Comprehending the Incomprehensible
how to cope with tragedy
I recently learned of the tragic passing of one of Vocal’s very own beloved creators Tom Bradbury. I’m sure many of you who are in the various Vocal Facebook groups are also aware of the tragedy befalling Tom’s home in rural France to a violent fire in which a victim was recovered. I’m not going to go into anymore because trauma does not need to be re-trodden. Suffice it to say, tragedy can be difficult, or seem almost impossible, to wrap your head around.
I have only been a member of Vocal and the Vocal community for just over one month, but instantly I could tell that Tom was an important and well-loved member of the Vocal family. A lynchpin, if you will. I could tell how many people he inspired with his beautiful writing as well as never-ending support and encouragement on social media, and I know he was a friend to many, and often one of the first that people interacted with when they first joined the Facebook circle of communities.
And now, suddenly, he is gone. Yet all his beautiful, inspiring soul-touching words and writings remain indefinitely. Which is a comfort as much as a wounding, during the early stages of grief.
Being human is a strange thing. We often feel invincible, and we push away or avoid the idea that life is fleeting and it is fragile. It is when incomprehensible tragedies occur like this, that tears away that comfort blanket that life is solid and trustworthy. When in reality it’s never a guarantee. How, or why, do we forget this? Do we not want to believe it? I guess it is a protection mechanism of sorts. If we didn’t put up invisible barriers to protect us from the ephemeral nature of life, it would be difficult to live our daily lives.
So how can we cope when we hear of a tragedy that impacts us personally, no matter the extent? According to UC Berkley in an article titled Coping with Trauma: Grief, Loss and Tragic News and Events, here are some feelings and emotions you may experience, and ways to cope. Before I get any further, please note that any of these emotions or experiences are normal and it’s a natural part of the healing process.
Besides the ‘expected’ feelings of shock and denial, sadness, and feeling numb, you may also experience irritability, anxiety or panic, hyper-vigilance (aka being jumpy and overreacting), as well as other symptoms you might not expect such as fatigue, nausea, headaches, feeling helpless, withdrawing from interacting with others or being social, difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
And here are some ways to help you cope and come to terms with what is now a collective trauma. We can take these steps to help ourselves and each other to cope with this tragedy. Most of these things are common sense, but as you may or may not know, common sense kind of goes out the window when experiencing grief and loss, so it can help to restate them.
1. Don’t push away your thoughts and feelings - instead, experience them. You have a right to feel however you feel.
2. Talk about how you’re feeling - when you are ready to, and it’s important to talk to others about how you’ve been affected. So please choose someone you feel safe with to express your thoughts and feelings.
3. Don’t forget about yourself - taking care of yourself might feel like the last thing you want to do, but it’s important. You can achieve this self-care by being aware of your diet and your consumption of things that might affect you negatively (such as alcohol, drugs, sugar, caffeine), and try to do some regular light exercise which has an impact on your nervous system which will be in flight or fight mode during a stressful time.
4. Healing takes time - so spend time with people who support you and do things that are nurturing for you. Take breaks in your work and do something pleasant like a positive activity or hobby.
5. Have empathy - for yourself and for others. Because everyone experiences trauma in a different way and you might have different needs at different times, and so will other people, so having flexibility is important. And also remember that stress can cause you to react differently than how you would expect.
6. Titrate your news intake - this is a big one. Try not to drown yourself in media reports about the incident. While having information can help some in a crisis, others may want to limit the amount of news as it could have an effect on their mental health and wellbeing.
7. Do something - it can help to actually actively do something in the wake of a tragedy, though you don’t want to do anything big or drastic in the immediate aftermath (I know from personal experience). A suggestion could be to become involved in your community to help in a way that is healing for you.
And last but not least:
8. Get help and support if you need it. This can be speaking to a counselor at your school/university or the equivalent person in your workplace. Or even consider reaching out to a mental health professional if you need more support. This is especially important if your symptoms don’t start to diminish after a time or even increase.
I am sending my thoughts and condolences to Tom’s family and friends, and his Vocal family during this difficult time. May we all come together to support each other as a community and family. Sending love and hugs to all.
Check out a similar article all about mental health and asking for help, below!