It Began With a Wipe Out.
I am skiing on my own. I am feeling a bit fatigued from an intense powder day the day before. I decide to push myself a little, skiing a run called the Harmony Glades. The snow seems heavy. I make a mistake and topple over. It is not serious but then I am confronted by a series of complications. I try to push myself up but a combination of my limited upper body strength and my skis sliding down the hill causes me to fall back over. This is followed by the sounding of an unusual alarm.
Panic Sets In
I panic a little when realize it my Apple Watch. It wants to know if I am OK or it will call 911. How embarrassing would that be? I struggle to remove my ski gloves but manage to switch it off in time. Then realize the only way out of this dilemma is to take my skis off. With difficulty I click out of my bindings. I struggle to my feet, align my ski to the slope but it keeps slipping. I am becoming less centred and more flustered. Finally I get one on but the other won’t go. It is getting increasingly frustrating. I think I have been successful but as I push away the uphill ski drops off and I hit the snow again. I feel increased anxiety and tension. No one has skied by me and I seem entirely on my own. I notice there is ice built up under my front binding. I manage to chip it off with my ski pole. I try again and it seems to have engaged but feels unsafe and may drop off anytime. I try to ski with the weight only on one ski. Easier said than done. I feel so vulnerable. I begin to ski like a novice. After what seems like an hour I get out of my predicament and back on to groomed piste and down to the chairlift. I feel exhausted and only want to get down the hill except I have 5,000 vertical feet to go.
Understanding Traumatic Response
I was sharing this experience with my friend Trish Walsh, a psychotherapist who teaches trauma workshops and she was able to immediately demonstrate to me that I was suffering from all the classic symptoms of a traumatic experience.
1) Fear – feeling a lack of safety.
2) A feeling of being overwhelmed – helpless and/or powerless.
3) A sense of disconnection
4) I felt alone and not protected (not necessarily physically but psychologically/emotionally)
She also told me that trauma could lead to leading a smaller more constricted life. This reminds me of a second traumatic incident when I found myself in a huge alpine bowl, in fog, unable to see, and falling every few minutes during an endless travail that lasted over an hour. I have not been able to face that run again despite conditions being dramatically improved.
Gabor Mate, author of the book When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress writes that the Greek root meaning of trauma is ‘wound’. He says trauma is a ‘psychic wound’ that develops scar tissue, making us more rigid, less flexible, and less feeling.
My response to my trauma was to evaluate how I got myself in that situation. My body was fatigued, I was pushing myself, so it reminded me to take care of my body when it’s tired or feeling discomfort. I have tended to push through which is of course old behaviour of a much younger me. It was time to take it easy.
Talking about this with Trish really helped me understand my predicament. I realized that I did not need to avoid the ski run, I needed to use more discernment about when to ski it. I also found it particularly fascinating to realize my response at the time was from the trauma of the experience and that by acknowledging that possibility in the moment it could help me deal with it in a more accomplished and less fearful manner.
Postscript: Responding to this post Trish commented, “I like at the end you add “talking about it” – that’s one of the most important components of trauma healing. (sharing with another caring, attuned person).”