Care and Mercy for Post-Traumatic Stress
Dan and Rachael continue their conversation from last week about post-traumatic stress. Once we identify and acknowledge it, how do we offer care for ourselves and those around us? We hope this conversation inspires you to contemplate some of the simple self-care practices and rituals you can implement in your own life, and the ways in which you can tend to yourself and others with mercy and care.
- Previous Episode: The Impacts of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Trauma and the Body in Pandemic
- Mental Health: How to Help Kids in a Pandemic
Dan: Well, I have to admit Rachael, last week, I didn’t wanna do the, the podcast. And, but soon after finishing, I felt some degree of like, okay. I don’t know if that’s much of a statement of faith, but it was like, okay. Okay. Um, I, I can do something in the next few hours to begin to engage that fog or that growing sense of, of irritability and anxiety and numbness. Uh, you know, I, I, I even chose, I mean, I, I’m a little bit proud of myself. I, I know where Becky is hidden the jelly beans, uh, and she thinks she hides them well, it’s so sad. Like I ask her to hide it and then I look for it. And it’s just not that much effort to, to find where she’s hidden it, but I chose not to devour like any of them. Uh, so, you know, as we begin to address some of the effects of post-traumatic stress, we wanna begin in this time of reflection to talk about what it means to put the mask on, and then how to begin thinking about helping somebody else actually may not have a clue that they need air and oxygen, uh, and that the mask is available. And that’s one of the complexities of dealing with on an airplane, everything’s… You know, the masks all dropped down. I don’t know if you’ve ever…
Rachael: No, and I don’t want to. Nope. And I just know, no,
Dan: You wanna hear the story. Okay. All right.
Rachael: No, cuz I have to fly soon and I don’t wanna have that story in my head.
Dan: I’m done. I’m done. I’m done. I’m passing on that, but let’s just say, you know, when it happens, theoretically, nobody has to ask like, well, what’s that, what’s that doing front of my face. Uh, but when we’re dealing with post-traumatic stress that others actually are experiencing, but they’re blaming others or they’re caught in an addictive cycle or they’re just fogged out. It. Sometimes the engagement with those who are traumatized is hardest because they’re not aware they’re traumatized. So let’s begin to at least address. What, what are you finding helpful dealing with the grayness, dealing with the exhaustion and dealing with the anger. Blame shifting.
Rachael: Yeah. I mean, I have some thoughts before I, I share those. I just wanna name like, you know, we are talking in the realm of mercy and yes, justice, but like we are well aware that in some ways, all of our call, as, as people who follow Jesus and care about the kingdom of God, is to contend with the very systems and structures that cause so much trauma and stress. And there has to be mercy to tend to the impact of it. And so we are much more in the realm of mercy right now, but I think I just wanna name, like, I, I never feel like the mercy is sufficient in and of itself, but that’s where our focus is today. So we’re not saying these things, you know, are enough to, you know, it, they are the mercies we offer ourselves when post-traumatic stress is manifesting so that we actually can heal and mend and come back into our bodies in enough of a way to have clarity, how we wanna more fully participate in the kingdom of God. So for me, I feel like I have to slow down and we’ve said this before, and we’ll just keep saying it again. I can’t go, I, I have, I, I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back but I no longer have the capacity to hold all that I could hold. I no longer have the capacity to travel as much as I could travel. And, you know, say as much as I could say, and you know, executive administrate, as much as I could executive administrate. And so like giving myself permission to slow down and knowing some things that like, yes, feel like a top priority to me may have to become like a secondary and third priority. So what are the real priorities for me? Um, and then I think, yeah, just simplifying, I think a lot about rituals, like small little rituals have really helped me in the fogginess. Like they feel like little touchstones or moments that are familiar that I can come to anticipate. So whether that’s like in our house, um, you know, Friday night’s movie night and Saturday morning we get donuts and those are small little, you know, rituals of like that help me in the fog to like, look okay, it’s Friday, we’re coming to the end of the week. We’re gonna pick a movie together. We’re gonna watch a movie. And that might sound like so simple and foolish. Um, but for me, like that sense of slowing down, not depending so much on my brain in itself to hold everything. So I’ve started using notes in my phone a lot more like I have notes for everything.
Dan: Yes. Oh, let let’s just say, look, we can’t escape the fog, but we need an ally that will help us address what is unseeable in the fog? What you just put words to, again, almost everything we’re gonna say can be easily dismissed, but because it’s too simple, but the simplicity does belie the fact that doing these things are very difficult. Uh, but don’t blame, the simplicity begin to address what keeps you from in one sense, gaining allies during this process of engagement. And, uh, I can’t, I don’t know why, but I don’t type well, you know, on an iPhone. I don’t my, you know, you’re younger. Somehow it’s built for tiny little hands, not so, so what I found and I sounds like I’m selling, I don’t care. I get nothing from this group, but I bought a Remarkable. And if you dunno what that is, it’s a note book that you can write in that feels close, like paper. I have so many notebooks and I have lost so many and I write…
Rachael: Wait, so it feels like paper, but it’s not paper?
Dan: Oh no, no. It’s like, again, it’s this thing. It’s like a, it’s like an iPad, but not. So it, it I’m showing you right now, but nobody can see it, but you and me, and, and I, I like, I cart this around as my brain. I have three brains. I have my essential right/left hemisphere, corpus callosum. I have my stomach, second brain. My third brain is the Remarkable. And what I’m finding is like, Steve Call, my dear friend and I went fishing this last weekend and it was cold. Winter fishing in April brutal, but we had a ball, but I had to take notes. I didn’t take the remarkable on, on our boat, but I had to take notes after we were done. Cause I would have forgot some of the conversation some of the points of laughter, some of the points literally of where we caught fish. So at this juncture, I need an ally that will help me concretize reality in the middle of the fog.
Rachael: Yeah. Well, I, I love how you’re speaking to, it’s not just, I mean, I’m laughing cause so much of, I thought was like task, getting tasks done and you know, combating the fog by being productive, which is so I can, I understand why I go there. Um, but I, I love what you’re saying that there’s we need help holding on to retaining the good, um, remembering the, the joyful, um, the things that give us life, the beauty that capture us, like all these reasons that it’s so worth being human and fighting, fighting for goodness. And it can feel foolish to say like, oh yeah, okay, I’m gonna write it down. But it’s like, we need to be able to go back and remember and reflect and…
Dan: And I’m all for gratitude journals, blah, blah. I, I I’m I’m…
Rachael: Anytime someone says blah, blah. It’s really their way of saying I’m for it, but not really.
Dan: Okay. Do you want, do you wanna go further with that? Because you’re absolutely right. Uh, I I’m at this level, I need a reality journal. I just need to know that I, I saw person X and a conversation that I really would like to remember.
Dan: I’m not grateful for it or maybe I should be blah, blah, blah. I just don’t, you know, it’s like at the end of the day, Becky will say to me, like, how was your day? And I’m like, I don’t know, good. Get off my case. Well, what, what happened? How was the meeting that you were in
Rachael: Which one?
Dan: Uh, so that’s where I have needed the, assistance of Remarkable to concretize, what would’ve been in one sense caught in the fog again and again. So if you are doing far better than I, bless you, uh, maybe you can live with a post-it note. Uh, I need a whole journal that I can go back to and take my wife through my day. You know, we have rituals of walking in the morning, uh, usually walking in the evening and those conversations need help, on my part, instead of turning against myself for fragmenting. And I think that’s one of the keys here of when you said, look, we as an organization, we, as people love Micah 6:8. “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly,” but sometimes you can’t even begin to do that work until you stand against judgment. accusation, and in this case, contempt and contempt fragments, it it’s part of what evil uses to divide us from ourselves, divide us from others and divide us from God. So the ability to stand back and go. I like my Remarkable. Maybe there will be a day where I can go back to paper journals, uh, but, or even post-it notes, but not today. Well, I need to concretize.
Rachael: And I also think, you know, two more things I would add you have to get in your body, body, body, body, body, body, body, body, body, our brain is a part of our body. I know sometimes we like to think of it as some separate entity. So I think for me something as simple as walking, anything that can integrate fragmentation that, you know, bilateral movement, we know scientifically can bring a kind of integration. So going on long walks, um, this is where yeah. I just think taking your body really seriously. I think specifically with regard to fragmentation is just being able to move, um, and not demand too much. And I think, you know, it’s like, so going on a more like slow meandering walk where you let the fragmented thoughts and processes move, even if they’re nonlinear. And I think sometimes that could be hard cause we wanna be able to like piece it all together in a way that’s cohesive, but just, you know, like keep moving.
Dan: Yeah. And uh, again, uh, I want to come back to that and stay with that a little bit longer in terms of gentle movement. Uh, I, I, I work out pretty regularly. I think that’s one of the means by which I have made it at least this far through the last two years, but what I’ve noted, uh, is that when the fog, but now let’s move into the second category when that numbness, if, if I get on my Peloton or if I go run, uh, or if I try to lift weights and I do it at the intensity level that I would prefer, uh, the cortisol actually is rushing even more. So the natural body response to a heavy workout is you’re actually creating in some sense with already present fog and already present exhaustion, you’re ramping up, but the collapse will actually lead to even greater numbness. And so the issue here is can instead of a 30 minute workout, can you do 10 instead of a good paced walk, can you stroll? And at least for someone like me, it almost feels pointless. It doesn’t have the intensity that I am aroused by, but it also calms and therefore allows the possibility of what’s there underneath the numbness to actually come to the surface and I’ve found myself a number of times on, on really slow walks, particularly with Becky where we’re praying, I, I start weeping and like I, at those moments, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna get close to the grief that my body is holding, but there is a gentleness and a calm that allows certain realities to come, which I may not let it be there for long. It’s like, it’s there there’s been a movement of tears and I’m just not ready to go any further. And that’s well, that’s not a judgment it’s for now. The grief is beginning to show itself.
Rachael: Yeah. Well, and I think, you know, you use language like numbness. When you think about like when your arm falls asleep, maybe that’s just me because I’m in my forties now. And I feel like if you sleep on your side, your arm falls asleep and then you wake up, which did not used to happen to me all the time. The doctor said, I need to sleep with wrist guards. I’m not quite there yet. I’m not ready for that. Cause I think I flip my arms up all that to say long tangent to say, when a limb falls asleep and it’s coming back awake and that kind of pins and needles feeling can be really overwhelming. So I love what you’re saying that it’s okay. If there’s a gentle awakening to what our bodies have held, what our hearts and minds have held, what our marriages and relationships and our vocations and what has been required. Um, it, that like we can’t take that all in at once. And so letting things come as they do, when there is a gentle space for them to come, I think this is also the realm of like, how do you help the helpers? Um, when you say oxygen mask, like where do you need to pursue interventions that might be medical might be, you know, like talking to a doctor about, I need some biochemical support in this season to get things. re-regulated. I’m aware all my, like I know for myself as one who’s well acquainted with anxiety. I know when I’ve gone past the point of like all my ways of coping and tending and treating anxiety when it’s like, I’m doing all those things, it’s not effective. I might need some more support, you know, where do you need to pursue a therapist and, or a spiritual director or even a, a peer, a colleague and a peer who could say let’s have a mutual place where we’re talking honestly about what our bodies are holding, how it’s impacting us, you know? Um, like it’s okay, this is a, like the numbness place, the place to pursue help. And again, I am aware, we’re in a season where even the helpers are saying, okay, yeah, but we’re tired too. And that’s, that’s again, that’s where we have to trust some more of that mutuality that there is still place. Like I still have capacity to give. I have capacity to tend to others. I have capacity offer nurturing care, even if I’m tired, even as I’m, I’m feeling like the weight of all this season is held. Um, and then I also just would say like, you use the language of gray, of grayness in the numbness and um, not demanding of ourselves that we go from point A to B in a really short period of time healing takes time, that mending and tending takes time. And anyone who’s been through a traumatic experience and has come on the other side of post-traumatic stress, you know, that like life does come back in full ways. Your sense, your senses do awaken the way that they’re most meant to, but there’s still a lot of beauty and goodness. And um, yeah, like in, in the gray.
Dan: Well, and I two further categories to that. One is I, I have read Psalm 1:31 enough to have it, I think magically tattooed to my arm. And that beginning verse of my heart is not proud. Lord, my eyes are not hauty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself. I’m like a weened child with its mother, like a weened child, I am content. So that question of do you how to calm and to quiet your own soul. And one of the gifts that, uh, I am privileged to own is about four or five chairs, rocking chairs, swing chairs that, um, are on our porch and it it’s, our weather has not been, shall we say, uh, pleasant in spring. But as Becky reminded me the other day, she said, you own rain gear and you have sweaters, so you can go out outside. And then she said, and you also went fishing and it was miserable and cold. So I don’t know why you can’t go out on the porch. Why you say you can’t go out on the porch. And I’m like, I don’t wanna put on Raingear. I don’t want to do it. But I needed to rock. So we’re right back to this, we cannot deal with the somatic consequences of numbness without some degree of quiet and calm and that’s going to be required to build into your schedule. So I was talking to a leader the other day, given the realities of what we’re talking about. And I said like, how are you keeping track of what you can’t remember? And he goes, uh, just try harder. Mm. Ah, all right. I’m not out to sell Remarkables, but I said, do you have a notebook that you carry with you almost anywhere and everywhere you go? No. Okay. Start. And then how are you like a weened child? How are you calming yourself? Like one who’s been deprived of the oceanic bliss of the breast. Um, and he was like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I said, well, do you know the word davening? No. Well, it’s what Orthodox Jews do before the Western wall. They rock. When do you rock? I don’t rock. Do you have rocking chairs? Yes. Do you sit in them? No. That is just enough to be able to say until there can be a movement of calm where it’s built into your schedule, um, will you put a 10 minute break between meetings where you can sit in your rocking chair and maybe take notes about what occurred that is the beginning of wisdom, because in some sense you appropriately are fearing the effects of post-traumatic stress. And so I think those two categories tend to reality in the midst of the fog care for your body slowly, gently mercifully, and allow at least the percolation of grief or irritability and anger to come to the surface. But with some degree of containment and care that it provides a kind of regulation. What are you finding with regard to your anger, your blame, uh, and of course you might be… you’re not struggling with any of that?
Rachael: No. Also when someone’s well-acquainted with anxiety, anger is usually held back, I mean, when that, that’s how it manifests and um, and it just, I feel that, you know, that shortness, that like just how close it is. Um, and in some ways, you know, my husband and I were talking about this, like, what do we do in those places where we it’s like it it’s cause we’re what you need is comfort and connection. Um, but you don’t want someone to take away your anger because you feel like you need it. So again, I think it’s a very slow, gentle process. Um, because I think underneath that, anger is a lot of grief, a lot of hurt, a lot of powerlessness and fear. Um, and so it’s that slow tending. It’s allowing there to be the presence of comfort and not just comfort I can offer myself in isolation, but comfort that can be received through a friend, through a family member, through a colleague, um, through care providers like, you know, um, because the rage is, it needs comfort. It needs care, it needs containment and it needs honor. Like I’ve also needed spaces to be able to talk about how hard and scary this season has been, all that it’s required. Um, and especially when you’re in a season that you don’t have resilience for cuz you’ve never been through it before. You know, when you think about a global pandemic, at least in my lifetime, I have not lived through a global pandemic that has impacted, I mean, there’s certainly been global pandemics, um, in my lifetime. Um, but one that has been so pervasive that it, it disrupts the regular rhythms and patterns of our world. And so, um, I think just, I go back to that human size word and that humility, like just owning, yeah, this is here. And a lot of repentance, to be honest, with you, a lot of going to my children and saying that was kind of a harsh response and that probably didn’t feel good. That was probably a little, little scary. And um, yeah, uh,
Dan: Justice always begins with confession and that I go back to the importance for me, at least in this season of Micah 6:8. Like I, I gotta begin right now with mercy, but if, if that’s the meat what’s holding it together is on one side. I want to be just, I, I need what in certain reform circles is called the alien righteousness of Christ. I, I have to be infused what it is I want to become. And that is, I want to be a just man and my anger at somebody for cutting in and screaming at them. It, it may not be the most violent harm I’ve ever brought to the earth, but it is unnecessary. It is so adding to somebody else’s, sense of the, the world is not well. And why would I want to bring anyone that level of suffering let alone my own children, my grandchildren, my wife, my friends, et cetera. So having that category of going, I want to be just that to re-inflame desire is crucial in this period. And that is, I may not be able to move far, but I want to be able to be a just man and I cannot do so without the humility of just what you put words to naming. Uh, I, I am sad for the phone call I just had with you, son. And, uh, I was brief, brusk. Uh, you asked a very legitimate question and I put you off I’m I’m wrong. I’m sorry. Can we, can we, can we move again? So really if people have been listening, uh, we’ve been talking about attunement as what we need to begin to disrupt the fog. We need containment to be able to hold the numbness. So the deeper things within us can come to the surface. And in terms of the isolation, there is never going to be movement without repair. We need to be saying, even though it will sound again, superficial, I am so sorry I was wrong. Uh, the mood that I brought to this meeting. Mm. So the ability to say those things and do those things. Now, let’s just make a shift to how to care for those who are unaware. They’re in the middle of trauma.
Rachael: I have been trying to figure that out for years, Dan, if you have an answer to that, then I would love to know
Dan: Uh, that will be a podcast in week 53 of this year.
Rachael: Uh, I mean, I think again, you can, you can offer these things without having to directly confront someone. You can give them tools to begin to know and to name. Are you aware, um, do you have awareness of these things? Does this feel true of your current reality, giving them language to name, fog, to name numbness in the ways that might be playing out to name kind of anger as a form, you know, of isolation and the ways in which they’re pushing you away, even if, you know, that’s, that’s actually not what their heart desires. So, I mean, again, it’s, it’s like when I’m thinking about a teacher in a classroom, it’s where I think, well, how do you offer, how do you start to offer good attunement, good containment and good repair in a classroom, whether or not you have to talk with kids about “you’re traumatized.”
Dan: Yeah. And again, it wouldn’t be true for kids, but this will sound very self-serving and it’s just a minute. It is. But I mean, you could actually invite somebody to listen to this podcast. You know, the, Allender Center has a really good podcast, but particularly on the issue of blah, blah, blah. Oh, right, I’m not supposed to say blah, blah, blah. Um, but that reality of we need to give others our lives through, in some degree of modeling what we’re having to engage in our own lives. So if you don’t go first, how are you expecting to help somebody else? So if, if you think somebody’s fragmented and you’ve not named your own, if you think people are numb and addicted and you’ve not named your own, I mean, a phrase that people have heard us say a trillion times, you can take no one any further than you have chosen to go yourself. And so can you go first, um, can you lead by modeling what you’re asking the spirit to engage in your own life? Now again, that doesn’t resolve a whole lot, but at least opens the door. It’s a, a kind of knocking to see if the other will see a point of similarity or at least analogically see, yeah, I don’t, I don’t feel the gray, but I get this in this way. Well, good. We’re not asking people to agree with our own symptomology. Nonetheless, fragmentation and numbness and isolation will show itself in all forms. So the first category is, can you share from your own experience, invite others into what I would call a broad psychoeducational process. I am so amazed in our day. Most people don’t understand that the brain is part of the body, uh, and that the brain is affected by all forms of trauma. So even that, even if you are not able to talk about the dorso lateral pre frontal cortex, fine, you could at least talk about the left and the right hemisphere. And the fact that there’s something holding the two together, even if you don’t remember it’s the corpus callosum.
Rachael: Yeah, I never do.
Dan: But at least to be able to say you, your brain’s affected and the left versus the right by trauma. Can we talk about what’s seems to happen in the brain and a little bit more reading, a little bit more podcasts. You’ll begin to get some familiarity with the word, amygdala and hippocampus and the limbic system and et cetera, et cetera. So can you share your own world and can you begin to provide at least some language like fragmentation, numbing and isolation as symptomology that is virtually universal and inevitable in the same way that if you cut yourself with a knife you’re gonna bleed, this is inevitable with regard to trauma.
Rachael: Yeah. Just think about offering the mercy to people, um, to name it’s been a really hard season, and this has impacted you and it’s impacted me. Can we talk more about, and I’m thinking probably specifically about people in professions where like, you know, if you’re a therapist, this is you get to talk about this. So I’d say more, how are you, how are you helping people? How are you tending to your body? How are you helping people tend to their bodies? If you’re, if you’re in the medical world and the, you know, the education world and the ministry world, it, it might mean getting to incorporate small body practices that help people breathe and ground and, and come back in their bodies in a really simple way that then gives you more leverage to move into the realm of framing. I think there, you know, this has been a really hard season and some of what is happening in you and happening for you is connected to this being a really hard season. And, you know, that’s, that’s that really broad psycho-education where you don’t have to jump to the big terms or the scary terms that people may not be. How do you bring a trauma informed? How do you know what’s maybe playing out for someone to be able to understand and see more clearly what’s playing out for them. And then how can you incorporate some practices into your ministry, but at the very minimum, how can you understand some of the things manifesting that you’re like, this just keeps getting crazier and crazier. You’re not crazy and trauma’s playing out. So again, how do you help people make sense of that? What are the liturgical rhythms? What are the, you know, spiritual practices that can begin to get people tools, even in the context of community and then a shared language to be able to talk about it.
Dan: And finally, not that this is the conclusion conclusion, but finally you need to hang out with good people. And, uh, in a matter of moments, uh, after we hang up, I get to be in a conversation with your beloved husband. And I’d been looking forward to that conversation. Not that I wasn’t looking forward to this one with you,
Rachael: It’s fine. It’s fine. Blah blah Blah
Dan: Blah. Blah. Blah. But just the privilege of being in a conversation and knowing what it’s like, just to see his face and to hear his thoughts and to explore, uh, the broad sense of the word, some of the creative work he’s doing in his life. It it’s been something of the north star of my day. So we have to have not just things we’re looking forward to, but we need to be looking forward to the people whom we get to do those things. And that sense of being able to be with people who are trauma informed to be with people who know it is to at least desire, to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly. And even if none of us do it particularly well, at least have that as that’s, that’s my desire. I know that’s his, and to be with someone who desires that. Uh, and so the flame within me is flickering pretty low, but to be with you, to be with others where the flame is actually brighter, it’s like, can, can I just, can I just bring my candle to your flame so that I can, get it lit again? That’s I think so crucial. Yes. Learn to rock, buy a Remarkable, or at least a notebook and a pen. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Walk slowly, but let prayer, let conversation, let the pleasure of being with people you love, be something that draws your heart back, allures your heart back to life.