Coastal Community Association engaged Dr. Pamela Valentine, a Tallahassee therapist and FSU adjunct professor, to come back last Friday to lead another session for “Strong Women in Gulf County” dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in terms of trauma, grief, and growth, not just for themselves but for helping and dealing with others. Her husband, Dr. Tom Smith, also a therapist and professor, assisted in the meeting.

It was extremely helpful for those attending to learn more of the “normal progression” for how going through the process works and how each individual has to deal with it in their own way based on their past experiences, their own situation, the support or lack of it they have financially and emotionally, and basically how to keep moving forward.

Dr. Valentine explained how the brain itself is actually changed and affected by trauma and continuing trauma. As opposed to having our “whole” brain functioning in a normal fashion, the “reptilian” portion of the brain (amygdala), or Gaudian which is “nonthinking, nonfeeling,” but which is designed for survival, has basically taken control. Everything creates a heightened physiological response. It sets up the flight or fight phenomenon but also blocks the communication between the right and left sides of the brain.

The right brain handles things like language, judgment, facts, time, order, while the right handles emotions, creativity, emotions, and experience. You need your whole brain functioning, not just parts to gain balance and function. You can’t maintain this heighten physiological response or lack of communication between the parts of the brain. As a result, normal everyday things like timing and scheduling, normal sleep patterns, concentration, fatigue, language, emotions-too much-can’t quit crying or conversely, too little, can’t cry, feeling numb or anger are thrown into a tailspin.

It can’t be ignored because the trauma happens once, but the ripple effects go on and on, until we address it and move forward. Anxiety and depression are real effects from the trauma. Depression is anger turned inward while anxiety is a result of negative thoughts just circling around and around in our head without action to resolve them.

Individuals in the group discussed where they were, how they were trying to cope and what they needed. Some have lost everything, some very little. Some are not only coping with taking care of themselves but helping family and others. Some discussed being “afraid” for the first time in their lives, others shared the “breaking” down when their life was on the side of the road and “loosing it” when it was removed, while others felt relief seeing the piles of debris removed.

Dr. Valentine and her husband, Dr. Tom Smith, led the group to some of the language and actions that can be used to help reconnect the brain personally. They led the group in how to start begin regaining balance in our topsy-turvy world and discussed how to give and how to ask for support from family and friends.

Coastal Community Association will have Dr. Valentine back after the first of the year to continue working with the Strong Women of Gulf County and will also have a separate session for all the Strong Men.

If you want direct information about the next meeting, contact Robyn A. Rennick at drills@talstar.com.