Archive for Vulnerability 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 A Widow's Awakening Book, Death, Grief, Life After Loss, Vulnerability by Maryanne | November 21, 2018 | 2 Comments

This is the first blog in the Fall 2018 Life After Loss blog series:

Vu-Vu-Vulnerability

 

Maryanne Pope and Cst Jim Amsing at Cst John Petropoulos’ funeral, Oct 4, 2000, photo by Calgary Sun

“For what it’s worth, seeing you that day was the worst moment of my career. I’ve never seen a human being look so…vulnerable.”

– Excerpt from A Widow’s Awakening by Maryanne Pope

Let’s talk vulnerability, shall we?

When our heart and soul have been shattered into a million pieces, such as in the aftermath of a significant loss, we may find ourselves extremely vulnerable.

But what does this look like? What does vulnerability mean…and why does it matter?

This excerpt from my book, A Widow’s Awakening, captures the moment when I (“Adri”) saw my husband, John (“Sam”), in the hospital for the first time since his fall. I have just been told by the emergency room doctor that he has suffered a massive brain injury. He is in critical condition but stable because he is on life support:

Twenty minutes later, the social worker comes to get me and the two of us walk down the corridor together. I ask him how Sam is doing.

The social worker stops walking, so I do too. “He’s in pretty rough shape, Adri.”

I nod slowly and we resume walking. Then, for just a second, it’s like I split in two. I’m physically beside the social worker yet I’m also watching the two of us walk.

When the social worker and I arrive at a set of doors, he takes my arm. Like arriving at a party too late and entering the banquet room to find the busboys clearing the tables, no one has to tell you it’s over—you just figure it out. By the time I get to the strangely inactive emergency room, they’ve obviously given up on trying to save Sam and are instead merely stabilizing his body.

Since it was the back of his head that struck the concrete, Sam looks much the same as when I saw him last night. Except that now, he’s unconscious, flat on his back, draped in a white sheet and has tubes sprouting out from his chest, neck and arms.

I race to his side and grab his unresponsive hand. I kiss his cheek and the real tears finally arrive, streaming down my face.

“I love you,” I whisper in his ear.

No response.

“I love you.”

Nothing.

“I love you, Sam.”

My silent treatment has been reinstated.

And then it happens again: I’m holding Sam’s hand and yet I’m also observing the two of us from a few feet away.

Then the social worker gently takes my arm and leads what’s left of me out of the emergency room.

And wouldn’t you know it but there actually was someone watching me in that very moment, which I found out about five weeks later. This excerpt sheds light on what vulnerability looks like:

In the pub, I sit beside Sam’s Sergeant, Tom. One of Sam’s teammates sits on the other side of me. I’m halfway through my beer when the teammate asks me how I’m doing.

I shrug. “Hanging in there, I guess.”

“Adri?”

I turn to him. “Yeah?”

“I, uh…I was with Sam in the ambulance.”

I place my beer bottle on the table as the air in this room gets sucked out.

“What was he like?” I ask, terrified of the answer.

“Unconscious.”

The whole time?”

“Yes,” he says. “Sam was completely out of it.”

I nod slowly. I am suddenly extremely thirsty again.

The officer clears his throat. “I was also in the emergency room when they first brought you in to see Sam.”

My most horrific moment comes crashing back. I take a big drink of water.

“And for what it’s worth,” he continues, “seeing you that day was the worst moment of my career. I’ve never seen a human being look so…vulnerable.”

I put down my water glass rather shakily. “That’s a good word for it.”

It’s now been five weeks since Sam’s death and I’m feeling more vulnerable with each passing day.

It was my dad who cautioned me about the potential danger of vulnerability. In this excerpt, we are walking at the dog park:

“Unfortunately, people believe what they want to believe,” my Dad says, “whatever makes them feel better.”

“That’s a pretty shitty thing to tell me right now,” I reply, thinking that feeling better was my main goal at this point.

“I don’t mean to upset you, Adri.”

“Then don’t.”

“On the other hand,” he says, “I’m not going to lie to you about my beliefs.”

“So I see.”

“I’m just concerned about all the religious crap coming at you. You’ve suffered a huge loss and a significant shock. That puts you in a very vulnerable position, so I just want you to be careful about what you choose to believe at this point.”

“I want to be happy again,” I say.

“Then be prepared to do the work to get yourself there because religious beliefs won’t do that for you.”

“They can help.”

My dad shrugs. “It just seems to me that reality itself is far more miraculous than anything we could ever dream up or imagine.”

In this excerpt, my brother Doug (“Harry”) took my Dad’s warning one step further and suggested a tool to use to help protect myself when in such a highly vulnerable state:

After leaving the police station with what remains of Sam’s career neatly divided between a box and a bag, Harry drives me to the cemetery. The two of us stand on the freshly packed dirt, staring at the white wooden cross temporarily marking Sam’s grave.

“I still don’t believe this,” Harry says.

“Oh, it’s pretty real to me now,” I reply, dropping to my knees.

Harry returns to the car to give me some time alone with Sam.

“You are my sunshine,” I sob, rocking back and forth. “My only sunshine…”

“You must be his wife.”

I look up to see an older woman standing beside me. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, dear.”

Oh. Well, thank you. I…”

“But your husband is facing the wrong way,” she says.

“Excuse me?”

“Jesus is coming back from the East—and your husband is facing West.”

Before I can formulate a response, she turns and walks away.

Back at the car, I tell Harry what the crazy lady said.

“That’s why you’ve got your bullshit filters,” he says.

“My what?”

“Your bullshit filters. Just like those big-ass headphones you wear when you’re writing, bullshit filters are your best line of defense against all the crap that’s coming at you. Remember that you choose what you let into your mind.”

But in my experience, when we are vu-vu-vulnerable we aren’t functioning properly. We are a traumatized soul wandering around without the protection of an ego…a turtle without a shell. We don’t have the ability to choose what we let into our mind. We often just grab whatever life preserver is thrown to us – real or imagined – and hope to God we make it through the night, the month, the year.

When we are hurt beyond belief, our vulnerability can be absolutely terrifying…and we will do whatever we have to do in order to feel some semblance of control again. For at the end of the day, isn’t that what being vulnerable really means? To realize that one has absolutely no control over a situation – other than how we react to it.

And an important component of how we choose to react is an awareness – and acceptance – of our vulnerability. A turtle without a shell realizes it is in no shape to take on a tiger.

Five Things to Avoid When in a Vulnerable State

#1. Making important decisions.

#2. Taking on too much (just say NO to unreasonable demands on your time).

#3. Spending time with negative people who drain your precious energy (or with people who seemingly have the answer to your problem…it’s rarely that simple).

#4. Be in a rush to feel better (healing takes time).

#5. Pretending you are okay when you are not.

Related Blogs by Maryanne

Danger Ahead – When the Dark Thoughts Come During Grief

Jesus Takes a Swan Dive – When Grief Goes Off the Deep End

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. To subscribe to the Life After Loss blog series, please sign up here