When I was a kid I was really scared of darkness, so I used to challenge myself to go for walks through the woods at winter nights. I vividly remember the creeping feeling of panic just about to break, as I took one step after another into the thickening shadows.
Eventually it’s pitch black and I stop. Breath. Feel the blood pumping in my veins. I’m seven years old, perhaps eight, and I’m just about scared shitless. Yet I know there’s worse to come. Because the real scary bit is when you leave the darkest part behind and head back towards the lights. That’s when the monsters start clawing at your heels, and if you break into a run at that point, you *know* they’ll devour you.
So I keep calm and carry on as if nothing bad is about to happen. And somewhat to my surprise, again and again, I make it back alive. High on the exhilarating feeling you get when fear has just left the body.
I thought about this the other day when I sat down with a group of people to look back at an intense period of work we’d been through together.
Most of it had been good, but as we debriefed it also became apparent that almost everyone had gone through rough patches. Disagreements among friends, plans not working out, family members getting seriously sick. All kinds of troubles that only now surfaced.
It felt good sharing, but I was also left with a feeling that there was something here to be understood. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Then I stumbled upon an interview with a therapist specialising in crisis management, and what he said confirmed my muted intuition.
He said it isn’t necessarily a great idea to talk about a difficult experience while you’re going through it.
He also said that professionals are over-rated, that friends and family, although complete amateurs, can often provide the best trauma support.
I think that makes a lot of sense. With the benefit of hindsight and in the presence of friends, when looking back at experiences which were difficult as they transpired, the stress and negative feelings can often fade away and most of what remains are the lessons learnt.
So if you’re in the thick of it, try to just sit with the monsters for a while and you’ll see that they’re actually not as scary as they seem. One day you might even be able to look back at them and smile.