A little empathy goes a long way

I just got a comment from a blogging friend to the extent that he resents the fact that I have to go on deployment to such a dangerous place. That comment meant a lot to me, perhaps because when I posted a status update on Facebook about going to Darfur, only two people commented. Now I’m almost never on Facebook and I don’t blame people for not responding since I almost never comment on other people’s status updates either. But it did make me think about the kind of support I’m getting (and not getting) as I struggle with anxiety about preparing to go to Darfur.

One Colonel suggested that my official passport application will take another six months and won’t be ready by the end of the month as I was told. A major told me that I probably won’t be home for Christmas since a replacement is unlikely to arrive in December and the OC of the base there has to give his approval before you can get on the plane. A staff officer was telling me about SA soldiers who were ambushed and robbed of their equipment, their vehicles and their wallets by Sudanese rebels. And then there are the comments about the unbearable heat. 45C to 50C in summer apparently according to one Colonel (although he was making that estimation on the basis of his daughter’s experience in UAE). My sister sent me a very helpful two-page list of everything that I should remember to take with me, which also had the unfortunate side-effect of making me more anxious.

And so what I’m left with is anxiety that rises and subsides again but generally appears to be on an upwards trajectory. The effect is almost paralysing. I sit in my office and worry and worry. I make a few phone calls and I’m told that I have to wait another month. And then I worry some more and feel a mix of powerlessness, resentment, anxiety and dread.

My social work colleague suggested that I plan a wedding for December, which will necessitate being back in South Africa. Now that’s not a bad idea and not very far away from being a reality. Watch this space. But I don’t want to put off this deployment for any longer than I can. If L and I schedule a wedding for December there’s a chance that they won’t send me until next year, which is really not going to work for us.

In the meantime I have other work to attend to and I find that my ability to read and write is deteriorating. It’s not that I can’t read and write. It’s just that I don’t have the sustained calmness and attention to do so. I’m on high alert here. Loud noises make me jump. And loud voices (which are quite common here) make me jump even more. I know that if I was a dog I would probably be cowering in the corner of my office and shaking almost uncontrollably. Or perhaps not. Perhaps I would just bite the next person who steps on my already fragile sensibilities.

But I’m going to have to address this anxiety one way or another. Some more therapy perhaps. Whatever it takes.

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17 Responses to A little empathy goes a long way

  1. The anxiety is hugely understandable, especially as the goal-posts keep changing. If it was clear-cut, it might be slightly easier to deal with.

    Meanwhile, this space is now being watched with an eagle eye! When do we get an official introduction to L?

  2. litlove says:

    Poor, poor Pete. I’m not at all surprised you’re anxious – I’m feeling anxious just reading this! No wonder you’re on red alert – uncertainty, danger, not knowing… all designed to distress. And once you’ve started looking for things that will make you anxious, it’s impossible to stop – that’s how we’re wired. Not to mention that it’s Dafur, for heaven’s sake!

    I think you need a dual approach, one part psychological to one part pragmatic. You need information. Whose currently doing the job that you’ll take over? Find that person, milk him or her for information. You’ll do better if you know exactly what it’s like rather than suffer speculation. And then put considerable weight behind securing the dates when you’ll be away. You have good personal reasons for doing this.

    Then, if you can begin to find it, you need all the soothing and compassion available in your head for yourself. If you can find a way to think it, you need to feel that YOU will be okay in Dafur, that YOU have the resources necessary to cope with the situation, that YOU will find your way through, no matter what other people do or didn’t do. You know as well as anyone that attitude is what rescues us, a grounded perspective. Please know I say all this having the hardest time myself in finding such a thing!! A book I can recommend – The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert, very good on the terror anxiety exerts on us when it’s awakened.

    And know if nothing else, that you’ll have a bunch of virtual buddies, willing you on from afar, and supporting you as best we can no matter what the situation. Love in any form helps.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Litlove, you’re a real star. Funnily enough, I find my anxiety is not so much about actually being in Darfur as it is about getting there, being away from home and then coming back after three months. I don’t trust the powers-that-be that three months is only three months. The delay in my own departure tells me that. And then the Govt of Sudan are so sticky about landing rights etc. that it’s a huge process just to get there. Once I’m there and I have a date for my replacement I will be a lot calmer. People tell me that South Africans are liked there (unlike Somalia for example where foreigners seem to be hated) and the biggest threat is possibly getting robbed. It’s the fighting with officials before I go that is wearing me down. “You want me to go,” I tell them, “so why is this so difficult?” I’m pretty determined now though. Go, come back, politely decline any further deployments.

  3. doctordi says:

    So when can you get the hell out of the military?

    • Pete says:

      Good question. Psychology jobs are hard to come by in Cape Town (especially as a white male) which means I would need to strike out on my own. Not possible until mid-2011 I estimate. Unless I just bite the proverbial bullet and supplement my income with freelance editing / writing. Quite tempting but I’m not sure how realistic that is in the current climate.

      • doctordi says:

        Litlove makes a good point – perhaps a timely relocation is something to consider?! L has transferable skills too – when we were living in the UK they were crying out for medical practitioners of all descriptions.

        Have you spent any time recently looking for a job locally…? If you’re anything like my husband, active job seeking is actively avoided!

      • to Jo-Burg? Sounds like the military can be a bit of a pain. And not easy if you intend on getting married and starting a family.

      • XSouthAfricanGal says:

        I mean – relacating to Jo Burg? or one of the other big cities ?
        or if worse comes to worse London aint a bad idea
        🙂

      • Pete says:

        Doctordi – You’re right. Some active job-seeking is called for. I click on to a Careers website occasionally and am routinely disappointed at the lack of jobs. As for the UK, L has already worked there for three years and so would definitely rule that out. If push comes to shove, I can be a house-husband for a while. I could get used to that.

        XSouthAfricanGal – Hello! Have also lived in Joburg for a few years so been there, done that. We’re happy in CT for a while. I can definitely work out a plan. And you’re right, the military can be quite painful!

      • XSouthAfricanGal says:

        What about a part time teaching job as a lecturer at a local colege or uni(psych inro ect..)
        That’s what most therapist do here(in the holy land) Private practice and teach.
        seems easy enough

  4. Litlove says:

    Hampstead in London is very safe and chock-a-block full of psychotherapists, so they tell me. Fancy a change of scene…?? 😉

  5. Grad says:

    I have a son who has been deployed 6 times – 4 times as a Marine and twice as a civilian. It made me a nervous wreck. He assures me he need not go again. Who wouldn’t be anxious at the prospect of deployment? I will pray for your safety (even if you don’t believe in God, it can’t hurt, right?)

  6. I have no advice, just my sympathy. The unknown and uncertainty, as well as possible discomfort and dangers, are naturally anxiety provoking. I hope that answers come soon.

  7. verbivore says:

    I can only imagine your stress level right now. I’m keeping you in my thoughts. Good luck during this awful waiting period.

  8. The uncertain details are worse than the assignment, I would imagine. No wonder you’re anxious. Anyone would be, esp. with the additional pressures you have on your plate. Take care of yourself as well as you can, while you wait … anything that calms and organizes you, do it. I always find in situations like this that taking charge of whatever I can helps … it gives me a (probably illusory, but what the hell?) sense of control.

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