taking extra naps, meditation and slow, relaxing body work can be very helpful.
- Trust that you are receiving the healing and loving support of the Universe. Opening to receive is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves anytime! You have arrived at this moment because of the loving support you've received since birth from so many people, the earth's systems and its inhabitants. Just look around you in this moment right now to affirm this. Trust this love and support and open to continue receiving it throughout your healing process.