This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, originally was published April 26, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
One of the questions our staff repeatedly receives is: How do we know when we've reached a new phase in disaster response?
Several more questions often follow: How do we know if we have reached "disillusionment"? How do we know if we are fully into the rebuilding phase? How do we know if we are healed and have reached a "new normal" or "wiser living" phase?
It's helpful to remember the phases are not prescriptive and progressing through them is more of an art than a science. Each group moves through the phases at their own pace and in their own way.
Over the years, many people have critiqued the phases – which we encourage! If this chart does not adequately represent your community's experience, then how might you draw it in a way that does? It's meant to be a conversation tool that aids your group in identifying together your own collective experience, while providing a sense of what has generally gone on for others.
Each group moves through the phases at their own pace and in their own way.
Still, one of the ongoing and more consistent critiques has been how this chart does not adequately represent the long term mental, emotional, and spiritual care needs that appear to persist for many years, perhaps especially following incidents of mass violence, technological disaster, chronic violence, or abuse. The senses of loss of life, loss of community, and loss of trust in fellow human beings can linger for many years.
Our colleague, Rev. Matt Crebbin, from the Healing the Healers project often describes healing after human-caused disaster as learning how to dance again, but now with a limp. "We've lost a part of ourselves that we will never get back," he says.
At ICTG, we encourage community organizations to host spaces and rituals where survivors can communicate what's happened, express their grief, metabolize their stress or anxiety, and be nourished through their senses of mourning or depression.
Recently, the 20th year marker of the Columbine school shooting, as well as recent deaths related to the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings, have reminded us all how persistent the senses of disorientation and heartache can be.
At ICTG, we encourage community organizations to host spaces and rituals where survivors can communicate what's happened, express their grief, metabolize their stress or anxiety, and be nourished through their senses of mourning or depression. If you'd like to discuss or learn more about how your organization might do that, contact us. We'd be glad to hear from you. Also, you can share helpful tips with others in the comments below about how your community has healed or is continuing in healing.
One of the most challenging aspects to accept when responding to a disaster is how long term recovery differs from other forms of stress. Unfortunately, response to a pandemic also significantly differs from other forms of long term recovery, let alone other forms of stress.
One of the major differences from other types of disasters is that a pandemic simultaneously effects to great degree numerous communities at once. Other types of disasters (i.e., tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or mass attacks, for example) instead may effect one or a few communities at once.
There can be positive aspects to the broad scope of pandemic impacts. For example, many people appreciate how we're all in this together, no matter what county, state, or even country you may be located. If you call a family member or coworker in another region, likely you have similar experiences to discuss.
That said, the level of impact can feel overwhelming to many people. Here are some important practices to keep in mind as you proceed through stages of impact by pandemic:
Pace and Nourish Yourself and the People Around You as You Go
This cannot be emphasized enough. The road ahead is a long one. There will be many needs to address, well beyond issues of quarantine and physical distancing. You will have greater ability to adapt and respond to what comes if you pace your response, do not over function, and incorporate healthy daily practices. You cannot solve the pandemic in a day, a week, or even a month.
As you consider pacing and nourishing yourself and the people around you, in your homes, work, or neighborhood, consider what you have been putting off in the last few days since beginning to realize the gravity of the pandemic spread. Dinners with family or housemates? Smiling at people in your household or in your neighborhood on a regular basis? Taking time to move around, or to take a mental break from focusing on response to think about or enjoy something else for a little while? How many days will you be putting these things off? This week? Several weeks? The demands are not going to lift any time soon. And if you continue to put these important nourishing practices on hold, you inadvertently will prepare yourself for burnout.
Gather Your Resources
What or who helps you personally and professionally? If you do not already know, now is a good time to figure this out, as you will need to draw on these practices, forms of support, or people throughout the weeks ahead. Having a current referral list is very helpful. There may also be certain supplies you regularly need in the weeks ahead. Take time to consider what those are and identify ways of obtaining them, if possible and necessary.
Remember, A Step at a Time
Rather than focusing on the big picture, many people who survive, and even thrive, beyond significant adversity, reflect on how they did it by focusing on what they or the people around them needed next, more than everything that was needed. By focusing on the next step, gradually you create a step-by-step pathway forward.
You can do this! And, your efforts are contagious. Thank you for the tremendous difference you are making.
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