An important part of managing mental health, anger,depression etc is the ability of individuals to find inner peace. It seems these days that every one has high expectations of what should be achieved without understanding the impact on the individual. People are expected to deliver on the expectations of themselves or others. Performing or living life to these perceived or real expectations generates feelings of underachievement, failing and a sense of guilt that we need to do more. These precursors to stress, if left to compound and grow, negatively impact on all parts of our lives.
Over an 11 week period I deployed on 4 waves to flood affected regions with Disaster Relief Australia. The regions were devastated by flood and rain events with whole communities wiped out. During this period I encountered a diverse range of volunteers donating time to help with the sustainment of the affected and recovery of their lives. As diverse as their individuality were the mechanisms they used to cope, or not, with the emotional impact of volunteering.
Those who have deployed with the military will understand the term post deployment blues. A form of depression these feelings normally start one or two weeks before the end of the deployment and continue for months after you get home. The feelings stem from achieving a sense of purpose then having it stolen away.
Life in the military revolves around training for war. It is continuous, monotonous and repetitive. When the opportunity to deploy comes the majority of members grab it excitedly knowing they can finally utilise everything they have learned.
Through all the danger, stress and excitement of a deployment time flies and before you know it your time comes to and end. For some all they want to do is extend and stay. The feeling of returning to a world of training for war after you’ve experienced it is draining and depressing. Extensions are rare, the post deployment blues are not.
A similar thing happens with volunteers. During my four waves of flood relief I found myself speaking to many of the new recruits about “post deployment blues”. For all of us the devastation was emotionally confronting. It’s hard to describe and the televised news footage didn’t do the situation justice. The greatest impact on all of us were the raw and changing emotions of those impacted.
For seven days the volunteers go out and help people put their lives back together. At the end of each day there would be tears of gratitude and thanks from the people helped. The volunteers would leave a house, shop or property with the occupants grateful for the help received. For some volunteers though they would leave feeling as if they had left a job half done and wanting to more. This feeling of guilt can be dangerous if not managed, snow balling throughout the week. For volunteers “post deployment blues” revolves around a feeling of not doing or giving enough.
One of the things I talk to other volunteers about is finding and making peace with yourself. No matter the situation there is only so much and individual, strike team or wave can do. People need to sleep, tiredness makes us sloppy and unsafe. Adrenaline doesn’t last for ever and leaves the body fatigued. A fatigued volunteer is an ineffective volunteer.
For me, understanding my limitations and that I have helped people is the first step to peace. Knowing that after a nights rest I can go out and help others again helps me sleep. Replacing the feeling of not doing enough with those of achievement and self satisfaction negates the “post deployment blues”.
For many of us each day can be a mini deployment. We learn and work hard to meet the challenges we face each day. Coupled with the expectations of others we can go home feeling we haven’t accomplished anything. Instead of the blues we feel stress and dread for the next day which affects our home demeanour and ability to sleep.
It’s important as we deal with daily challenges we focus on our achievements. If you’re working hard, doing your best and making achievements then you should celebrate this. Balance the expectations of others with your own. Don’t commit to the unreasonable. If you have a team agree on goals and celebrate reaching them. When you finish for the day and go home think of what you’ve achieved and share it with your family.
Each night make peace with yourself. Know that you have done all you can and done it well. This peace will help you sleep, manage emotions and enjoy relationships. Remember you an only do what you can do.