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- Social Emotional Articles by Stephanie Lawless
Earlywood Special Edition 2019-20
I Can't Remember What I ForgotPosted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/17/2020 7:00:00 AM
You know that moment you walk into the kitchen and cannot remember why? I do this, and it drives me crazy. Forgetting things is my first indicator that I am stressed out. I was interested to learn more about why I become so forgetful so I began searching. I found a 4 minute TedED video, How Memories Form and How We Lose Them. The first two minutes is all on how memories form. At 2:14 minutes they start to talk about the effect of chronic stress on our brain. This is what they say:
“When we’re constantly overloaded with work and personal responsibilities, our bodies are on hyper alert. This response has evolved from the physiological mechanism designed to make sure we can survive in a crisis. Stress chemical help mobilize energy and increase alertness. However, with chronic stress our bodies become flooded with these chemicals, resulting in a loss of brain cells and an inability to form new ones, which affects our ability to retain new information.” (How Memories Form and How We Lose Them 2:14-2:50)
They then go on to talk about depression and aging. At minute 3:40 they give suggestions to aid in supporting memory retention:
“There are several steps you can take to aid your brain in preserving your memories. Make sure you keep physically active. Increased blood flow to the brain is helpful. And eat well. Your brain needs all the right nutrients to keep functioning correctly. And finally, give your brain a workout. Exposing your brain to challenges, like learning a new language, is one of the best defenses for keeping your memories intact.” (How Memories Form and How We Lose Them 3:40-4:18)
It made me feel good to know that there was an actual scientific reason why I was so forgetful. Then, the next video that popped up was How the food you eat affects your brain. Some super interesting stuff. It prompted me to go to the kitchen, once I was there I forgot what I needed so I ate a doughnut.
Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director
Secondary TraumaPosted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/2/2020 7:00:00 AM
If you have been through one of my CPI trainings you have probably heard the story I tell about my PTSD from teaching. I unofficially diagnosed myself as traumatized. While some of that trauma came from state testing, most of it came from the students and student histories I was exposed to.
The exact moment I knew I had been traumatized by my job was when I was sitting in a meeting in which the stated purpose was to come up with strategies to support a struggling student. The student was actively in crisis so the school psychologist called on the phone. While we sat there talking to her on speaker the student was crying and screaming in the background. I was unaware of how this was impacting me until the school psychologist sitting next to me asked if I was okay. I had gone completely pale, had goosebumps, and was holding onto the table. Once he mentioned it to me, I realized that I was feeling the same way I felt when I was in a room with a student in crisis. I don’t know how to describe it; not panic, but more like helplessness. The closest feeling I can compare it to is when you see two cars that are about to crash, you know it is going to happen but there is nothing you can do to stop it. Completely helpless.
I felt the same way when I would read a student’s history. I would read about levels of abuse I could not even begin to fathom. They experienced trauma that would almost seem unreal if it were in a movie. I would absorb these stories and then face this little kid, knowing what they had lived through. At the time I didn’t realize what was happening to me. I figured I was just doing a poor job managing my stress. However, now I have learned about secondary trauma and feel that might help explain some of my feelings.
“Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Each year more than 10 million children in the United States endure the trauma of abuse, violence, natural disasters, and other adverse events. These experiences can give rise to significant emotional and behavioral problems that can profoundly disrupt the children’s lives and bring them in contact with child-serving professionals. For therapists, child welfare workers, case managers, and other helping professionals involved in the care of traumatized children and their families, the essential act of listening to trauma stories may take an emotional toll that compromises professional functioning and diminishes quality of life. Individual and supervisory awareness of the effects of this indirect trauma exposure is a basic part of protecting the health of the worker and ensuring that children consistently receive the best possible care from those who are committed to helping them.” (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network> Trauma-Informed Care > Secondary Traumatic Stress)
The National Traumatic Stress Network provides suggestions on how to manage these feelings if you are experiencing them. For me, I had to be aware of what I was experiencing. I also had to improve my self-care. I started working out and eating better. In order to focus on my feelings I found supportive co-workers who had experienced similar situations, and we talked about how we felt. The last thing I did, which was just my personal preference, was to limit my exposure to outside experience that I felt took a toll on my outlook. I chose to stop watching the news, stop reading the news, and stop listening to it on the radio. As someone who listened to news radio on the way to work, checked it periodically on social media throughout the day, and watched it at night, this was a pretty drastic step. But, it made a huge difference in my ability to maintain a healthy outlook. Just like I was monitoring the foods I ate, I was monitoring the images and content I put in my thoughts. Now, I am not nearly as informed about things as I used to be, but I am also better equipped to do my job and support the cases I do. For me, it was a necessary step.
If you feel you need support please reach out to someone. Educate yourself, and know you are not alone.
NTSN has several resources they share on their site for more information about secondary trauma:
The quote I am going to leave you with today is a lengthy one, but so powerful:
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet. This sort of denial is no small matter. The way we deal with loss shapes our capacity to be present to life more than anything else. The way we protect ourselves from loss may be the way in which we distance ourselves from life and help. We burn out not because we don’t care but because we don’t grieve. We burn out because we’ve allowed our hearts to become so filled with loss that we have no room left to care.” (Rachel Naomi Remen: “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal” Penguin, New York,1996)
Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director
Play Like You Know What You Are DoingPosted by Stephanie Lawless on 1/24/2020 7:00:00 AM
I mentioned feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of the year. One of the things that was getting me down was feeling like I was not getting everything I needed to do done. I am normally pretty good at prioritizing, but things were just coming to fast. My mind was like one of those Bingo Ball Machines, rolling around all of my todo lists. I felt like I kept falling short. In that state of chaos I kept forgetting things, which only contributed to my feeling of inadequacy. I would forget a paper I needed for a meeting, forget to grab my laptop, forget my son needed a bath, forget to check his homework folder, forget to pick up a prescription, or forget to return a call. Each mistake I made just pushed me further into feeling like I could not be what I needed to be.
When I was in school I played the trombone in the band. I remember playing very timidly. I was not confident and my performance was lacking. To be technical, I didn’t push enough air through the instrument and sounded weak. I would hesitate and second guess myself and I would fall behind. At some point the band instructor suggested I get a few private lessons. So there I sat, with an adult who was only focusing on me, with no band to hide behind. It was pretty much my worst case scenario. I remember very specifically what he said to me, “You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to play like you know what you are doing. When the music is playing and you make a mistake, you have to keep going. You can’t go back and fix it. You keep moving forward. “Play loud, play confident.”
I took his advice and started playing loud. If I didn’t know a note I just skipped it and stayed in time with the rest of the group. No one ever noticed a missed a note and people started actually hearing me play. I honestly don't know if I was any good, but I felt amazing. I applied that advice to other areas of my life. I am not an expert in anything. I don’t feel like I have mastered a single thing. What I try to do now is allow myself grace, when I mess up I keep going and don’t dwell on it… normally. Like I said before, I do have times I forget and dwell. I wallow in my shortcomings. Which brings me back to the beginning of the year.
One night, after I forgot to check the homework folder, forgotten to give my son a bath, yelled at my boys at bedtime because I lost my temper, and put the boys in bed so late we didn’t have story time and barely got teeth brushed. I was laying next to my four year old, and right before he fell asleep, his eyes fluttered closed and he whispered, “You are a good mom.” I cried. In that moment I didn’t feel worthy of the praise but he still gave it. I stopped worrying about the dishes in the sink, laundry waiting to be folded, and the emails in my inbox. I just cuddled him a little longer.
I like that I don’t have to be perfect and mistakes are part of me. In my last article, I quoted Nietzsche. I remember studying his work in philosophy and feeling like Billy Maddison, “He’s good”. However, I have also extensively studied the work of another great man. He said, “I make grave mistakes all the time. Everything seems to work out” (Thor, Ragnarok, 2017). So I am going to go with that? But really, who am I to argue with a Norse God?
Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director
Looking UpPosted by Stephanie Lawless on 11/1/2019 7:00:00 AM
The start of this school year was a little bit of a whirlwind for me. Nothing out of the normal, just a lot of small things piled on top of normal life. I found myself feeling overwhelmed. While I was doing a training at Hope elementary I was trying to connect my iPad wirelessly to the projector. I had followed the correct steps, but my iPad told me I needed an access code. I looked around the desk, on the wall next to the desk, in the drawer. Nothing. So I asked Kathy Kramer if she knew the code, because Kathy tends to have all the answers. Once I asked, someone at the table said, "Is it the number being projected on the screen?" I looked up and there, in two foot tall numbers, was exactly what I needed. Had I just taken the time to look up from my problem I would have found the solution.
I often find myself inundated in concerns, deadlines, expectations, bills, parenting, work. I try hard to be optimistic, prioritize and maintain a calm outlook, but periodically I crack. I lie in bed and think about all the things I need to do, or all the things I cannot fix. It makes me feel unbalanced and out of sorts. It is during these times I have to force myself to look up from my problems, my current state of life, and see other things around me. It could be watching something calm and simple, like a sunset. Knowing that no matter how chaotic I allow my life to become, nature still happens around me, indifferent to my personal stress. Another thing that causes me to look up from my own problems is a dose of perspective. I hear stories about people who are way more resilient than me, who are able to overcome adversity that would leave me in a ball crying, and suddenly my problems don’t seem so serious.
Finally, during fall break, I started feeling back to my normal self. I felt like things were able to slow down and stabilize. I spend a lot of time focusing on relaxing, taking care of myself, laughing and being with my family. I am able to look back at those moments in my life and appreciate that I could recognize it was happening and take steps to restabilize. I don’t see them as moments of weakness, but rather opportunities for perspective. The turbulent waters helps me appreciate the smooth sailing. Or, in more eloquent statement by Nietzsche, “Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.” (http://bit.ly/2pjN8vz)
Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director