The Hurricane of Trauma

The Hurricane of Trauma

I had nothing but my voice during Hurricane Harvey. Rained in and unable to drive anywhere, it was just me and my Yorkie, Rico.

Like most of Houston, we were stuck, unable to do anything but watch the rain come down and the flood rose.

My natural reaction during times of disaster is to come to action.

I thank surviving a plethora of trauma before I was 16 (war, father abandon, mom brain surgery)  for my reaction of being calm and organized.  Plus, I’m not one to sit around and watch other people do the work.

I can tell you first-hand that the city of Houston is HUGE, but it has a small town feel because this sense of community, coming to each other’s rescue, is embedded in the culture here.

My giving philosophy, be it when my sister had her baby, to when my friend lost her baby boy, to picking up the pieces after complete destruction, is to be the second wave of giving. After the initial support of extra hands, food, money has dwindled, I like to step in.

So, I began to use my voice to reach out to my network beyond Houston. My journey has taken me across the States and the donations began to come in from CA, CO, NY, and FL (right before they got hit by Irma!).

It was three weeks after Harvey when my place was filled with more than 50 respectfully sized boxes. Some of them never left the ground, just got dragged into their nook of my apartment until it was time to sort through.

This is the power of one voice asking for help.  I started a conversation with less than 20 people, and the fruits of my words were over 3,000 garments from Gwyniee Bee, 250+ toiletry care packages, bedding, towels, teddy bears, and socks for days!

I write to share this with you not to get kudos, but to show the power of your voice having impactful conversations.

Every conversation you have is of impact to who you are as a woman and man.

You hear yourself. You believe what you hear.

How distorted is this from the reality of you?

Where is there room for confidence to grow?

Where is there space to quiet the ego and be honest?

 

The more in touch you are with your voice, both spoken and inside, the more awareness you will have. And that my dear readers is PRICELESS.

I’ve tapped into the conversation within (cognitive behavior) many many years ago, which means I know my process when experiencing something as disruptive as Hurricane Harvey (or being fired from a job - or a man).

I knew my meltdown would come. It always does, and since I’ve tuned into my process I’m ready for it. The aftermath of traumatic experiences aren’t just natural disasters, physical altercations, unexpectedly being laid off, to other intense experiences.  

The breakdowns gave away to meltdowns that eventually became moody weeks, and now are a matter of taking an emotional health day. It’s just a matter of emotional intelligence, getting to know how you cope with life, and offering yourself the skills and resources to be your own coach.

After a intense or traumatic experience you may feel like this for up to 3 months:    

  • Intense or unpredictable feelings. You may be anxious, nervous, overwhelmed or grief-stricken. You may also feel more irritable or moody than usual.

  • Changes to thoughts and behavior patterns. You might have repeated and vivid memories of the event. These memories may occur for no apparent reason and may lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. It may be difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Sleep and eating patterns also can be disrupted — some people may overeat and oversleep, while others experience a loss of sleep and loss of appetite.

  • Sensitivity to environmental factors. Sirens, loud noises, burning smells or other environmental sensations may stimulate memories of the disaster creating heightened anxiety. These “triggers” may be accompanied by fears that the stressful event will be repeated.

  • Strained interpersonal relationships. Increased conflict, such as more frequent disagreements with family members and coworkers, can occur. You might also become withdrawn, isolated or disengaged from your usual social activities.

  • Stress-related physical symptoms. Headaches, nausea and chest pain may occur and could require medical attention. Pre-existing medical conditions could be affected by disaster-related stress.

Each person is different, it is so important to take your personality into consideration when coming up with solutions that work for you in the long-run. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Give yourself time to adjust. Anticipate that this will be a difficult time in your life. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced and try to be patient with changes in your emotional state.

  • Communicate your experience. Express what you are feeling in whatever ways feel comfortable to you — such as talking with family or close friends, keeping a diary or engaging in a creative activity (e.g., drawing, molding clay, etc.).

  • Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen and empathize with your situation. Social support is a key component to disaster recovery. Family and friends can be an important resource. You can find support and common ground from those who've also survived the disaster. You may also want to reach out to others not involved who may be able to provide greater support and objectivity.

  • Find a local support group led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. Support groups are frequently available for survivors. Group discussion can help you realize that you are not alone in your reactions and emotions. Support group meetings can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems.

  • Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience ongoing difficulties with sleep, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can be a numbing diversion that could detract from as well as delay active coping and moving forward from the disaster.

  • Establish or reestablish routines. This can include eating meals at regular times, sleeping and waking on a regular cycle, or following an exercise program. Build in some positive routines to have something to look forward to during these distressing times, like pursuing a hobby, walking through an attractive park or neighborhood, or reading a good book.

 

Respect the process of being human.

Life happens. Joy comes. Challenges leave.

Stay curious about your emotions and how you cope.

Your voice is your guide.

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Logical Leila & Black n' White Betty

Logical Leila & Black n' White Betty

Today's blog is dedicated to figuring out how to deal with the Destructive Voices within all of us! I had a lot of fun acting out the different tones of my Inner Voice aka Black n' White Betty and Logical Leila! Do you relate to either of them? http://goo.gl/vwnZ3M

What you spend the rest of your life doing.

What you spend the rest of your life doing.

A quote I often find repeating in my head is from the movie “Hope Floats” that states:

“Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome.”

It's not necessarily that we have all had a tumultuous upbringing, but, all of us have adopted a way of coping and decision making that forms in our youth, and solidifies between the ages of 13-19.

May is Mental Health month, a topic that I am extremely passionate about and dedicate my work to, as a survivor of war, abandonment, and abuse.   

Feeling and dealing my way through the aftermath of these issues took me over 15 years, 3 states, 1 island, several failed attempts at partnership and suicide. This journey showed me how we, as doctor’s, therapist’s, families, and individuals, approach mental health. It took 4 suicide attempts before I was able to finally find a solution for my pain, through CBT and yoga - not the pills the doctors gave me.

 
photograph by Valerie Owhadi

We have gotten lazy. Disconnected.

We put no emphasis on restoring mental or emotional health.  Rather, we try to shove it down with medication, chase feeling happiness through status, or fill our hours with mindless distractions like social media, and binge watching Netflix.

We don’t know how to cope.

So, we don’t show our children how to cope, instead we continue the cycle by reacting negatively towards them as they develop their mental health: thoughts, emotions, and behavior.  

There is a great cost to to us as a nation for not investing in mental and emotional health.  It’s called suicide.

A study  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last month shows suicide is at  rates are at a 30-year high, increased by 24% - 40,000 people a year die from suicide. This epidemic costs us over $44.6 billion a year in combined medical and work loss costs.

photograph by Valerie Owhadi

The emotional and financial burdens that come with ignoring mental health will only multiply.

There is great shame and weakness that surround the topic of emotional and mental health. The mission of my work is to break this stigma, to start the conversation, and to save lives.  I have shared this message with my local media, and I encourage you to do the same, see my letter to the editor of Houston Chronicle

This rise of this epidemic has felt like a slap in the face, not an angry one, but a wake-up one.

Since launching SP2: Sahar Paz Suicide Prevention this January, every 7-10 days a teen suicide in my city alone (Houston and surrounding area), is brought to my attention.

I grew up in Iran where bombs killed my friends. Here in the States kids are taking their own lives. We have to do something.  

If you or someone in your life is having a hard time right now, please buy them a copy of my book, Find Your Voice.  It is a memoir - I share transparently - the grit and the grace - of feeling my emotions, and changing the way I cope.

The reader is offered a reflection guide that reveals the relationship between thoughts and emotions - understanding and changing destructive thinking patterns. And, if you have a teenager in High School, let the teachers and counselors know that there is a new program available to empower them and their students in the fight against bullying and suicide.

Get chapter 1 of Find Your Voice for FREE.

September is Suicide Prevention Month

September is Suicide Prevention Month

Attempting to take my life is a very big part of my journey. 

I have so much gratitude for this experience because it is proof in the power of the Inner Voice. Please watch this week's video to learn more about YOUR super power!