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Trauma Talk - Episode 4

This week I hit a low point. I actually verbalized that I feel like a “failure.” Why? Well, because I regressed. My symptoms were flared up. I thought, naively, that healing my trauma meant curing my PTSD. But, that complex little bugger won’t be defeated that easily. I have spent every day for weeks now with that familiar grip of terror. The icy veins. The heavy weight. The skewed emotions. I mean, we all try to act a good part in public, but when we are honest and vulnerable, a lot of us are not coping in private. Or we are not coping WELL. I was not coping well at all. I let my routines go, I lost focus, I was frustrated with myself. But, as anyone who has had complex PTSD will tell you, your body responds, however it wants to, based on a stimuli that sometimes you have no idea about. My job, is to respond with kindness to what my body is experiencing, not judge, not bully, not call names.

I disassociate from my trauma by focusing on work, by doing well in school, driving for success. I had been driven to return to my career. I loved my job. Health care is challenging but rewarding all the same. We get to impact people’s lives in the smallest and largest ways. We don’t just save lives, we give hope, a smile, a lifted spirit, a clean mouth, holding a hand, combing hair….. We give so many different things that create impact to each person in, oddly enough, very personal ways.

I was looking forward to returning. I was lucky to be in management, in my field it means I get to interact with patients and clients, and also create impact with my staff. I tried to be a good leader, one people could bring their burdens to, who would listen to their stories and understand that they were human and had complex, sometimes, sad or complicated lives. I tried to be the type of leader I would want, who understood that the role we play outside of work is the most important and essential one.

If our child is sick, if our husband is ill, if we are struggling with our own health and wellness, do we stop being a valuable employee? Or do we honour the quality of work the individual provides when they are there and that they are human beings with complicated lives and health and wellness issues? I tried. And I probably annoyed a lot of people too. I’m certain I did. You are not everyone’s cup of tea. Some appreciated that I saw the good work they did and was compassionate towards their complex personal lives. But, absent employees affect other people when we can’t replace them. No one wants to be short–handed. We are already pulling more weight than ever before.

I talked about it before I suffered my burnout. You have a plate of responsibilities, a normal size meal, and someone comes along with something small, a bun, and ask if you can take this too. It’s small, you say why not. You accommodate to the new proportion, then you get a bigger plate, so those responsibilities seem less. It’s not that you got a better plate, you got better. You learned how to manage all your tasks and responsibilities as they got slowly piled on. But, eventually we stand on a mountain. We explain to others what our responsibilities and roles are and they respond, “What?! And you get paid what?!” Because, while the plate, you, take on more and more responsibilities, eventually we hit our limit. We cannot keep adding more and more and more without hitting a point of burnout or exhaustion. We make a decision, do I steal some time from here so I can keep meeting those unrealistic requirements? Do I rob from my family? From my physical fitness and health? Where do I steal my time from so I can work harder for the same amount? Sometimes companies realize what has happened when they try to replace someone. They realize no one wants that job, for that money, with all the responsibilities, stress and workload. It’s different to build a bigger plate, to get better and better at managing all your expectations one increment at a time. It’s entirely different to walk into that. Often the plate, your capabilities, are not big enough. That’s when we see quick turnover in a job. If a position in your company is filled and vacated in less than two years, related to stress/burnout, you should evaluate that position. The scope, the responsibilities and what support they are being offered. But, we blame the person. They were weak. They weren’t cut out for management. They had poor resiliency. However, you dice it, they are calling you the failure, not the role and certainly not the company.

I have to be kind to myself. I have to remember that the most important thing in my life, really is me. It seems rather obvious. Without me, there is no “my life.” If I don’t take care of myself, no one else will, it’s not their job. It is my most important job, bigger than my career. I need to be honest and remember, I have health issues that require management. It doesn’t mean that I’m a failure, after all, I’m far more than my diagnosis. Far more than my recovery. And so are you.

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