You’re not going crazy – despair, depression and rage do not have to become permanent residents of the soul.
Unavoidable yet Heal-able
There is no way an emotional caring human can be exposed to the horrors of wildlife poaching and not be deeply impacted. And it’s not only those on the ground coming upon the brutal scene, but those of us who’s psyches are jarred by the images and videos flashing across our computer screens.
Rangers, veterinarians, rescue and rehabbers have become all too well acquainted with the dead and the dying rhino and elephant. Like firefighters, emergency medics and other first responders coming upon human tragedy these wildlife people can’t help but be impacted psychologically and emotionally.
On a smaller scale, yet not to be discounted, you and I who got involved to help stave off the avalanche of death brought upon by the ruthless wildlife trafficking syndicates, are also impacted.
What is psychological trauma?
According to Joy Livingwell a Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) expert “a trauma is a strong persistent, negative emotional response to a past event, or reminders of it.”
She goes on to say that “a trauma is not an experience” but “an emotional response to an experience”. This explains why you and I may respond quite differently to the very same experience and why some may have an apparent delayed response. It helps us understand why some people find a dangerous activity like sky diving super scary, while others pay dearly for the thrill.
Livingwell goes on to explain that we generally do not feel traumatized immediately following a negative experience. It happens over time. Like the veteran who crawls under the table when he hears fireworks years after returning from war.
An unresolved childhood trauma can raise its ugly head in adulthood after a similar negative experience or even a totally unrelated one.
Another indicator of unresolved trauma is when we seemingly over react to a current experience suggesting that the past is rushing in to exaggerate the present.
Trauma can also have a cumulative effect, that finally over time, a certain real life situation or computer image pushes us over the top.
Do a quick self-check
Do you find yourself…
- Having dark thoughts
- Not caring anymore
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Backing off
- Getting angry at the drop of a hat
- Seeing the negative in everyone’s behavior
- Not sleeping well
Five Ways to Handle Trauma
Here are a few tips that might help you cope better
Feel in control again
With the poaching situation only getting worse, with the brutality of the killings escalating and the number of rhino and elephant calves being traumatized truly makes us feel out of control. In order for us to stay involved we must keep believing we make a difference, which we do.
You ever stop to think how much worse things would be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing? What if the rangers threw in the towel? What if Peter Milton stopped flying the Air Rangers? What if the vets like Peter Rogers stopped tending to injured rhino? Or the rehabbers like Karen Trendler stopped taking in orphaned calves?
Look at the goals you’ve set yourself, chunk them down a bit. Create intermediary benchmarks. If ending the poaching and saving every rhino is your goal… be realistic, that’s not going to happen. But protecting and saving one rhino crash (herd) with your team of rangers is possible. As is carrying out a letter writing campaign to government officials via your social networks.
You’re good, but not invincible
You save rhino, you make a difference most every day. The wild animals out there rely on your skill and expertise to outsmart the poachers, to get their fast enough to stop the bleeding or to make them well again so they’ll have a second chance. But face it you are not invincible.
There are days when you don’t save that elephant. When you could have done more. When you did make the wrong decision. Although a life or maybe more were lost you can’t change that. It will most likely happen again just as sure as you will do many things right again.
Similarly the new online activist who thinks everyone is on the same page and gets totally discouraged the first time she runs into a ‘buzz saw’ who chews her up and spits her out in pieces.
In the US Marine Corp there is a rule that may serve us well in this war too. Being right or winning 70% of the time is considered success. I even had a prominent business leader tell me once, “If we come out on top just 51% of the time, we’re still ahead of the game.”
There are times when I’ve thought a person less dedicated, sincere or committed when they took time off to go golfing, watch a movie or simply relax with friends. Then I realized that we all need to recharge or regroup when our work is highly stressful.
Although rangers are needed in the bush 24:7 for months on end… they too need a break. With the internet being ‘on’ round the clock the online activist too can get caught in the trap of… just one more post.
Take time to recharge daily. Even if it is only 30 minutes of down time doing something that really refreshes you. Frequently this is something physically active, especially for the online activist.
You’re not alone
Alcoholics Anonymous has been around forever. Because the concept of group support and accountability is so powerful, support and therapy groups for about every ailment and purpose are now available.
That feeling of “being in this together” is validating, confirming and empowering. Plus it breaks the negative spell ‘denial’ casts upon the human soul.
If you’re feeling alone… reach out. Reach out to someone who you trust, who can and will understand. Try to avoid the “drinking buddies” group. Although it may help dull the stress, pain, fear or anger this type of group does not help you process or constructively deal with the trauma you are dealing with.
Build your own toolbox
One of the purposes of this blog series “Traumatized Humans Another rhino Crisis Fallout” is to provide numerous ideas and options for you to experiment with. Some will work better than others for you. The hope is that you’ll discover a gem or two to help you. Help you so you can continue the work you do without burning out, without suffering long term scars that will not only impact your life, but the life of your loved ones.
Watch this space for more about how others cope and even use their negative experiences to drive their passion for good.