I write this article from a hotel room in Wagga Wagga after working with a community experiencing extreme drought. I am very conscious that many people who are reading this are recovering from indescribable tragedy as a result of the “once in a 100 year” rain event in Northern/central Queensland. Like many, I have been aghast at the images coming out from this region.
What do I say to these people? Where do my concepts of resilience and emotional wellbeing fit in?
What can I say? Rise up.
After working with communities that have experienced drought, floods, earthquakes, social unrest, industry reconstruction and other tragedies and challenges, I know that you too will rise. You will, however, go on a journey on your way up. Let me share some of my experiences.
Things will be “better”, then “worse” and then “better”.
After tragedy comes frenetic activity to fix things up. We must get on with the “doing” – get the infrastructure back up; deal with things that are broken or badly hurt; do the tough stuff that is required to keep things moving or at least to get back to some form of balance. In this period, we are distracted by the doing. The days move fast, decisions are made, actions taken, and we are distracted by activity. In many ways this is a good thing. During this stage, keep yourself, your family and your mates safe. Remember the basics – get some sleep or at least rest, drink plenty of water, avoid reliance on alcohol or other addictive substances. Try to get back to your daily routines.
Once the frenetic activity stage has died down, things will get worse – probably in a 6-8 week period. It hits you. You have a “what the…” moment and the memories come back to you. You re-live the experience, the shock, and reality catches up with you. You may experience an extreme sense of tiredness – I suspect because during the adrenalin rush of the frenetic phase, emotions are supressed. Supressing emotions takes a lot of mental effort, hence the exhaustion once adrenalin has faded and emotions come crashing in. All those hopes and dreams, everything you had planned for and worked so hard for are gone or at least severely dented. The attention and support that was so evident when everything was happening at the start has now gone – causing a feeling of being abandoned and then overwhelmed.
During this stage, it is critical that you really watch your self-talk. What are your thoughts? Hopeful? Despair? Through it all – reach out to people to talk things through. Talk with your family; friends; business, financial and spiritual advisors. If you are feeling overwhelmed, break your problems down – start where you can have most influence. Focus on today without losing sight of your bigger picture. Stay off social media as it can be distracting and can create a false picture of how good other people’s worlds are making you feel stuck. Again, remember the basics – sleep, nutrition, reach out and do.
Then as things move on and you can see some returns from your frenetic activity stage – things get better. Life starts returning back to “normal” and while you are aware of the enormity of the challenge facing you, you start to feel somewhat more in control. Just keep remembering the basics and then start to reflect. Start working on a gratitude mindset. Check on your family, friends and community. Organise or participate in social activities…
You are going to be ok. You are going to Rise Up.