A child of the ‘60’s has a curse and blessing. We have musical ADHD. We think in terms of either song or film titles. Or at least that is my excuse.
Let me encompass my recollection my way. They are mine to encompass. They are personal. So, selfishly, I will present them to assuming that you too have my presentational preferences.
MOON RIVER: A song about a man and his river.
“Two drifters off to see the world. There is such a lot of world to see……………………
…But we are after the same, Rainbows end — it’s waiting round the bend —
Moon Riverand me”
Like a river we flow with our experiences.. Rocks like experiences become part of that river. We flow with it. Sometimes our river is placid. Sometimes it is a surging torrent casting all before it. Sometimes it breaks its banks. Experiences are forever entering the river. The river carries them along. Sometimes it does so with ease. Sometimes they cause eddies and turbulence. Sometimes the experience dams the stream. The dam causes flooding mud and devastation. Afterwards the stream is reduced in its vigour and richness.
But all in all the quality and richness of our river is the sum of our experiences and how we flow with them.As we navigate the river of our life we are aware that we may hit a rock. That brings me to my next point of departure:
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: A Shakespearean quote used as a book and film title. It means so many things. But the bottom line concerns conceptualisation and reality.
At time of extreme stress we tend to a few things to cope.
1. In acute danger we survive. We do so by either running, freezing so as to avoid attention or crying for help. They are highly efficient mechanism. We survived the jungle with these gambits. They do not need changing. They are certainly not a cause of remorse, shame or self-rebuke. When your life is at threat that is what you do. We secrete massive amounts of adrenalin. The adrenalin turns off everything that is superfluous. This includes thinking. At this moment we react. Adrenalin turns on everything that we need. I speeds our heart, it cools us with sweat, and it prepares our muscles to run. It causes us to cry, literally for help. Crying is a highly efficient way of gaining attention and help. Screaming is even more so. Most important it changes our sense of time. Past and future al virtually erased. The present is as if slowed down.
At that moment our stream has stopped.. This stage is called fear. It is a distinct, well-coordinated reaction to a highly defined cause. Our life is in real danger.
2. Immediately after the danger there is a stage of recuperation. The danger has passed. The adrenalin is still highly active. Time is still slowed down. It is still hard to think in our usual logical way. We are still in a state of arousal. It takes adrenalin a good few hours to burn off. Afterwards there is a feeling similar to a hangover or ‘crash’. We feel tired and listless. We may feel sad. It is the adrenalin. That is all. Our appreciation of time is still not as it was. We can drift back to the event. But now it is a memory. We remember the event as a memory. The memory can be vivid. The memory of our pain and fear can be almost as if they were re-happening. But they are not. The sadness and pain diminish slowly but surely. We all remember when we lost someone dear. Maybe through death. Maybe someone you loved very much loved you less. But we have all experienced the first day. As if there will never be another day. But there is. This is a real pain. The sense of sadness and tiredness is real.
3. The recuperation becomes in the days to come a memory. It is an unpleasant memory. You have learned the hard way that your experience could have ended your life. A lesson learned the very hard way. You will be reluctant to remember. But you will be equally reluctant to endanger yourself in ant similar way. This is how we have not only coped but learned how to avoid danger.
Now what has this to do with “A rose by any other name”? Because these stages are blandly called ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’ or ‘adjustment disorders’. They most certainly are not. They are normal healthy reactions.
So what is anxiety? Anxiety is the fear of something unknown. Now I will say something that may seem odd. Please be patient with me. It is not the event that is the fear but the inability to know the likelihood of it happening. Anxiety is not merely the fear of something unknown. Anxiety is caused by the inability ascertain the likelihood of the event happening.
Let me give you an example. We all know that we will die. We are anxious obout death only when we are not certain that it is not imminent. Generally but always the sufferer can point to the cause of his anxiety. When he cannot as he has so many the same principles applies. The anxiety is the inability to say what the likeliness is.
We not only flow with our river of experiences. We navigate our river too. In our river here are rocks. We know that. They are only important when we do not know at what depth they are. If they are near the surface then the navigator is alert. He is anxious. If the rocks are defined then he suffers from ‘specific anxiety’. If he feels that there are undefined rocks but he cannot ascertain if they are not immediately imminent then the navigator suffers from ‘General Anxiety’. The shallower the river, the more it is blocked ‘upstream’ the closer the rocks are to the surface.
So what is depression? Depression is a sense of loss accompanied by grief and often anger. After, any event for better or worse, the river of your experience continues to flow. If you have left something behind that you wanted with you, there is a sense of loss. Your river of life has lost its richness and quality. This is true depression.
So you see life’s quality is about the depth and quality of our own river of experiences. How we flow with them. How we deal with events is called coping. Coping is a mixture of ability, expectation and complexity of the problem.
At critical moments when a bomb falls we can do but a few important things.
1. Expectation: By carefully explaining what is happening to the traumatized person one can efficiently and effectively change expectations. In the early stages[ hours to days] it is generally more than enough to simply explain to the person what is happening to him as it happens. In other words to minimize his criticism of himself. Avoid the ‘name of the rose’ mistakes. Avoid labeling.
2. Strengthen and enrich his ‘river of experiences’. Help him identify with the events, to feel actively involved in a struggle that he identifies himself with. To use examples in his past where pain passed.
If you can get into his river, help him enable the flow to restart then you have helped. To survive remember to get out of his river and back into your own.
Michael ‘Row the boat ashore’ Benjamin