Sleepless nights, haunting memories, anxious thoughts, dark feelings and the never-ending questions. Nobody sets out in life wanting to be a survivor. We may be drawn to survivor stories, but we certainly don’t want to go through the heartache required to be one.
I will never forget Kylie Epperson’s comment after the horrific fire that destroyed Spring Lake Pork, killing 18,000 pigs. She said, “That ‘It will never happen to me’ mentality is completely gone.” I’ve thought about that for a long time because try as you might, that’s tough to do. It’s hard to fully understand tragedy until you’ve walked (or crawled) through one.
As a 16-year-old aspiring writer, I remember my first in-depth reporting series on “The Road Less Traveled.” I interviewed a fellow classmate who started abusing alcohol at the young age of 8, setting her up for a course of destruction that eventually landed her in jail. It was heartbreaking and opposite from my personal experience. However, it was at that point I realized I wanted to be a writer – to share stories to help people in some way.
Fast forward five years. As an intern at the Angus Journal, I tackled a story of resilience and survival – a cattle producer lost his eyesight due to a rare disease and eventually had to learn how to do his job all over again, but this time, through his wife’s eyes.
He had a lot to grieve. His life changed in an instant. And my life did, too, as I listened to how he overcame that setback. That’s the best part of my job – being trusted with the raw stories of survival that make us human.
Here are four things I’ve learned when it comes to dealing with a tragedy.
1. Take a break.
You have to find a way to rest. “The human mind is like a computer in search mode, replaying what we’ve been through and uncovering every possible scenario for undoing what cannot be undone,” says Ken Druck, a mental health expert and author. It’s important to shut that down because it may never make sense.
2. Express your emotions.
You can’t hide your feelings for long. It’s important to express your emotions in a healthy and constructive way. Try talking to a counselor or friend, journaling or taking a walk.
3. Lean on your support system.
No one can get through hard times on their own. “Know who you can talk to as your emotions develop and change throughout time,” Epperson advises.
4. Be patient and forgive yourself.
Healing is a gradual process. No matter how smart, organized or hardworking you may be, you can’t control a tragedy. Sometimes accepting this, rather than wrestling and resisting, can give you a measure of peace as you move forward.
During a recent conversation with a few veterinarians, they shared that they want to hear more stories that inspire and encourage. I encourage you to reach out if you know of a story that will motivate and encourage others. And whatever you do, don’t miss the Epperson’s story.
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