Sunday, April 17, 2011

Staying Positive

I've heard it said that people only put their hand on a hot stove once, before they learn not to do it again, but they'll get in relationship after relationship after relationship, and never learn.

A person's response to tragedy, or to pain, or to any other of a whole host of uncomfortable or strongly negative experiences varies, greatly.  From person to person, and from event to event.

A few nights ago, I went out to dinner with a couple of friends.  One is also in EMS; the other is not.  About halfway through dinner, we realized that our topics of dinner conversation were possibly a little unusual.  The two of us in EMS were sharing stories of various experiences, ranging from dead bodies to missing body parts to various bodily fluids... right.  Typical discussions for a very specific subset of people.

Not so much for everyone else, perhaps.

Our friend was amazingly tolerant.
He couldn't help but note the ease with which we moved from topic to topic.  From dead bodies to baseball.  From incontinence to the weather. From a horrific car crash to a favorite song.

It is clearly possible for us to witness horrific things, to be intimately involved in dealing with them, and then to walk away, wash our hands both literally and figuratively, and move on, to the next thing.  We all have some sort of shielding mechanism that keeps us from losing it, most of the time.

I've been thinking about this, and the whole concept of "staying positive."

I've had a lot of stuff happen in my life.  I've been around a while, and around the block a few times, so to speak.  Most of the time, I've been able to remain a fairly positive person.  Even when things suck, I'm able to stay focused on doing what needs to be done, and on making the best of it.  For the most part, my life is pretty decent.  Especially compared to all sorts of ways and times it could have gone in other directions.

I have a little checklist I give people who ask me for parenting advice, when they complain of being overwhelmed by everything.
It goes like this:
1. Is the house on fire?
2. Is anyone bleeding?
3. Is the roof going to cave in?
4. Do you have food and water available?

If the answer to the first three is "no" and the answer to the fourth is "yes," then relax.
Right now, for this moment, things are okay.

Sometimes, everything comes down to just this moment.  Are things okay right now?  Good.  Take a deep breath.  How about now? Still okay?  We're on a roll.

I use some variation of this little checklist any time I start to feel stressed.  How are things RIGHT NOW?

Unfortunately, sometimes, the answers aren't so great.
Even so, it's good to know where you are in the continuum.  Okay, or... not okay.
If things are really NOT okay, then it's time to take action.


The two of you who have been reading this blog may have noticed that I haven't written in a while.
There's a reason for that.

I made a decision a few posts ago that I want to stay focused on the positive on here for a while.
And then got slammed with some decidely not positive experiences.

You know how "they" say that if you can't say anything good, you shouldn't say anything at all?
Got caught there for a while.

My question is, why is that?  Why did that happen?

With all of the different things I've experienced, all the things I've seen or done, all the things I've felt, most of which I've been able to let go of, or get past, or move on from, or file away, or learn from, or whatever...

Why is it that THIS one, I've stayed stuck on?

Why is it that we can watch people die, and go home and have dinner, no problem...
but then turn around and have something way less overtly awful happen, and not be able to recover from it?

Back to how I started this post...

Why IS it that people learn so quickly to avoid SOME kinds of pain, and NEVER learn to avoid others?
Why is it that we learn to adapt to a wide range of high-stress incidents, but not ALL of them?


  1. Make that 3 people reading Hilinda. This is a great post. Some excellent observations, great advice and finally a very interesting question.

    I have actually caught some grief for seemingly not reacting to certain calls. Especially those involving children. Most people will tell you that these affect them more because they relate them to their children. I can understand that but since I started in EMS I decided to do things a certain way. I don't judge people. Whether they are doctors, lawyers, rich, poor, upstanding citizens, or homeless addicts they will get the same quality care. So my thinking is why would i treat them different due to age or gender. I treat kids as if they were my grandchildren, young adults my kids, people my age as brothers or sisters, and the eldely as mom and dad. So no I don't react any more to kids but none the less either. I grieve just as much for losing someones dad or grandmother. I rationalize every call by answering the question did I do all that I possibly could and if the answer is yes, then I move on. That is not to say that I don't have ones that effect me. I am human, even have a few ghosts but for the most part...

    As for dealing with those I have a list much like yours. With the added mantra that sometimes you just have to walk barefoot through the grass. Yes, my kids sometimes thought me insane while growing up.Try it some time. Sometimes the grass is dry and brittle and it hurts a little, sometimes its wet with dew and a little cold, other times a bit long, soft and embracing, bt no matter which i get through it and most times the walk simply reminds me that I'm alive and brings me back to things such as on your list.

    As far as why little things sometimes bother us more then the big ones. It could be a couple of things. One the big ones are more easily rationalized as being beyond our control whether or not that's true. If your like me I sometimes say its because my brain is full and I can't process any more. It is never more evident then when dealing with the politics of the job. People tell me that I am probably the most patient man they know, then are real surprised when the littlest of things makes me explode. Others say its the final straw that broke the camel's back but me, my brain just got full

  2. A little deaf girl waved goodbye to me from the hospital stretcher after I had brought her to the ER for a behavioral problem and learned just before i left that her foster parents had been prostituting her. She was nine at the time. I sat in the twenty degree cold in the only seat I could find-the smoking shelter- and mooched cigarettes (I don't smoke) and quietly cried for over an hour, then got back in the truck and did it again for, well going on ten years now.

    You never know what's going to get you. But you go on.