Being ready for a crisis makes a big difference when one actually happens, says Kieran Venning, a Marlborough-based counsellor, Te Mauri consultant and community educator.
Kieran runs a private practice from an office in Blenheim and was one of the professionals commissioned to help workers and managers at a workplace near Seddon after the 6.5-magnitude Cook Strait earthquake on July 21 last year and the 6.6 Grassmere quake that followed on August 16.
Teams of supporters flocked to Seddon after both earthquakes to provide emergency food, clothing, counselling and reassurance, he says. But when the aftershocks finally stopped, the out-of-town respondents went back to their own lives, leaving Awatere residents to carry on alone.
Six months on, many are coping well, he says, but there are some who feel unnerved at the way their worlds so easily fell apart.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder Kieran specialises in and he sent a copy of a book he wrote, Plan a Response Before Trauma Happens, to the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, inviting it to print more copies to distribute within the community
"My way of connecting to people, a larger audience, is through my writing; it's a gift I was blessed with," he says from his Wairau Valley home this week.
Growing up in Upper Hut, he had always enjoyed visiting an uncle's farm so when he finished his secondary school education at a Catholic boys' school, he worked in a sawmill then as a hospital orderly until he had enough money to buy a car, a horse, a saddle and some dogs: "All the gear you need to go farming."
Working his way up the farming ranks, Kieran was managing a farm at Pipiwai, north of Whangarei, when the 1988 Cyclone Bola stormed through, destroying all of the property's fences. Re-dividing the paddocks with electric ones was the easiest option so Kieran dug in thousands of new fence batons to carry the single wires. During the repetitive work, he injured his right arm and subsequent surgery left him unable to form a proper grip with his hand.
Realising he could no longer be an active farmer was a traumatic experience, one his marriage didn't survive. But he started afresh and got a job teaching horticulture, outdoor education and conservation to polytechnic students.
His interest in psychology and counselling was prompted after a student was fatally shot by his own father, a former Vietnam soldier with untreated PTSD. "I didn't like how it left me feeling and I started doing some training and counselling papers."
To complement his written studies, Kieran approached a tohunga (priest) who taught him traditional spiritual beliefs. Then he added a Treaty of Waitangi unit to his Bachelor of Counselling papers and the historical facts left him feeling "physically sick".
"At school I was led to believe in one [New Zealand heritage] story which turned out to be totally untrue."
He then listened to an inner prompt and started writing. In 2005 his first self-published book, One Soul Being Realised, was released. Then he answered a "call to come back home".
It wasn't Upper Hutt, though, but Timaru and Dunedin, the ports his ancestors had sailed to when migrating to New Zealand.
Kieran lists his heritage as Irish, Scottish, German, English, Kai Tahu and native Iowa but "silences the multiple voices" in his head by referring to himself as "a Celtic Maori".
He laments New Zealand's "shallow history" and believes a greater understanding of where our forbears come from provides a stronger, present-day foundation.
He uses that foundations to help people through trauma.
"I get people to reconnect with meaningful activities that keep them grounded and anchored so they have something to come back to."
Immediately following the Seddon earthquakes in July and August, a large number of responders descended en masse to provide immediate support. After the dust settled many residents went back to their lives; others are still picking up the pieces.
Six months on from a significant event is an important milestone and an indication of how well you are doing.
A person's response to major events is uniquely individual. Everybody is different. There is no right or wrong way to cope. An individual's response is simply how it is for them.
Those at greater risk following any natural disaster and major life event are those individuals with a prior history of trauma. Those in our community who are most vulnerable are those who live alone, the elderly, children whose parents aren't coping, those with medical conditions, people with any form of disability and mental health consumers.
Signs of trauma may include an increase in drug and alcohol consumption, or over or under-eating. Others are sleep disturbances, loss of interests in life, lack of motivation, relationship difficulties, a change in behaviour and daily routines, irritability, outbursts of anger, domestic violence, feeling isolated and alone, disconnected from meaningful activities and significant others, people experiencing anxiety and suffering reactive depression.
Individuals and families can gauge their recovery progress by asking the following questions.
● Has my life and daily functioning returned to pre-earthquake levels? Or am I still struggling in the aftermath?
● What was life like before and how is it looking now?
● Is anything different and am I back to so-called normality?
When one area of life isn't doing so well following the earthquakes, there will be a tendency for the impact of those traumatic events to cause interference with other aspects of daily living.
Trauma is not discerning. It affects all people in uniquely different ways. Acknowledging the impact of a significant life event doesn't make us weak. Acknowledgement simply indicates that seeking professional help at this time will mitigate the trauma and lessen the long-term consequences of what you have experienced.
In this time of need, your doctor is a good place to start because assistance is available under the Primary Health Initiative. Victim Support can also be contacted and can refer people to professional counsellors who are trained in trauma management.
● Kieran Venning is a qualified counsellor with specific training in trauma recovery. Call 03 572 2788 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops in response to a severe trauma.
An individual who experiences, witnesses, or is confronted by actual or threatened death, injury, or loss of physical integrity of self or others can experience intense fear, helplessness, or horror, triggering three clusters of PTSD symptoms.
Re-experiencing the trauma (nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts) Persistent avoidance of reminders of the trauma Persistent increased arousal (sleep difficulties, night sweats, daily sweating, on edge, increased irritability).
The symptoms must last for at least a month and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Symptoms lasting for at least a day but less than one month might meet the diagnostic criteria for Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), a common forerunner to the development of full blown PTSD.
Common symptoms of PTSD and Complex PTSD that sufferers report:
Hyper-vigilance (feels like but is not paranoia) Exaggerated startle response Irritability Sudden angry or violent outbursts Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive recollections, replays, violent visualizations
Sleep disturbance Exhaustion and chronic fatigue Reactive depression Guilt Feelings of detachment
Avoidance behaviours Nervousness, anxiety Phobias about specific daily routines, events or objects Irrational or impulsive behaviour Loss of interest in life, including sexual intimacy Loss of ambition Inability to feel joy and pleasure Poor concentration Impaired memory Joint pains, muscle pains Emotional numbness Physical numbness Low self-esteem An overwhelming sense of injustice and a strong desire to do something about it.
Post Traumatic Stress
Through years of research, 17 PTSD symptoms have been identified.
These symptoms are listed in the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-IV).
These 17 symptoms are divided into three separate clusters.
The three PTSD symptom clusters, and the specific symptoms that make up these clusters, are described below.
Frequently having upsetting thoughts or memories about a traumatic event. Having recurrent nightmares. Acting or feeling as though the traumatic event were happening again, Having very strong feelings of distress when reminded of the traumatic event. Being physically responsive, such as experiencing a surge in your heart rate or sometimes called a "flashback."
Sweating, to reminders of the traumatic event.
Prepared by Kieran C. Venning, Kaitiaki; Counsellor (2012) Page 2
Making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic Making an effort to avoid places or people that remind you of the traumatic event. Having a difficult time remembering important parts of the traumatic event. A loss of interest in important, once positive, activities. Feeling distant from others. Experiencing difficulties having positive feelings, such as happiness or love. Feeling as though your life may be cut short.
Having a difficult time falling or staying asleep. Feeling more irritable or having outbursts of anger. Having difficulty concentrating. Feeling constantly "on guard" or like danger is lurking around every corner. Being "jumpy" or easily startled.
Headaches, fatigue, pounding heart, digestive upsets, teeth grinding, light headedness, irritability, loss or gain in weight, insomnia and muscle tics are among the early signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
To discourage it, see a doctor, and a qualified stress therapist.
The Marlborough Express