NAVIGATING A TRAUMA RESPONSE – WENDY BLANCHARD, M.S., CHHC, CPS

I have been told that I am an outstanding holistic health counselor/practitioner by all of my clients. It is an honor to be able to guide others in mental health and addiction recovery.

I live with anxiety that at times, can become paralyzing, yet, because I am aware of my triggers, and have learned how to manage my emotions effectively as I implement my self care/healthy practices, I successfully work through my emotions, keep them moving through, and validate my feelings without self judgement, I am successful in bringing myself back to a wellness state of being.

This is how I guide my clients.

Recently, I have experienced a great deal of change all at once, like most of us, and on top of sudden change, my position at the school where I had just begun last December was cut, and I had to move to another school, and different grade level, where I did not know one person…or the subject matter, now in a virtual setting, compounding the sudden change, in addition to being completely inept in navigating technology to teach virtually, and a grade level that I haven’t taught in 25 years.

For the past week, I have been sitting in one professional development training after another, back to back, each teaching a different virtual technological application that we need to implement into our Google classroom, and begin using immediately. I was completely overwhelmed and could barely keep up with all of the ins and outs and clicks and windows and rooms. Pages and pages of notes accumulated, and no closer to an answer…WHEW…

ANXIETY…TEARS…FEELING LOST, ISOLATED, AND FRUSTRATED…AND YES, EVEN SHAME AND FEELING “LESS THAN.”

My mind went immediately to that old thinking mindset of “I can’t do this, I’m not smart enough,” and even, “I’m too old to learn.” And, I was so worried, and actually pre-judging others because I thought, in my mind, that they were going to judge me! OLD PATTERN THINKING. This is where many people get stuck in their comfort zone! FEAR OF AUTHENTICITY. FEAR OF SHAME. FEAR OF USING OUR VOICE. FEAR OF JUDGEMENT. FEAR OF ASKING FOR HELP AND LOSING OUR SENSE OF INDEPENDENCE. FEAR OF NOT HAVING THE ANSWERS IN THIS MOMENT, AND FEAR OF EXPRESSING OUR FEELINGS. UNWILLING TO ADMIT WE ARE NOT PERFECT. We remain silent. We isolate. A trauma response.

I got into my bed at 2:30pm after a long day and feeling so beaten, and I allowed myself to feel…I allowed myself to cry…I allowed myself time to process. I told myself to go beneath the frustration to understand what was underlying my emotions. I was experiencing fear of failing, frustration, and shame of what I felt were my limited skills, and soon realized that these feelings of “not good enough, not smart enough,” was a traumatic response from childhood that followed me into my 50s. It had nothing to do with lacking technological skills. In time, and with practice, I will learn.

Heartbreaking repeated memories and degrading and abusive language embedded into my cellular structure that still haven’t been completely cleared…and probably never will. The difference is, now I have the tools to manage my emotions as I continue to build resiliency strategies and increase my coping skills through daily practice, self awareness, and self regulation skills. I’ve had seven plus years of practice to date, and it serves me beautifully. HERE IS WHERE I STAND IN MY POWER IN MY RECOVERY…

We can be triggered by situations that have absolutely nothing to do with a present moment circumstance, and place it right in front of us in the present moment, and have a traumatic response as if it were 40 years ago. This is where we are “reminded” of a trauma that we experienced in the past that we still have to unfold, and put it in its proper place as we acknowledge that we are in a safe space in the here and now, and no longer in a dysfunctional, abusive setting.

After just about 30 minutes, I began to practice mindful breathing, prayer and meditation, and even asked myself what I would suggest to a client as a possible solution.

“I would tell a client to reach out and ask for help!” And then spoke a favorite mantra of my clients and myself as well, “I deserve to be well…We all have mental health!” 

Working in the field of mental health, and having a life transitions coach/therapist from the time I began my recovery in early 2013 from substance use disorder and mental health disorders, and helping others to unpack their own trauma, as well as my education and training, has given me the insight to recognize when I am responding to a traumatic experience from my past. IT FEELS SO REAL. IT FEELS LIKE I AM A LOST LITTLE GIRL. IT FEELS LIKE I AM ALONE AND ON MY OWN WITH NO ADULT TO OFFER ME HELP. IT FEELS LIKE I CANNOT TRUST ANYONE.

This was true in the past as I endured so much trauma…but now, I have the presence of mind to be able to separate the past from the present…maybe not immediately, and many times not when I am experiencing these emotions in real time, but when I have quiet time to reflect, and to implement my self care practices that re-center me, body, mind, and spirit. I have learned never to react in that “knee-jerk” reaction that I once did…Instead, I PAUSE, I OBSERVE MY THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS, I TAKE A BREAK, AND THEN I RESPOND AND COMMUNICATE. Here is where I come upon a solution. Here is the safe space that I provide for myself where I remind myself that I am not alone, and that all I have to do is to ask for help…to reach out and to speak my truth. The truth is…there is NO perfect…thankfully. Here, in this space, is where I learn, grow, and evolve, and where I can offer my experience as a teaching tool to help someone else.

Although I am new at this school, I reached out to an administrator, who I had told weeks ago about my challenges with technology, and to a colleague in my department. I was vulnerable and completely honest about how I was feeling, and shared my real challenges when it comes to technology, and the fact that I feel isolated and lost. Our administrator set up a meeting with me for tomorrow and told me to “breathe, and we will navigate this together,” and it was her “pleasure” to help me. Before I could even tell my other colleague that I’d been crying and feeling so frustrated just a few minutes before I texted her, she shared with me that she’d been crying the day before and did not sleep. This from a veteran teacher. Here is where connection takes place as we realize we are all in this together, and we build a community through connection and through supporting each other. There is NO judgement…NO TEACHER LEFT BEHIND.

Afterwards, I took a two mile walk, listened to music, came home and cooked an organic dinner, listened to more music, and wrote this blog…SELF CARE.

Tomorrow I am meeting with a variety of other educators who have offered to help and guide me in a Zoom meeting space. We are all feeling overwhelmed and lost in these unprecedented times. My old thinking patterns, kept me stuck just for a second, until I reminded myself that it is as simple as asking for what I need…something that is so unfamiliar to me due to experiencing severe trauma as a young child which I sometimes attach to my present day circumstances. But, as always, I am able to re-direct my thoughts, and find solutions. The beauty of self work. The beauty of recovery.

This is where I am reminded how imperative it is for us to offer social/emotional learning experiences in our schools. We need to offer the opportunities for young people to openly express their emotions where they feel safe, and validated. We must provide for them daily experiences where they can practice self care as part of their daily living practices so that it becomes second nature. This is where they build their tools for lifelong navigation. We need a climate/culture shift in our language and understanding of mental health, and how it affects our overall health. We need to understand mental health from a strengths based model where we all have mental health and it rests on a continuum. We need to teach our youth that it is ok to “feel” whatever we feel, and to encourage them to feel it all of the way through. Not to suppress. Emotions need motion to move through. Encourage them to ask for help when they begin to feel unwell when their resiliency skills and coping strategies are not sufficient in helping them to re-center and move back to wellness. This is how we normalize symptoms and this disorder.

My experience today promoted connection with others in my community, and it offered me another opportunity to practice my resiliency skills in choosing wellness. I moved along with my feelings, and felt every knot in my stomach, the lump in my throat, every tear that fell, and allowed it all to present itself until I began to be pro-active through my self care practices to find a healthy and sustainable resolution.

THE COUNSELOR IS ALWAYS THE CLIENT…OR, THE TEACHER IS ALWAYS A STUDENT. It is a lifelong, ongoing process of growth, knowledge, and empowerment.

ASKING FOR HELP IS SELF CARE.

For more information on how I can support you in reaching your health and wellness goals, please fill out my contact page here at https://www.harmonioushealth4life.com/contact and I will be in touch with you within 24 hours.

“Self care is the actions that we take to achieve wellness, and wellness is where we stand in our power.”

Love and blessings,

Wendy

#YOUARENOTALONE #COMMUNITY #WEALLHAVEMENTALHEALTH #LOVEWENDY