Archive for Peace Posts

published in Anger, Dogs, Home, Mental Health, Peace, Pets, Vulnerability, Writing by Maryanne | September 24, 2019 | 6 Comments

Trigger Not So Happy – When an Emotional Trigger Sends Us Into Red Alert

 

A trigger can be anything that sets off your personal “red alert.”

– Richer Life Counseling

Apparently, even, a barking dog.

Have you ever experienced an emotional trigger?

Here’s a good definition:

“A trigger in psychology is a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. A trigger is a reminder of a past trauma. This reminder can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or panic.”

Goodtherapy.org

On the morning I had to put my dog, Sadie, to sleep, I experienced an emotional trigger that launched me, lickety-split, into red alert.

Here’s what happened:

The previous afternoon, I had received the news that Sadie, my 12-year-old Golden Retriever, had bone cancer. I had left the vet knowing I had to make a very difficult decision that evening, seeing as I was leaving the next day on a 3-week trip to Ecuador. I had taken Sadie home and we’d spent a special, albeit heart-breakingly difficult, last evening together.

Sweet Sadie Pope

We shared a T-bone steak 😊 as I talked to her and thanked her for all the fun times we’d had together. I cried and cried and cried, hoping to God she would understand that the time had come for us to bid farewell. Yes, it was a dreadfully sad evening…but it was a peaceful one because I was able to quietly make – and accept – the decision that was best for her. I knew I had to call the vet in the morning and make an appointment to have her put to sleep.

Unfortunately, the next morning did not go as I had hoped.

What I had wanted – and expected – was to spend my last few hours with Sadie, talking to her, petting her, giving her treats and saying goodbye in the peaceful back garden of our new home…in our QUIET new neighbourhood.

You know…the one I moved heaven and earth to find because of the experience in my last home – the one in Sidney, where I pretty much lost SEVEN years of my life living next door, in constant anxiety and frustration, to the world’s noisiest neighbours.

After I had finally made the decision to flee that sinking ship (rats moving into the crawlspace was the last straw), I sold my home, put my belongings in storage and embarked upon – and fully embraced – the gypsy life with Sadie for 18 months. If it wasn’t for Sadie’s deteriorating mobility due to arthritis, I probably would have continued the gypsy life indefinitely…mainly because I was terrified of purchasing a home again, only to discover I had landed near noisy and inconsiderate neighbours…again.

Perhaps you can see where this is going?

For on my last morning with Sadie, guess what happened? The morons across the street allowed their Pit Bull to bark, non-stop, for three hours. And let me tell you, the psychological and emotional response this triggered in me was rather like The Tell-Tale Heart, the short story by Edgar Allen Poe, where the main character thinks he can hear the heart of the man he murdered beating in the wall of his home. In his head, the heartbeat gets louder and louder and LOUDER.

So, too, did the barking of the dog across the street.

In reality, of course, the barking dog wasn’t really that loud (especially since I had moved inside and shut the windows) but in my head it certainly was.

I had gone into Red Alert.

Thankfully, I was still able to think somewhat rationally…

This, I thought to myself, is what it must be like to go crazy. This, I thought to myself, is not overly conducive to the state of mind I need to be in to put my beloved dog to sleep. This, I thought to myself, could end badly…for the neighbours. I had the fleeting idea of calmly walking across the street, knocking on their door then cheerfully ripping their heart out.

No, I thought…better not. That would be messy.  Plus, I already have one death ahead of me today that I have to get through.

In other words, I was a little too close…to losing my shit. 

Now the astute reader, such as yourself, might be inclined to point out that when the barking dog trigger occurred that morning, I was already in an extremely emotional state because I was preparing to put my beloved dog to sleep.

This, of course, is true…which is another reason I didn’t walk across the street and get into what would have undoubtedly been a spectacular Jerry Spring style argument with my neighbor. They probably weren’t even home anyway and had just left their distressed dog in the back yard.

At any rate, yes, I was indeed already in full-on grieving mode and had the wherewithal to recognize that I HAD to stop a moment and ask myself: “What’s Important NOW?”

The answer: I had to calm down enough so that I could fully be there for Sadie when the dreaded (and rapidly approaching) time came to say goodbye. I needed to be in a relaxed, peaceful and present state of mind.

So I loaded Sadie in the CRV and drove around awhile to calm down. Then I took her to the vet and was able to sit with her, comforting her as she passed, peacefully, between life and death.

Then I drove home, threw my suitcase in the CRV, backed out of my driveway, gave the finger to my neighbor’s house, yelled a few choice words then drove away…knowing full well that the anger – the fury – I felt towards them was going to have to be dealt with at some point.

And over the next couple of months, it was.

Thankfully, I was able to grieve Sadie’s death, and pretty much come to peace with her passing, while I was in Ecuador. But the anger I felt towards my neighbor stayed in my heart and mind.

And I realized that beneath the anger was something else: fear.

I was terrified of what my future might hold. The entire time I was in Ecuador, I worried that the new home I had just bought – partly for the dog I had just lost – would not be the quiet and serene surroundings I SO needed for my work and peace of mind.

What if I returned home from Ecuador and not only would I not have my furry best friend around anymore, I would now be subjected to the irritation of a constantly barking dog? Dear God, what if I was in for another seven years of noise?

I began to realize that the dog barking on the morning of Sadie’s passing had, in fact, been an emotional trigger to a past trauma: that of remaining next door to a noisy neighbour far longer than I should have.

Now, some people might laugh at the fact that I had been “traumatized” by a noisy neighbor (one person did laugh when I shared this recently). But I had. And I make no apologies. For different things are important to different people. And for me, as a writer who works from home, a quiet neighbourhood is really important to me…and I will never again waste precious time and energy pretending it isn’t.

In preparation for writing this blog, I did some research into triggers and came across an excellent an article, How to Deal with Anger Constructively, by Registered Clinical Counselor, Esther Kane, that helped me better understand what I had experienced. Here’s a snippet:

“From the vantage point of my therapy chair, I can often sense lots of emotions coming up in the person seated across from me, even if they aren’t necessarily showing what they’re feeling on the surface. When I checked in with a client recently who I sensed was angry, she said, “I AM angry. Really angry! I don’t know what to do with this feeling.”

At that moment, the image of a volcano came to me: On the surface, my client was the calm-looking solid volcano, but brimming beneath the volcano’s surface was red-hot lava bubbling and churning and wanting to explode. I see this a lot with women-especially when it comes to identifying and dealing with anger.

But before I go on, I’d like to make you laugh with a wonderful clip from INSIDE OUT– a children’s movie about emotions…this one explores anger and will definitely make you laugh.

I always tell my clients who are startled by the hot-lava emotions which bubble up to the surface that while it can be upsetting to feel such strong emotion; that there is no danger in any feeling. Feelings like anger are energy that come up and out and with some mindfulness applied, can be channeled for healing and peace – in our relationship to ourselves and others. The most important caveat I give clients is to not lash out in anger either to ourselves or at another person. That never turns out well.”

Esther Kane, MSW, RSW, Registered Clinical Counsellor

A volcano about to erupt is a perfect analogy to what I experienced that morning. And if you haven’t seen the clip from the film, Inside Out, take a moment and watch it…it’s brilliant.

As for the barking dog across the street?

When I got home from Ecuador, the Pit Bull across the street did still bark on occasion throughout the summer. But in all honesty, not that often. I have been keeping a log of when the dog barks and for how long, just in case I decide to make a noise complaint to the town. But truthfully, it hasn’t been a big deal…and for this, I am extremely grateful.

How to Cope with an Emotional Trigger

As for how to cope with an incident that triggers you emotionally, I shall leave that advice to the experts, such as Esther Kane. But this much I can tell you: when something happens and we lose our shit – or are dangerously close to losing our shit – then we better pay damn close attention and start asking ourselves some questions:

#1) What might be happening here?

#2) What do I have to do to get safely out of this moment: What’s Important NOW?

#3) Why do I think I was so impacted/triggered?

#4) Why do I REALLY think I was so impacted/triggered?

#5) How am I going to deal with it, if it happens again in the future?

Then we need to get some sort of plan – and healthy coping mechanisms – in place.

The world is full of stimuli, any of which could be potential emotional triggers. We can’t always control what happens around us, but we can control how we react to it…even if that means simply getting ourselves AWAY from a distressing situation as fast as possible.

Related Blogs by Maryanne

Celebrating Sadie – Saying Goodbye to Sadie Pope

Sometimes Things Have to Springer Before They Settle

Anger in the Garden – Pruning Back for Future Growth

When Opportunity Knocks on the Door – Literally

What’s Important NOW? The Question that Took Me to Chicago

Anchors Away – Letting Go of Anger

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her weekly blog, please sign up here.

published in Death, Family, Fatherhood, Grief, John Petropoulos Memorial Fund, Peace, Souls by Maryanne | March 14, 2017 | 2 Comments

The Invisible Connection – When Our Heart & Soul Knows Something Before We Do

 

“I’d like to imagine we are all of us a part of a many-chambered construct that love is continually building.”

– Rebecca Gummere, O Magazine, April 2017

At the end of February, I spent a very powerful work weekend in a Mississauga hotel.

The Threads of Life charity, that I am a volunteer with, was holding its annual speakers bureau training session. The mission of Threads of Life is to help families heal through a community of support and to promote the elimination of life-altering workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.

I was getting trained as one of their speakers. I was developing a slightly different presentation that incorporated the story of John’s death as well as the workplace safety messages of both Threads of Life and the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.

There were 12 speakers getting trained and 4 staff members from Threads of Life doing the training. Each of us speakers, and most of the staff, shared a common thread: we had all been significantly impacted in some way by a workplace fatality, serious injury or life-altering illness.

So as perhaps you can imagine, it was a rather emotionally intense weekend. However, since I have been delivering presentations about John’s death for quite a few years now, I don’t tend to get emotional during my presentation anymore.

As the presenter, I take the audience on an emotional journey for the purpose of leading to behaviour change. But I am very cognizant of not personally re-experiencing all the sorrow, hurt and trauma each and every time I deliver a presentation.

There wouldn’t be much left of me if I let that happen over and over again.

However, I do still have a heart 🙂 and I must say that listening to some of the other people’s heartbreaking presentations was quite something. But thanks to the wisdom of the Threads of Life staff, they set up the weekend so that we didn’t have to listen to everybody’s presentation. That would have been beyond exhausting!

Instead, we were split into small groups and after much preparation and guidance, the time came on Sunday afternoon when we were to deliver our personal presentations to our group.

I delivered my presentation first and it went well. Then another woman – also a widow due to her husband’s workplace death – delivered her presentation and it was excellent.

Then a third woman – a mom whose son had died at work – delivered her presentation. And this is where things went wonky 🙁

I’m not quite sure what happened but for some reason, this mother’s story managed to cut through the rather thick protective shield around my heart and hit me hard.

After she finished speaking, I put my hand up.

The woman looked at me. “Yes?”

“That,” I said, “was amazing.”

She smiled. “Thank you.”

And then I burst into tears and began blubbering like a baby. I couldn’t stop crying! The Threads of Life staff member looked at me, rather concerned.

“I NEVER CRY!” I wailed. “But I think I finally kinda get what John’s Mom went through after he died.”

Everyone else turned to look at me. I continued sobbing. Why stop now?

I looked at the woman who had delivered the presentation. “Your speech,” I said, tears still streaming down my face, “is VERY impactful. You made me feel what it is like to lose a son as the result of an easily preventable workplace incident.”

And then my tears stopped as quickly as they began. I took a deep breath, blew my nose and smiled, feeling significantly…lighter.

Then I went to my hotel room to recoup before dinner. There was a voicemail message on my cell phone to call my brother. Our Dad’s health had taken a turn for the worse.

Oh wow. Was that why I had been so profoundly impacted by the woman’s presentation?

Had I, on some deeper level, been aware of the sudden change in my Dad’s situation? 

I took a few deep breaths and called my brother back. My Dad had lost consciousness and was likely going to pass away soon. He’d been suffering from dementia for a few years but had otherwise been in reasonably good health.

“Would you like to talk to him?” my brother asked.

“Yes,” I said.

So my brother put the phone up to his ear and there, in the Mississauga hotel room, I said goodbye to my Dad for the last time. I told him I loved him and that it was okay for him to go now.

Then my brother got back on the phone. “He moved his little arms when he heard your voice, Googie. It’s all good.”

I smiled and hung up the phone. I didn’t cry. I don’t think I had any tears left to cry, thanks to the presentation I’d just heard.

I made the decision not to fly back to Calgary to be with my Dad as he passed away. My three older brothers, younger half-brother and some of their families were with him, as were the wonderful staff of the care home. He was surrounded by people who loved him.

So I accompanied him on the final stretch of his journey from afar. By the next evening he was gone. Then I had a good cry.

And wouldn’t you know it, I was given the incredible gift of being able to go to the Bahamas right after that…to think, reflect, remember, write, read and rest.

Two weeks later, back home again in Canada, I was reading the April 2017 edition of O Magazine and I think I found the answer to my question: “Had I, on some deeper level, been aware of the sudden change in my Dad’s situation?”

The article was entitled “Cooper’s Heart” and it was written by Rebecca Gummere. Rebecca’s 6-week-old son, Cooper, had died suddenly from complications of the heart.

“There is no answer. But there is love, the kind that binds us to each other in ways beyond our knowing, ways that span distance, melt time, rupture the membrane between the living and the dead.”

– Rebecca Gummere

“I’d like to imagine we are all of us a part of a many-chambered construct that love is continually building…and from time to time an unheard sound comes from another room, noiseless, beyond our comprehension, received as a tug, a flicker in a dream, a vibration along the invisible threads that connects us,” writes Rebecca. “We are troubled, we are stirred, and we are not certain why, but something in us answers.”

Wow.

Over and over again, I am reminded of just how connected we are to each other by these invisible threads. Perhaps it is no coincidence that I was at a Threads of Life event when my heart and soul felt the pending death of my father before my brain received the news?

Related Blogs:

Tempus Fugit – Bahamas Reflections on My Dad

My Dad is Off On His Next Great Adventure

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here.

published in A Widow's Awakening Book, Death, Grief, Life After Loss, Peace, Spirituality, Synchronicity by Maryanne | February 8, 2017 | 8 Comments

This is the third blog in the Life After Loss series:

Questioning Coincidence – Can Grief Awaken Our Capacity to Notice Connections Between Seemingly Unrelated Events?

“And don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?”

– Jack Kerouac, On the Road

As I mentioned in last week’s Life After Loss blog, “To What ELSE Did This Widow Awaken To?” the heightened awareness that I experienced on the day of John’s death continued well past September 29th, 2000. In the days and weeks that followed, I began to perceive connections between what seemed like completely unrelated events – but made complete sense to me.

So I’m very curious to hear about other people’s experiences with “coincidences.”

Have you ever experienced an event that struck you as a bit odd at the time – and then something else happens later and you look back on that original event and can’t help but wonder if it was connected in some way?

Some call that a coincidence. But for me, in light of all that happened around the time John’s death, I do wonder if some of the seemingly random events were connected in some way?

John at Disneyland, Sept 22nd, 2000

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

On Friday September 22nd, 2000 John and I spent a spectacular day together at Disneyland. We’d attended a friend’s wedding in the morning and then had the rest of the day to run around Disneyland like a couple of over-sized kids. We had a blast!

When the time came to watch the fireworks, we were standing on a curb, waiting for the show to begin and we happened to notice an entire family – Mom, Dad, two kids and Grandma – all wearing matching yellow Winnie the Pooh jackets. They were adorable.

But then, just before the fireworks started, Pooh Grandma decided to walk right in front of us – and promptly collapsed, landing on her back. John, being a police officer, immediately knelt down to help her as I ran off into the crowd calling for help.

When I returned, John was still kneeling beside her, holding her hand and comforting her. She was breathing but not conscious. The paramedics arrived and as we were walking away, John looked at me said, “Wow, did that lady ever hit the back of her head hard.”

“Things like that,” I said, “aren’t supposed to happen at the Happiest Place on Earth.”

Then, exactly one week later – September 29th – back home again in Canada, John fell through an unmarked false ceiling into the lunchroom below, hit the back of his head and died of brain injuries.

A few days later, while tackling yet another devastatingly difficult task – choosing John’s burial spot at the cemetery – I found a place I thought was suitable and then closed my eyes a moment, just to get a feel for it. When I opened my eyes again, I turned my head to the right and there, four plots over, was a yellow Winnie the Pooh carved into a young woman’s headstone. I breathed in sharply, suddenly remembering the Pooh family at Disneyland.

Coincidence or not, I knew I’d found John’s final resting place.

Two months later, I went for lunch with Lil, the police officer John was partnered with the night of his fall. She shared with me the details of John’s last shift. When she got to the part about finding John on the lunchroom floor, she told me how the K-9 officer and John’s Sergeant and teammates had stayed with him until the paramedics arrived, comforting him as best they could.

“You need to know,” she said quietly, “that he was with people who loved him.”

I thought back again to Pooh Grandma at Disneyland and how John, a stranger, had been there to comfort her.

Then on the third anniversary of John’s death – September 29th, 2003 – Lil was working and went into a flower shop to buy flowers for John’s grave. Noticing Lil’s uniform, the woman behind the till commented, “My daughter is buried near a police officer.”

“Oh?” said Lil.

“I’m not sure if it’s the same officer,” said the woman, “but my daughter’s gravestone is the one with Winnie the Pooh on it.”

And that is in a city of more than a million people. If it’s just a coincidence, it’s a dandy.

In the summer of 2008, I had just finished the final rewrite of the manuscript for my book, A Widow’s Awakening. After dozens of rewrites, I knew it was where it needed to be. But just before I sent it off for publication, I happen to be reading Jack Kerouac’s classic, On the Road, and came across the line: “And don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?”

I breathed in sharply. I knew I’d found the quote for the beginning of the book.

Now that a more than a decade and a half has passed since John’s death, when I think back to the Winnie the Pooh incidents, I realize that whether they were unrelated coincidences that my anxious mind needed to connect – so as to find meaning in the unacceptable – or whether they really were somehow connected doesn’t really matter.

Maybe what matters is that connecting the dots into some sort of meaningful pattern, real or imagined, helped me find peace during a very difficult time. Because that, I have learned, is a very important part of the grieving process.

What is your experience with coincidences?

For further info about the Life After Loss blog series, please click here.

Here is the link to subscribe to receive the Life After Loss blogs – as well as to read the blogs posted thus far in the series.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here.