After something distressing has happened in your life, recovery is an important part of the restoration process. You might have had a relationship breakdown, experienced the loss of a loved one, been involved in an accident, suffered an illness or maybe a natural disaster. It’s normal to feel upset, but what does recovery look like? How do you know if what you’re experiencing is ‘normal’? How do you know if you are recovering? In this episode you’ll hear about normal reactions to distressing events, what the process of recovery looks like and how to know what to do when recovery isn’t happening for you.
In 2017, Linda Rudd and her husband Matt gave up their respective careers in nursing and law enforcement to follow their dreams of buying a country pub. They purchased the Batlow Hotel and have worked extremely hard to renovate it into a contemporary pub.
On 31 December 2019, the Dunn’s Road bushfire hit Batlow’s surrounds, with the Batlow Hotel under significant threat of total destruction.
Orry Berry is a Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) Coordinator based in Port Macquarie. Orry has worked for over ten years in various roles within the mental health sector, including mental health nursing and Aboriginal mental health. Orry is passionate about being out and about in the community and raising awareness of mental health.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, Orry spent many hours attending bushfire evacuation centres, linking people to mental health support and providing assistance after the fires.
It’s normal to have strong reactions following distressing events which have occurred in our lives.
Common reactions include a range of mental, emotional, physical and behavioural responses. These reactions are normal and, in most cases, they subside as a part of the body’s natural healing and recovery process. Some common reactions to traumatic events are:
- feeling as if you are in a state of ‘high alert’ and are ‘on watch’ for anything else that might happen
- feeling emotionally numb, as if in a state of ‘shock’
- becoming emotional and upset
- feeling extremely fatigued and tired
- feeling very stressed and/or anxious
- being very protective of others including family and friends
- not wanting to leave a particular place for fear of ‘what might happen’.
How to deal with distressing events
- Talk with family, friends, or someone else you trust. Getting support and understanding during a difficult time can be very helpful. You don’t have to face it alone
- Know that what you are feeling is very normal for someone who has been through a difficult event
- Give yourself time. Understand that the way you are feeling will not last. Be kind to yourself
- Accept that it might take a bit of time to adjust
- Spend time doing things that you enjoy – relaxing, going for walks, visiting beautiful places, seeing friends. Plan to do nice things each day
- It will be important to confront situations associated with the traumatic event… but do it gradually. You may decide to go back to work, but go just for a few hours at first and then build up to it slowly
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope. Try to find other ways to relax
Stages of Recovery
Recovery is a unique and individual process that everyone goes through differently. However, there are some common emotions that many people may experience.
- Shock at having to deal with something difficult and scary that you have no prior experience of
- Denial or difficulty in accepting what has happened
- Despair and anger at having to deal with what’s happened
- Acceptance of what’s occurred and the changes it brings and accepting how others see you and how you see yourself
- Coping by finding new ways to tackle these changes and challenges
Recovery goes beyond focusing on managing distressing symptoms. It’s about having choices and being able to create a meaningful and contributing life.
How do I tell if I’m not recovering, and when should I seek help?
An event which a person experiences as being traumatic or distressing results in the human body going into a state of heightened arousal. This is like an ‘emergency mode’ that involves a series of internal alarms being turned on.
Most people only stay in emergency mode for a short period of time or until the immediate threat has passed.
The normal healing and recovery process involves the body coming down out of a state of heightened arousal. In other words, the internal alarms turn off, the high levels of energy subside, and the body re-sets itself to a normal state. Typically, this should occur within approximately one month of the event.
Traumatic stress can cause very strong reactions in some people and may become chronic or ongoing. Seek professional help if you:
- are highly distressed by intense feelings or physical sensations
- continue to feel numb and empty
- feel that you are not beginning to return to normal after three or four weeks
- continue to have disturbed sleep or nightmares
- deliberately try to avoid anything that reminds you of the distressing event
- find that relationships with loved ones are suffering
- are using more alcohol or drugs
- cannot return to work or manage your normal responsibilities
- keep reliving the traumatic experience
- feel very much on edge and can be easily startled
On 6 January 2020, the National Bushfire Recovery Agency was established by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to lead and coordinate a national response to rebuilding communities affected by bushfires across large parts of Australia.
The website focuses on connecting people, communities, primary producers and businesses with the services and assistance they may need to rebuild and recover to support the recovery of all Australians.
Check it out if you’re in need of recovery assistance.
Lifeline Bushfire Recovery Line – 13 43 57
Lifeline have a 24/7 Bushfire Recovery Line to help people affected by natural disaster work through the stress and traumatic nature of natural ‘events’. There’s also some helpful supporting information on recovering after a bushfire and natural disaster on Lifeline’s website.
Grief Line – 1300 845 745
GriefLine is a free national counselling and support telephone, SMS and video service. GriefLine offer confidential support 7 days a week. This includes phone and telehealth counselling and support to people experiencing grief, loss and/or trauma. The website also features a fantastic range of supporting resources.
Ahead for Business has been developed to support small business owners to take action on their own mental health and wellbeing. It provides tailored resources, peer support, check-ups and personalised action plans, and showcases the experiences of small business owners through podcasts, videos, blogs and case studies.
As the largest employment sector in Australia, small businesses are an important setting for a focus on mental health.
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Beyond Blue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.
Beyond Blue’s website is packed with helpful information and supporting resources. There’s even a devoted section to coping with and recovering from trauma.
Beyond Blue also have a 24/7 phone line. Call 1300 22 4636.
If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.
If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s mental health, you can call the NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 for advice.
Having a tough time and need someone to talk to right now? The following services are there to listen and help you out. They are confidential and available 24/7.
- Lifeline – 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service– 1300 659 467
- MensLine– 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Help Line (for young people aged 5 to 25)– 1800 55 1800
- Domestic Violence Line – 1800 656 463
- 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732
- Alcohol and Drug Information Service – 1800 250 015