I enjoy teaching, it is one of those things, along with writing, that inspires me and brings joy. It is why it seems cruel that the joy comes with a price. Take my hand while we stroll together and take a look at this.
I had been looking forward to Tuesday’s training seminar, our first one just before the Christmas break last year had received rave reviews, and another new class of recruits awaited us. I was going to meet up with my bestie and co-presenter, we haven’t really had much time to talk this year and I anticipated having a chance to catch up beforehand. Yes, I’m a right proper mother hen at times, I am concerned about the load on her these days and whether or not she is dangerously close to the burnout cliff. I’ve driven off that cliff a few times in my previous working life, and it’s not pretty, especially when you repeat the experience and the recovery takes much longer than before.
We were travelling from different areas of the city, me from home, she was coming in from the Yorkdale office, and I thought it should be a smooth trip up on the subway, it’s not rush hour. Oh, if only. Get down into the station, look up at the next train display, see 15 minutes instead of the usual 2 or 3. Ahhh… trouble in the system somewhere, oh joy. As the time ticks by, I send her a text, “subway FUBAR, will be delayed.” (I should add a definition, I have a long list of acronyms and I toss them out there without thinking… fubar – f**ked up beyond all recognition.) When the train finally arrives, it’s sardine can time, and the platform was starting to get too crowded for my comfort. Time to put my CBT training to use. I’ve often said, forget that walk a mile in my shoes nonsense, try spending a day in my head… in this case, the ongoing conversation to get myself through the trip up to where I had to be.
We met up, I had already picked up our visitor passes so we could run out for a coffee/tea/sandwich and just zip upstairs when we got back. So, we’re basically cramming 7 weeks of catching up into 10 minutes… we are used to it after working together for the past 6 years, we talk fast, communicate with speed, and we have our own verbal shorthand that we have developed.
We have a quickie get-together with the person in charge, checking future dates for training and such, quick catch up, and then he mentioned, they had rave reviews from their first recruits class, and they especially were looking forward to me repeating last year’s talk.
Mentally, I said DAMN! and sighed, head in hands. Externally, smile and nod and go with the flow. Oh well, set aside the new format, bring forth the old one mentally and prepare. Meanwhile, thinking to myself, can I edit this on the fly to cut out the more traumatic bits?
I think, at times, people believe that it’s a heavily scripted thing that we do. I have news for you, it isn’t. It’s more freestyle than you realize. I have had people sit in all three lectures we have delivered in a week, and then mention in their feedback that it was not exactly the same each time. Yeah… I’d be bored silly if it was like that, so would my co-presenter. The one thing that Danielle and I have is an innate ability to play off of each other throughout 3-8 hours (depending on the length of the lecture/class/seminar), and our friendship outside of work means we will cause much hilarity in the room when we verbally bat something back and forth between us. The slides/graphics/photos that I use in the lecture, they serve as a reminder of things I should talk about at that point, but with 55 years worth of material to choose from, it’s not always the same words, or in the same order each time. We have our favourite lines/sayings (typically the laugh breaks for the room to lighten the load a bit, it’s some heavy material we cover at times), and some of these are stories we have told many times, so there is a pace to it that comes from experience, but, we engage in a conversation, not just stand there and talk at people.
And, there are days that my high-functioning status may fool people (I’m skilled with a multitude of masks to hide from you what is really going on, you see what I want you to see, unless you are one of those few who have seen me have a full-blown meltdown which means you have a level of trust from me that not many will). People think, ah, survivor, warrior, can face anything and keep going. Oh, that might be how it looks to you, but it’s not reality. And yet, admitting the reality means letting people get closer than my usual comfort levels allow. In a lecture setting, I can show more than usual, because I’m out to find the one in the room who is in the same place and let them know, hey, you’re not alone, me too, got your back.
While delivering some new material, I’m still looking at it from multiple angles. Nope, they specifically want the old material, so strap in lady, dig it up and press play and run it again for the room. What I noticed looking back on it, I was talking to some space in the air, not really eye to eye with the recruits. But, we get through the class, people seem to respond well to today’s session, will wait to hear the feedback.
I managed to make it home before the energy crash occurred. Whenever I’m telling my own story, my experiences, what led up to PTSD and life with it on a daily basis, along with all the associated issues that go with it, within an hour of the end of class, my energy hits absolute zero, but only when, I have found, they want to know all the causes, the details, etc.
Discover more fuckwittery in the mail to be dealt with, and as is typical, the person who needs to address it is not in today, can you leave a message in their voicemail. Sure, whatever, my anxiety and stress levels are already off the charts with your latest comedy of errors, let’s give it another nudge over the red line.
Stretch out with my cat, think I’ll listen to some podcasts and relax and occupy my mind with something else. Ah, the best laid plans. The body demanded sleep, particularly after battling insomnia since late last November. I must have done one of those head meets pillow, gone.
Close eyes, begin nightmares. This time it was a particular heavy serving of horrors and terrors. It’s not flashbacks lately, but as the graphic above mentions, it’s pulling out the emotions from those moments, dishing up some gawdawful visions of hell from some corner of my mind (wish I could find it and erase it), and serve it up on a loop, non-stop, until I snapped awake and sat up sweating up a storm, gasping for breath, and my cat sitting on the bedside table looking at me wide-eyed. I used to wake my ex up from a sound sleep some nights, as in those moments I would be grinding my teeth loudly.
Oh what I would give to be able to completely turn off my mind at night so that I could sleep peacefully. I have lost count of the times that somebody has said, just give it up and get over it. Tell you what cleverarse, let’s trade, you take it on for a week and then we’ll go for coffee and you tell me how you could just give it up and get over it.
I do know that next time they request the old format, it’s entirely within my rights to say no, there is a new format now, I’ll give you that one, the old one has been permanently retired. I know I’m going to have to deliver bits of the old format in March, it’s what they are expecting, but that has to absolutely be the last time.
I have good things to occupy my time the rest of this week, some editing work for a very talented friend. She creates the most amazing things that touch, move, and inspire people. I always enjoy reading through her creations (all the editing that is ever required is nitpicking a comma on occasion). Definitely my happy place, and sharing that Empath link, I swear some days she knows me better than I do.
But, will there be more sleep tonight? No. It may not be the events from the past, a variation on a theme, but, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to go back and revisit any of it again.
As for lecturing/teaching, I still enjoy it, give me a topic in advance and let me run with it on the day of. I’ve lectured on healthcare, health policy, history, bridge building, community cohesiveness, mental health/illness/injury, PTSD and first responders, and more. Never a twitch. The problem occurs, when I have to dig up my own story for the students with details of the traumas that led to my eventual diagnosis of PTSD. People have heard the stories, but, they’ve only heard about 5-10% of the whole. There are things from the past that I will never discuss, there will never be an opening or safe space for it. And if I do go beyond that limit, you will know that it is with someone who I trust completely with my life (I can count them on my fingers).
Not sure what it is, have discussed this at length with one professor I have worked with for a few years now, and we both think we are seeing the cause and effect of those subjected to a steady stream of reality television, TMZ, gossip, tabloids, antisocial media, and more. The unblinking, unthinking, unfeeling masses, who, quite surprisingly, when writing feedback for a lecture, get quite pissy because they want the gory details and didn’t get any. It’s something that my kid sister Nat and I discussed at length last summer, when we both were on the verge of totally throwing in the towel on these talks and lectures. We can deliver the same material, but leave out the root causes, the trauma talk, and still discuss at length the after-effects of living through it.
A few years ago, I did a live to tape interview for a show, 3 1/2 hours which was edited and broadcast over two 90 minute episodes. Toward the end of our time together, the host asked me the Pivot Questionnaire. Some of you may have seen it on episodes of Inside The Actors Studio.
The questionnaire concept was originated by French television personality Bernard Pivot, after the Proust Questionnaire. The 10 questions are:
- 1. What is your favorite word?
- 2. What is your least favourite word?
- 3. What turns you on?
- 4. What turns you off?
- 5. What sound or noise do you love?
- 6. What sound or noise do you hate?
- 7. What is your favorite curse word?
- 8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
- 9. What profession would you not like to do?
- 10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
I have often revisited question 10. I have not mentioned it before in lectures and talks, but will be adding it to the lectures this year. I’m considering asking someone in the lecture hall to join me at the front, and I’ll ask them these 10 questions (there is a teachable moment in it, because I will share my answers after they finish, showing how much people have in common in the room and they will be surprised – it will precede the final moment, “the hero exercise”). I remember question 10 was the one that I got emotional with the answer, and paused to wipe away tears. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? You made a difference, you were a role model, you saved lives, I am proud of you.
Be well kittens, stay safe. Thank you for engaging in the conversation.
YOU are a role model, and I am proud of you! ❤️❤️