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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Emotional Warmth and Sunny Saturday Light Chase Away the Darkness at NIU

I wanted to quickly share a few photos and reflections with you of my return visit to NIU yesterday [see them all at Flickr].

It was a chilly day, in the upper 20's; but, the warm hugs and heartfelt nods among Huskies -- now feeling more related and open to one another than at any time before -- leaning on one another cast a soothing glow in my heart. It was quite a tonic to my soul.

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[UPDATE Feb 20, 2008]: Tribute video made @ NIU TV Center:

Passing along a quick thank you for the space to diverge a bit from my focus on combat PTSD in these NIU-focused posts. They may be a nuisance to some of you who are most interested in the issue of how our troops are fairing following their return from Afghanistan and Iraq, and so I apologize for that.

I've received comments and emails from a few of you, however, that have been appreciative of my discussing some of my experiences since Thursday. And so, for you, here's another update.

My campus visit was, as already mentioned, a great comfort to me. Arriving, I first came into contact with a faculty member; a nice lady who stopped to chat with me briefly. We both asked the other how they were doing and then gave each other a hug before ending our conversation. Faculty members carry a lot of guilt over such incidents, and so it was great to be able to reach out a bit to her and say 'thanks for all you guys are doing for us at NIU.'

A little while later, I spoke with a young student and her mother.

Both mentioned they were having a hard time. They'd been watching a lot of the news coverage, and said they'd finally turned the TV off.

I was very glad to hear that as one of the best pieces of advice in times of tragedy is to turn the TV off, and keep away from the endless 24/7 news coverage. Watch where you surf on the Internet, too. Remember the replaying of the toppling WTC buildings following 9/11? It's unhealthy to have to witness a traumatic event over and over like that; how can you rest your nervous system once the image has been been so fully embedded?

Better to stay away at least early on.

The worried mom informed me that her daughter had been crying for most of the day before, but refused to tap into the counseling services that NIU has provided for all students and faculty. She felt they both needed it, which I heartily agreed with. Caregivers have their own secondary symptoms to watch out for, since they're soaking up so much of their loved one's pain and often neglect their own needs for relaxation and release in the process.

Before I parted ways with the mother-daughter pair, we all gave each other those ubiquitous hugs that everyone needs right about now. And then I had them promise me that they would get some counseling to help them process their feelings.

They said they would, and I'm holding them to it...

As for me, to be authentic about my own advice of not being ashamed of or afraid of or above reaching out for help, I stopped in at NIU's counseling center before my husband and I went out for dinner (I decided to give him a long-needed break, too, by taking the subject of Thursday off the table while we ate; it was really a nice break after an emotional day).

But before dinner, I arrived at the Campus Life Building and filled out the appropriate paperwork. While I waited, I chatted with the ladies -- one the receptionist, the other a student's Mom who's lending a hand with the extra load of work in the office. Seeing so many people pull together is a one of the great blessings to come out of tragedy. We should look for those positives in all the negatives because they help to make the heavier realities a bit easier to bear.

My conversation with my alloted counselor was rich and rewarding. He let me speak freely and without guilt about how I was doing (and even answered my questions about how they were doing).

Talking to a professional vs. relying solely on family or friends as your sounding board is beneficial because their whole job is to listen. They are not being burdened by your full (and selfish) focus on yourself. A great plus for me was the chance to discuss some of the broader issues of violence and its societal after-effects, as well as what I can do to increase the success of my journey forward.

Taking the time to go in for such support was reassuring.

Incorporating this into your after-stress self-care regimen is heartily advised. Having another person to mull things over with, to give you a professional 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' on your approach to self-care, has a way of releasing your worries. You find validation that you're doing the right things, the best things. Rather than diminishing or demeaning you, counseling in times of crisis can empower you to stay on track and get your groove back.

If you are someone who has lived through any type of trauma, be it gun violence or combat, natural disasters or rape, please reach out. Being proactive and taking those steps to heal yourself fully will put you back in the driver's seat of your life. You'll take charge of its direction, and eventually leave the trauma behind (or at least under your control).

No backseat driving allowed on the road to life.

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