The Struggle to Heal: the broken foot and the Sydney Siege.

Have you ever considered the different way we respond to physical injuries versus psychological trauma? There’s absolutely no stigma going to a physiotherapist to treat your physical injuries, whereas admitting to seeing a psychologist could well open a whole can of worms.

Quite a double-standard, isn’t it?

It’s now almost been two months since the horrific terrorist siege gripped Sydney as a gunman held 18 people hostage in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place at the heart of Sydney’s CBD. While the hostages each have their own story, I am addressing the ripple effect which spread beyond the Lindt Cafe and held Sydney in its grip and is still rippling in the shadows. As evidenced by the thousands of floral tributes which overflowed through Martin Place and a Facebook request to send Christmas cards to Katrina Dawson’s kids spread; many, many people were deeply moved and grief-stricken over what happened. We truly and genuinely cared. This concern is naturally mixed with grief, fear and compassionate empathy and there’s naturally a need for psychological healing here too. There has been such grief for the Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson…two courageous heroes…strangers we’d never met before.

Flowers Martin Place

Flowers Martin Place

The night before the siege, I broke my foot and I felt this coincidence provided an opportunity to explore the differences between physical and psychological healing. The hostages were interviewed at length on TV last night and they each have their story. Naturally, I am very mindful of their trauma and send them my love and prayers. However, I’m looking further afield at how Sydney is responding to its psychological wounds. Are we undergoing treatment?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I returned to Martin Place for the first time since the siege last week on my way home from a series of medical appointments. I usually go off on a bit of a detour on the way home and quite intentionally don’t declare my whereabouts. This is Mummy’s secret escape…an absolute indulgence. I usually end up in a gorgeously quirky vegan cafe in Sydney’s Surry Hills. There’s a portrait of “The Vegan Mary” at the entrance and they make the most scrumptiously divine Coconut Chai Lattes. They’re like drinking a coconut cloud.

However, this time I decided to go to Martin Place and pay my respects to the siege victims and survivors. I didn’t know what to expect. I naturally thought I’d get emotional when I reached the Lindt Cafe but what surprised me was the creepy uneasiness I felt even walking through Martin Place. Quite out of character, I wondered whether I should report in and call home. Let my husband know where I was just in case. After all, nobody knew I was anywhere near the city. I was meant to be on the train heading home, in the absolute opposite direction. If something happened, no one would know I was there. Not that anything was going to happen. After all, lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice. That said, we didn’t expect it to strike the first time either. Now, we’ve woken up. Sydney is on alert. Not red alert but we’re certainly no longer asleep.

You see, despite the superficial rhetoric that Sydney is back to normal, things have changed. Something has shattered and the pieces don’t quite fit back together like they used to. Everything is just ever so slightly disjointed, out of kilter. Although we’re getting on with it, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel or haven’t been changed. It’s only early days and it really does take time for any kind of healing…physical or psychological.

As I mentioned, I broke my foot the night before the terrorist siege. Therefore, the progress on the foot front provides a good platform to discuss how Sydney is psychologically recovering from the siege versus the physical healing of the foot. I should also mention that I live with a severe life threatening auto-immune disease and been through a bit of trauma myself…especially where my kids are concerned.

While I did play my violin in the Christmas concert straight after breaking my foot and I also staggered into school the next day despite excruciating pain to watch the kids perform in the end of year talent show, that all stopped after the x-ray. Once I knew it was broken, it was sentenced to 6 weeks in the protective boot and I was also prescribed Panadeine Forte and had to rest it. The kids were incredibly caring giving me a massage and doing everything for me…at least for a few days!! I’ve been severely ill before and the kids have never given me the red carpet treatment rolled out for the broken foot. That really intrigued me.

Six weeks later, I’m starting to ease out of the boot and started physio. Of course, she’s not sending me straight back out there cold turkey running along cracked and broken footpaths wearing my high heels. No, she’s given me a couple of very simple, basic exercises, which require many, many repetitions. These are aimed at retraining the nerve endings in my ankle to stop it from flipping over. This retraining process sounds very similar to the neuroplasticity in the brain. Hmm…I guess that means I have a brain in my foot.

While nobody’s been pressuring me to get over my broken foot, I do feel that Sydney is being pushed and expected to recover from the siege quickly. While it is important to reclaim our city and not let terrorism cramp our style, this can also be a gradual process. We are allowed to inch our way back and not just jump in the deep end when we’re not ready. It’s also perfectly okay to get professional psychological advice and support just like I’ve had physio to help my foot recover…even if you weren’t one of the hostages and perhaps don’t even work near Martin Place.

Boys Don't Cry.

Boys Don’t Cry.

I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
‘Cause boys don’t cry
Boys don’t cry

The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry

 

 

 

This psychological pressure to simply get over it is exemplified by these no doubt well-intentioned words from our esteemed Prime Minister Tony Abbott: “The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that,’’ Mr Abbott said.

“I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual”….

“Our thoughts and prayers must go out to the individuals caught up in this. I can think of nothing more distressing or terrifying.”[1]

Does anybody else see the contradiction? How could we simply go about our business as usual when 18 people were being hostage by a seeming terrorist? While people have been sympathetic and understanding about how long it takes a broken foot to heal, there is quite a double-standard when it comes to psychological trauma and scars. There’s this expectation that psychological wounds should heal quickly…almost like clicking your fingers…especially when you were indirectly affected. However, it seems quite logical to me that if you go through a dreadful, traumatic ordeal that you would have some kind of lasting reaction. Moreover, this reaction deserves (at the very least) the same kind of treatment, respect and TLC that my broken foot has received. This can include learning techniques and skills from a trained psychologist just like I’m getting exercises for my foot from the physio. After all, if you have a significant injury of any sort, it requires treatment.

Whether your wounds are psychological or physical, professional advice can boost the healing process. It makes good sense.

To make sense of the psychological kickback from the siege, we need to return to 15-16th December without injecting hindsight. While it is easy in retrospect to minimise the threat this lone wolf gunman posed, he had staged his campaign with maximum impact. Firstly, he chose the prominent Lindt Cafe opposite the Channel 7 TV Studios in Martin Place for maximum coverage. Then, he bluffed his way through the siege claiming his backpack was a bomb and that other “brothers” had bombs in other strategic locations in Sydney’s CBD. This threat had to be taken seriously and brought Sydney’s CBD to a grinding halt. The pre-Christmas rush vanished leaving an eerie ghost town behind. The Opera House and Cahill Expressway had been evacuated and Martin Place Train Station was closed. This was perceived as a potentially serious terrorist attack on Sydney and was dealt with accordingly. Thank goodness, it wasn’t but we still went through “the motions”.

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Since then, events in Paris have also dwarfed what happened here. However, Sydney could have been a different story. We can not minimise what people have been through because something even worse happened somewhere else. Once again, that is the power of hindsight… something anybody who lived through the siege, didn’t have at the time.

As I mentioned earlier, the impact of the siege has rippled far beyond the hostages and their families. TV and other forms of media bring events right into our lounge rooms in vivid technicolour, drawing us in. We are human beings, not robots, so of course we have emotions, feelings…a response!!! Moreover, although Sydney is a big city, it still has an intimacy about it. Somebody always seems to know someone involved. As it turns out, I used to work closely with one of the Sydney hostages many years ago. I must admit I felt quite shattered hearing her talk about the intense trauma she endured on TV last night…especially when we were so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed all those years ago. That was my first full-time job.

There are also those people who work in or near Martin Place and those who frequent the Lindt Cafe but through some almost freakish twist of fate, they weren’t there that morning. They slept in. Missed the bus or were sick. Started a diet and swore off chocolate. Just like the siege survivors are asking, “why me?”, they could well be thinking: “It could have, or even should have, been me.” That intense sense of identification, another form of survivor’s guilt, deserves compassion just as much as my foot and yet these walking wounded have no walking sticks or boots to communicate their angst. Their own grief and anxiety seems hard to understand and perhaps even self-indulgent, attention seeking. They could well have a whole Pandora’s Box of questions, emotions and fears even though they were nowhere near the place. They also deserve hugs, understanding and compassion.

The whole question of the future of the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place confronts these psychological scars head on. Personally, I can’t understand how they could ever re-open it at that location but others have called for it to re-open and there will be a touching memorial inside. I know the chances of a repeat of the siege must be statistically unlikely but with all of Sydney open for coffee, I’d rather be gentle with my soul and go somewhere else. I don’t need to go through that emotional stress…especially when I’ve never been to the Lindt Cafe before.

I’d much rather head back for that heavenly Coconut Chai latte in Surry Hills and think about something else…like a buying a box of Lindt chocolates at the supermarket.

Any thoughts?

xx Rowena

PS I should mention that just as people may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivors can also experience post-traumatic growth. I have experienced both. It would be an intriguing process if only it didn’t hurt so much!!

[1]The Australian Financial Review: http://www.afr.com/p/national/islamic_state_linked_terror_grips_Ck62N1NvnYuygeXu1rfXbI

 

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

Map Showing Roads Closed During the Sydney Siege- SMH 15.12.14

 

 

14 thoughts on “The Struggle to Heal: the broken foot and the Sydney Siege.

  1. maxwellthedog

    The events of Martin Place have all but disappeared from international news coverage, so much so that if you asked the average Hawaii resident I imagine they would not recall that terrible time. That seems a miserable testament to the frequency of such assaults around the world. It’s almost as if each new offense is simply the news of the week, now we’re done with that and let’s move on, shall we? That must be very tough pyschologically on the survivors, families and the others affected for whom this was a life-altering occasion and not just a blip on the relentless news feed.

    On another note, it’s good to hear your hoof is back in action and you’ll soon be back trekking amongst the deadly fauna of Oz with the faithful pups. Stick with the physical therapy – even though it’s tough it works and speeds recovery.

  2. roweeee Post author

    Thanks Tom for bringing up the speed of the current news cycle. The news is moving forward so much faster than we can deal with emotionally. To be perfectly honest, I am still recovering from the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and I was really surprised that the media hasn’t linked it up with the coverage of the Lindt Cafe Siege because in my mind, they are like stations on a train track…first stop, second stop. I would really like to see a public memorial to victims of terrorism. A place where people can express their grief just like the cenotaph.
    Thanks for your encouragement of the foot. I am doing my exercises and it is getting stronger.
    By the way, my husband told me an interesting stat the other day. Despite all our deadly Australian critters, the European honey bee causes the second highest number of deaths due to allergic reactions. We were all startled by that.
    I was really thrilled by my physio appointment. I was seriously starting to think about getting a mobility scooter for occasional use and I have also wondered about picking the kids up from school as the parking is tricking and the footpaths , where they exist, are tricky as well. So I was really happy when she told me it was all a matter of re-educating the nerves in my foot the same way we do with the brain. I was almost dancing…boot and all!

  3. merrildsmith

    So much to think about in this post. I admit, I had sort of forgotten about this horrific event in Sydney, although for you it is so nearby and thus, there is a more ever-present reminder. I liked this from your PS: “just as people may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivors can also experience post-traumatic growth.” I know that is true of my daughter’s fiance, who is a veteran with PTSD, but who has gained much after returning and attending college, becoming involved in theatre, and meeting my daughter (of course). But the fear of things happening again can be very strong, even for people who don’t have PTSD. I remember how so many people did not want to travel after 9/11. I understand the sentiment about not letting the terrorists win, but it difficult to control anxieties and fear of what could be. Sigh.
    I am glad that your foot is healing though! 🙂

  4. Minuscule Moments

    Rowena this is written so well, I have sisters who work in the area and I use to work in Sydney once and loved sitting at Martin Place for lunch. The avid crowd watcher. I really don’t think they should open the cafe again. It should be a place to remember those lost, though. Such a sad, heartbreaking event. I hope your foot is healing well and the hearts and minds of the city dwellers can heal too. Although it will never have the same safe aussie feeling again.

  5. roweeee Post author

    Thanks so much Merril for your detailed reply. I have been intrigued by how people survive and go on after traumatic events ever since I had brain surgery in my mid 20s and since then I developed the severe auto-immune disease and keep getting these intermittent jolts when some real of perceived crisis threatens imminent death and the sensation of being ripped away from my family is incredibly intense. It is some sort of emotional equivalent of having your hair pulled out by the roots. I am now noticing that I’m developing resilience and I am certainly so much stronger than I was and yet there are triggers which take me back to these flares ups and it feels awful. I played Mario Kart wii with my kids through one of these times, which actually wasn’t the worst time I’ve been through my the impact was the worst and I still feel ill when I hear the theme music for that game. I have developed a strong interest in photography, which helped me get through the long recovery period from the brain surgery. When you are looking at something through the lens, everything else goes out of focus. Yesterday, I photographed each kindergarten child at the school for the start of the year and saw them drawing etc and it was fabulous. It really help0ed and I can well understand how theatre would help your daughter’s fiance. After the time when I was playing the Mario Kart wii, I went on an adventure camp with muscular dystrophy association and did all these physical challenges like parasailing, quad bike riding, sandboarding etc and it really brought me out of all that terror and I went onto ski and learn the violin, lost about 10 kilos. It was all going fantastically well until the threatened lung fibrosis actually did get worse and the fear of what could be became what is and that’s why I had the chemo last year. Fortunately, it worked. The foot is slowly getting better but still some pain to remind me to take it easy still.
    On to the Sydney Siege, I think it is important the world remembers that because the terrorist threat is real. I heard an interview with a Muslim guy who beclongs to a peace organisation and he knew the Sydney terrorist and said that he is not the worst threat is out there and they have reported them to authorities but they haven’t acted or been able to act as there’s insufficient proof. Police have also made quite a few arrests but these things don’t make the headlines or our news cycle is so fast that the news moves on and we get caught up in current news. A friend works near Martin Place and he chooses not to go there for coffee now. Doesn’t see the need and I tend to agree with him although I feel drawn back there a bit like a magnet, still trying to make sense of it all and I have always loved Martin PLace with it’s beautiful historic architecture. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat and watch the world pass by. Hope you have a great day xx Rowena

  6. roweeee Post author

    Hi Kim. Thanks for that. I’ve already got that but thanks anyway. I have to work out how to add an extra page up the top to post my awards. I now have 4. I accidentally changed the theme of my blog when I was starting a new blog and it’s caused a bit of havoc with what goes where. I put a lot of effort into he last posts I’ve written and now need to get on with sorting out this new theme and also accepting a few awards. Hope you are having a great day xx Rowena

  7. merrildsmith

    Thank you for your detailed reply! I enjoy reading about your life. Sydney seems so different–and yet not so different–from Philadelphia/South Jersey, although of course, your seasons and school terms are different from ours. 🙂 Wishing you all best.
    Merril

  8. roweeee Post author

    Thank you very much Merril. I really love how you can experience that sense of living in a different place through blogging. I try to write with an overseas perspective in mind and most of the people who come to my blog aren’t Australian. That’s actually opened my eyes with my broader writing to really target overseas audiences. I love visiting your blog to. I’m going to get a bit more structured with the blogs I visit rather than relying on my reader. Some night I swear my eyes are starting to flicker from going through various blogs. Hope you are having a great day xx Rowena

  9. roweeee Post author

    I hope your sisters are feeling okay or getting that way. The siege has really had quite a widespread and significant impact and it’s really not being talked about openly. I spoke to quite a few people after school who chose not to watch the interviews with the hostages as it was too much. I haven’t watched most of the 60 Minutes interviews as I was on 7 and I am just letting a few days pass in between. There were some very important observations and comments made by the hostages that are good to keep in mind. One of the young girls, her mother always told her that oneday you’ll be in an impossible situation and remember there is always a way out. That wisdom motivated her to encourage another girl to escape and they went slow slowly and quietly, the gunman didn’t even know they were gone. I used to have lunch there occasionally and always walk through there when I go to the Sydney Writers’ Festival. They hold their workshops in the Mitchell Library.
    The foot is healing well I think but it’s going to take longer for people to really recover from the siege and just waltz through Martin Place like we used to.

  10. Tails Around the Ranch

    That horrible day sadly is but a memory. This is what happens when you have a 24 hr. a day news cycle. Hurry up and let’s get on to the next tragedy. Even more sadly, ridiculous banter about the Kardashians will go on endlessly and yet, heroes from Martin Place will get covered with dust. While technology is marvelous to bring the news quickly to many, most of it gets diminished by it in the quench to the next latest, greatest story. I hope you are recovering well, both physically and emotionally. It takes a long time to heal those emotional wounds any more. Know you’re being thought of and feel the wash of positive energy from me and Sam. ❤

  11. roweeee Post author

    Thank you very much, Monika. I really appreciate your sentiments, especially as I know you understand the challenges involved in emotional and physical healing. It’s often a discussion that is difficult to have in person and we are all so pressed for time and seem to have such a multitude of things to deal with.
    I am truly grateful for the people like yourself who I am getting to know through my blog where we can connect in this personal, meaningful way and encourage each other in a personal way despite distance.
    Far better to be a blogger with a heart than a Kardashian!!
    Hope you are having a great day.
    Love & best wishes,
    Rowena

  12. Pingback: Compassion Fatigue: A Light Bulb Moment! | beyondtheflow

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s