You are not broken
I recently provided a training on overcoming the negative effects of stress and trauma to a group of healthcare providers. The evaluation asks what they took away from the training, and one response read, “You are not broken.”
I paused and allowed the gravity of this comment to sink in. Because my trainings help people normalize stress and trauma (and build resilience), I know the impact crisis can have on even the most stoic and experienced professionals. Those who excel in high-stakes positions are affected by stress at higher rates than others, requiring better coping mechanisms and a personality bent towards perseverance. But they can feel just as “broken” as anyone when dealing with prolonged trauma and crisis, such as many first responders have felt throughout this pandemic.
When we experience high and/or prolonged levels of stress, our minds adapt to a heightened state of fear and anticipated angst. We work in “crisis mode,” dealing most often with what is directly in front of us by choosing efficiency over efficacy. We lose our sense of priority, aren’t able to adequately plan for the future, and have a dulled sense of consequence. Our minds circumvent proper processing in favor of survival. As a result, we can feel like we’re losing ourselves to the new mental operating system that has taken over our lives.
This loss of self, or feeling of brokenness, keeps us locked in step with the crisis or incident. Even the most resilient among us feels the weight of this phenomenon, wondering day to day if their “brain fog,” fatigue, or feelings of apathy are an indication that they are no longer effective.
It is critical when this feeling arises to remember that you are adapting to your environment, handling the stress of crisis the best way you know how. Your mind and emotions need time to process - to catch up - to the difficulty you are experiencing. Giving yourself time and grace is imperative to successfully managing this time. Accept that you may not feel quite like yourself for a little while because, well, you’re not - and no one is during high stress or trauma. And if you feel you have room to grow, to become more resilient, there are tools available such as mental health resources, classes, and talking with mentors and friends.
But most importantly, remember that you are experiencing your amazing mind’s ability to adapt to stress. There will come a time soon when your life will feel more normal to you and you will remember this time of difficulty as a catalyst for personal growth and strength.
You are not broken. You are wonderfully, complexly human.