This is not normal.
Interpreting during a pandemic, especially a VRS shift, is like entering a war zone. People are stressed, frustrated, in pain and completely freaked out – with good reason.
Don’t treat your shift or yourself like this is a regular day. It’s not.
This is a triage situation.
As interpreters, we can’t expect ourselves to be 24/7 enjoying our #quarantinelife, productive, #blessed, #handlingit, checking things off our bucket lists and doing our work like it’s business as usual.
This is not business as usual.
We are on the front lines, witnessing the lives of many people in crisis on a daily basis.
Facilitating communication between people who are calm and connected is hard. Facilitating communication between people who are triggered, afraid, sick and overwhelmed is exponentially harder. It can be helpful to name why this is so hard. Let me offer a suggestion:
It is hard because you care.
Connect to the humanity of it. Seeing another human in pain (fear, frustration, anguish) causes us discomfort. It hurts because we care.
This hurt is compounded by the fact that we’re each personally going through hard things, so witnessing the pain of others lights up and intensifies our own personal pain.
Stress affects brain integration.
When we’re calm, our brain is in a state of integration where all its parts work together to balance and support the other parts. We’re able to problem solve, understand different perspectives, organize our thoughts, and carry out our plans.
When our pain is lit up – when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, outraged, anxious – our brain’s connections dis-integrate, and we lose our ability to do all of those things.
This video explains integration and disintegration with a ‘handy’ visual that you may just want to teach everyone you know. When you and those in your life have shared language for what’s happening inside, you can lean on it when times are rough. And boy, are they rough.
Give yourself triage care whenever you can.
Identify ‘check points’ that remind you to scan your body for tension and breathe deeply into it, allowing it to release and relax. Even 5 second check points throughout the day can do wonders. During a VRS shift some check points could be:
- During your setup process, just before you log in to take calls
- While ringing or waiting for a caller to answer
- While on hold
- Between calls
- When you log out for a break
- When you return from a break
- At the end of your shift
Make self-care a habit.
During this crisis, as interpreters we must have time and practices built into our lives to care for ourselves – to be able to handle the stress we’re exposed to and experiencing. This includes time to cry and grieve and scream and break down. Time to laugh and connect and time to just let ourselves be.
Daily reflective practice allows our nervous systems a chance to decompress and rest, and builds stronger connections toward integration.
You wouldn’t ask your car to keep running without giving it gas. Don’t ask your heart, mind, or body to show up to work without having what it needs.
A daily self-care practice creates stronger connections for brain integration.
As you flex this muscle of integration, over time you will find it easier to stay calm through the hard stuff. When those around you are in disintegration, or when things are tough for you personally, your brain will naturally maintain integration in more and more difficult situations for longer periods of time.
The goal is not to become immune to disintegration, it’s to notice it.
We are human. The ability of our brain to prioritize safety when necessary is a very good thing. The goal then becomes a growing level of consciousness, where we’re able to shorten the time it takes to return to integration when we’re not actually in danger, and where we’re able to be gentle with ourselves and others throughout this messy process of being human.
In this integrated state, we become a true source of support for those around us, and are able to act with more compassion and empathy – for ourselves and others.
May we make this state of integration, compassion, and empathy the new normal.