Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On the road to recovery: Lessons Learned

In my last post, I wrote about using my analytical abilities decades ago when faced with a very challenging situation i.e. my first camping misadventure.  Did I mention that I was a city girl born and bred?  Roughing it to me was visiting my grandparents' apartment in the 50s and sleeping on a bed made of blankets on the floor (either air mattresses hadn't been invented yet - or they didn't have one).  I loved my grandparents dearly BUT I didn't enjoy sleeping on the hard - and I do mean hard - floor.

I wrote that post as a prelude to this post, a post about the lessons I learned from my most recent adventure on the road to recovery from workplace abuse:  going outside my little bubble, my safe place, to be a volunteer photographer for Ray of Hope's annual walk for the homeless called "The Coldest Night of the Year."

Every once in a while, I will do something like this.  Just to test the waters.  To see how far I've come - or not come.  To see what I still need to work on.  And also, to get a wee bit of socialization in my otherwise solitary life.  Afterwards, I sit back and process analyzing what affects I had during and afterwards. What went right.  What went wrong.  What could I do differently.  Just like I did all those years ago when first with a disaster on our first camping trip as a couple.

With the camping trip - and with parts of my most recent adventure - there are parts which are purely technical like getting better, more reliable equipment.  However, the most challenging things I'm looking for are those emotional and physical affects which rear up at times like that.  What were they?  What caused them?

This time, I discovered a lot about myself that I hadn't realized.

Immediately, I was assailed with feelings of not being good enough.

I had mechanical failures.

I didn't know anything about night photography.

I was using unfamiliar equipment - as in an external flash I'd never used before.

I was way outside my comfort zone as I rarely go outside at night.

And then, I discovered a trigger I didn't know I had.

I started feeling down.  Not good enough.  On top of that I was tired, very tired.  I was shocked when I got in the car for the trip home at the end of the night to find out that it was only 8:36.  I thought it was closer to midnight!

Since the time between that night and now I've spent a lot of time analyzing my experience.

Would I do it again?  If so, what would - or should - I do differently?

The analysis falls into two territories:  the mechanical/technical aspects of taking pictures and the emotional/psychological aspects of being outside and around people.

The most immediate challenge was that I since I rarely go out at night, I've not done much with night photography.  Also, I go to bed early, so signing up for an early evening activity was well beyond my scope.

Yet, I was eager to try it.

For the rest of this post I'm going to focus on the technical/mechanical challenges that I faced that night.  The ones that are significant indeed but easier to "fix".

I realize now that I should have gone to the site in daylight and scoped it out.  What would be a good location to set up the camera.  I did bring my tripod as I know from experience that my hands shake and I need a steady camera for night photography.  I also had the presence of mind to bring my ever lovin', ever faithful "sherpa"  - the man who stood at the alter with me many years ago and promised to love, honour and set up my tripod.

I had also had the presence of mind pre-adventure to charge my camera batteries.  I brought both of my cameras - my DSLR and my "second best" camera - a powershot with a decent zoom lens.

I was dressed warmly for the weather.  In fact, even though it was cold and I was standing stationary for the most part out in the middle of the sidewalk, I never really felt cold.

So, there were my plusses.  The things I'd done right.

The minuses ...

If I were to do it again - and I sincerely hope so - I would work on learning how to use my camera better.  Basically, I'm mostly using the automatic part of the settings, so I need to get more familiar with my camera and really learn how to use it better.

I had an external flash which was still nicely in its original packaging in the box and this was the very first time I was using it.  I should have familiarized myself with this vital piece of machinery.

I set up on the sidewalk in front of construction signs using my big, bad zoom lens.  If I were to do it again, I would use my "other" lens.  I learned while doing that the powerful zoom lens while it's great for catching people as they're coming, is not great at all for taking pictures as the walkers got closer.  In fact, it was a darn hindrance.  And a huge frustration.

Then came the greatest catastrophe of all.  I decided to move my camera, tripod and all, which would have been fine EXCEPT a group came past me and said something which startled me.  I wobbled and fell, tripod and all.  The external flash fell off taking the piece it inserts into on the camera with it.  That ended the flash.

However, I still had my other, smaller camera which I'd loaned to another volunteer.  (By the way, she got some great inside shots with it.)  It just happened that about the time this part of my (mis)adventure took place, she came up and handed me my other, smaller camera.

Problem is I hadn't used it in so long, I'd forgotten how to use it.  How to set it for night shots.  How to raise the flash.  Basic things like that.  So there I was using a piece of technology that was "inferior" to my big, bad DSLR which I had forgotten how to use.

And therein reared up the biggest, baddest affect of all.  I felt like I was inferior to the other volunteer photographers.   That "lie" that's been plaguing me recently reared its ugly, insistent head:  "You (Suzanne) are not good enough."  You're just kidding yourself about your values.  About your talents.  About your photography.  About everything.

And so, I've been dealing with that lie - and other associated questions.

Will I ever be good enough?

Yet, as I look back at the pictures I took that night while some are definitely not perfect, they managed to catch in their very imperfection a realistic view of what that night was like for the walkers.  Cold.  Dark.  Approaching a bright spot - the rest stop.

Until next time.

Heading to the rest stop - taken with my smaller camera

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On the road to recovery post workplace abuse: The place of Analysis in the Process

My current therapist says that my ability to analyse is one of my greatest strengths.  My former therapist said that I analyse things to death -which was a scathing criticism.  A close relative criticized my analytical side brutally as well.

Two sides of the same coin.

Which is the right side?  The right way to look at things?

I guess it depends on the bystander who is observing.

For me, I use my analyzation skills to think through a situation, figure out what went wrong and what would work better.

I've used this ability for decades.

Let me give you an example from decades ago - close to the beginning our my marriage adventure.

Many years ago, as a newlywed, hubby and I went on our first camping trip.  It can best be described in two words:  unmitigated disaster.

It would be easier to say what went right than what went wrong:  we set up camp in a leaky pup tent in a rain storm at a provincial camp ground - which is pretty well camping in the rough - or at that time back in the early '80s it was.  Way out in the middle of nowhere.  No services.  Not even any park personnel as they were on strike.  It was on the honour system.  You signed a form for how many nights you were going to stay, left the money in a sealed envelope and chose a site.  Oh, did I mention that I'd never, ever been camping before?  I'd never ever been camping before.  This was my "maiden voyage", my first trip down the bunny hill.  Problem is a provincial park is one step below the black diamond - back country camping.  Arduous camping for the experienced, the motivated.  Those who don't think that roughing it is a high class hotel.

At that time, provincial campgrounds for the most part were cheap and unserviced.  No showers.  No washrooms.  Outhouses, smelly outhouses, for bathrooms.  Things have changed a lot since those days.  Most campgrounds come with well maintained washrooms - including showers.

We were living more on love at the time than money, so we'd done this trip as on the cheap as possible.  A three-man pup tent.  Two cheap vinyl floatation mattresses which we pushed together.  A camping stove someone had picked up at a garage sale and gave to us.  We splurged on a fly - which turned out not to be waterproof.  So much for that "luxury".

Anyway, as we drove to the provincial campground, it became more and more obvious the further along we got that I was getting sick.  By the time we got there, I was in the middle of a rip roaring case of a high fever.  Poor, long sufferin' hubby, the man who stood at the alter with me and promised to love, honour and set up my tent in the rain etc., manfully started putting up the tent.  Once the tent was up, he inflated the two cheap vinyl air mattresses, pushed them together, put sleeping bags on them and carried me to one.  He also set up the stove to make a quick supper - in the doorway of the tent.  Bad idea.  We discovered quickly why the stove had been sold at a garage sale so cheaply.  The flame flared up - and almost set the tent on fire.  Not a good idea to cremate your bride on her first caping trip.  It just does not set a good example for thins to come.

Things went from bad to worse during the night.  It continued raining all night - actually downpour is the better word.  The tent leaked.  The air matresses floated in opposite directions with a pool of water between them.  I was feverish by that time.  Hubby was cold.  He turned over to get to the source of the heat - me - and ended up in - you guessed it! - the puddle of water.  He was not a happy camper.

Daylight couldn't come soon enough.  As soon as possible, he put me in the car, packed up and we headed south towards civilization.  Civilization in this case being a mobile home which a relative had in a KOA campground which is where we finished out our holiday.

This could easily have been the end of the story - and my career as a camper.  But it wasn't.

The campground was very busy.  It also was not out in the middle of nowhere.  It had a small camp store, a pool and other amenities such as washrooms with showers.  And here is where my analytical abilities stepped in.

I would walk around the camp.  I talked to other campers.  I observed how they did things, what gear they had.  Looking to see what worked for other people.   When we got back home, I thought about how we could go camping again without experiencing all the difficulties we'd experienced the first time.

We did keep the pup tent for a few more adventures but as we added kids to the adventure, we purchased a much larger dome tent - which was to me the height of luxury.

The two cheap vinyl air mattresses were replaced with a good quality, double air mattress designed for camping - not swimming pools.  Ditto, a double sleeping bag.  The stove we did keep for a few more years.  Hubby was the sole one who could manage it.  And it was always used on a picnic table.  It was replaced with a propane camp stove (from Sears which we still use 30 years later) when we took our then four year old on her first camping expedition and she ran to the tent crying out to her dad:  "Come quickly!  Mom's trying to light the stove!"

Weather and illness are not controllable.  But we did buy a cheap plastic sheet to cover the tent in the advent of bad weather.  Crude but effective.  It worked.

The most important thing we did though, was to avoid the "black diamond" i.e. provincial parks for a bit and did what I called "civilized" camping.  The campgrounds like the KOAs with pools, camp stores, bathrooms. etc.  We went to provincial campgrounds for only a day or two at first, sandwiching that adventure in between stays at commercial campgrounds until we all became comfortable.

When people hear about the misadventures of our first camping trip, they're always amazed that I ever went a second time.  Totally astonished that I enjoyed camping and that it became a way of life for us as a family.

This is the approach I use in all of life's difficult situations:  what went wrong?  what went right?  what can I do to make it better another time?

It works.  For me, that is.

Until next time.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Post Workplace Abuse: Progress of recovery in review

Recovery post workplace bullying is not only an on-going process but also a very fluid process. Like a river flowing downstream, it changes constantly. It all depends on the day, the hour and whatever else is going on my life at that particular space in time.

It's easy to feel that recovery is going well when staying at home in my "safe" place doing safe things like watching DVDs, knitting, etc.  It's easy to connect with people via social media because there's a distance to the relationship.  And, if a relationship or conversation becomes unhealthy, it's easy to disconnect.  To pull away.  To put distance between myself and the other person.

However, recovery is not accurately measured in those moments.  It's measured best when going outside the box, testing the limits, seeing how much better - or worse - I react to things that happen when I'm not home in my safe place doing safe things.  It also measures how my body reacts physically after the event and also how I react emotionally/mentally in those days and hours after the event.

I find that living through - and even enjoying - the event is relatively easy.  It's the aftermath that is difficult.  I never know how, when or where that aftermath is going to happen.

So a little over a week ago, I decided to go outside my little safe box into the big bad world.   It was more or less a spontaneous decision although I had been thinking of it for a year.  Ever since my daughter with her youth group and her in-laws with their youth group went on the walk.

My daughter and her in-laws have been doing this walk for years.  Sometimes my young granddaughter has done it as well.

This year I didn't have any money to contribute so when someone from my LinkedIn connections wrote to ask if I would sponsor the walk, my mind recalled a story I know from the Bible about Peter and John encountering a lame man who was asking for money.  Peter said to him:  "I don't have any money, but I'll give you what I do have" and preceded to heal him of his lameness. (Acts 3:6)

I'm not Peter or John.  Not even close.  I can't heal people BUT I do have one thing in my hand:  my camera.  One of my right brain therapies during this period of recovery post workplace abuse.  One of the things that gives me pleasure both while I'm taking the photos and afterwards as I look at them, they bring back good memories.

However, I forgot a couple of details:  (1)  This is an evening event and I almost never go outside the house at night - so I'm way outside my comfort zone right there; (2) I go to bed early - as in like 8 or 9 p.m.; (3) Because of #1 and #2, I'm not experienced with night photography.

This was going outside the box big time for me.  It was the equivalent of going straight from taking quizzes to taking the final exam - without studying.  Or tackling the Black Diamond hill when I wasn't sure that I'd found firm footing on the Bunny Slope.

But still ...  there's a method to my madness.  If I can survive this test, I can pretty well do anything.

If not ... well ... then it may be back to the drawing board, but there are still lessons that are learned to guide me in my next adventure.

I was fine during the event itself.  I enjoyed being among people - which is one thing that staying in my little room denies me.  The energy I felt from the other, younger volunteers was contagious.  They were friendly.  They were helpful.  Their smiles would light up a room ... or a dark sidewalk.  We were all in this together.

BUT ...

My insecurities rose big time.  When I saw another photographer with a bigger camera and longer lens, I felt like such a fraud.  I felt like a little kid with my brand new Brownie Starlight trying to compete with my dad and his Single Lens Reflex camera.  I felt like I didn't measure up.  Like I wasn't good enough (that lie that I wrote about earlier in a different blog reared its ugly head big time once again.)

I had mechanical failures as well.  I'd brought my brand new, never used, external flash.  Since my hands shake badly even at the best of times, I'd brought my tripod - and hubby to set it up for me.  I did do some test photos of willing victims inside (the one with the Starbucks personnel wearing their touques).  I set up my equipment outside, right in the middle of the sidewalk so I could get photos of people coming.  They had to walk around me like the parting of the Red Sea.

I was using my big, serious lens, so I could only get "close ups" if they were far away.  (Note to self:  scout out site earlier in the day and pick good site.)  (Another note to self:  try out all equipment beforehand).  (Third note to self:  if you're going to do this again in the future, you'd best learn about night photography.)  (Should I make any  more notes to self?)

I'd also brought my "second best" camera:  a Canon powershot with a good zoom.  In the beginning I loaned it to another volunteer who took some incredible inside shots with it.

And then failure happened.  Or should I say a fall?  I fell (and no, I didn't hurt myself), but the tripod fell with me.  And the external flash came off.  Some helpful walkers helped me find it, but I couldn't get it back on as the piece which holds it to the camera had broken off with it.  Oops!

And that's when the second lie - that of "my best is not good enough" came to life.  A lie I probably swallowed hook, line and sucker early in childhood which got reinforced during the workplace bullying and afterwards during recovery.

Something cool did happen, the volunteer who I'd loaned my camera to came by to give it back to me.  So I still had a camera.  Yes!

Problem?  I hadn't used it in quite a long time so I couldn't figure out in the cold and the dark how to set it for night pictures.  :(

I ended up taking the rest of the outside pictures (the ones with a yellowish background) on the sports setting.

Then as the last of the walkers left the rest stop and headed back to where they came from, I got tired and the letdown after the event started to happen.  Not only was I exhausted, but I felt the familiar beginnings of depression rising up.  Enveloping me and hanging on with their tentacles refusing to let go.

As I've slogged away through this period post the walk, my body has been in perpetual rebellion and I've been very fatigued, lethargic, not much interest in anything.

BUT ....

I not only have some good memories and pictures, I've learned a bit to help with future outings/testings which I wouldn't have learned any other way.  
Until next time.