Anxiety Counseling Psychology

Adapting To The Unexpected

If I had run here instead of on a trail closer to home, I wouldn’t have an infected dog bite. Life’s unexpected moments happen. Are you prepared to handle them? Photo credit: Imei Hsu, iPhone 7 Plus



















Emergencies | Unexpected Events | Assessment |Anxiety

The morning sunlight hit the red-tinged leaves that signal Fall’s inevitable approach. Trail running along one of the paths nearby my home, I listened to the sound of my footfalls and my breath cycle, deeply immersed in the joy of running.

After the first fifteen minutes or so,  the effort of running changes from the initial discomfort of ramping up the pace from a standstill to the zen-like quality of meditation in motion.  Running has often been a place of solace and rejuvenation for me, a place to deposit myself before I return to the real world: responding to crisis and employing my skills and attention to the privilege of helping others.

As I began to run up a short embankment with a neighborhood access point to a street, I passed a dog owner walking three dogs. As it is my custom, if a dog is not on a tight leash, I give dogs a very wide berth to avoid startling them or giving them reason to attack. As I moved far to the right of the owner and the dogs, the dog furthest on the dog owner’s right lunged towards the back of my leg and bit me.

After the owner saw blood running down my leg, the dog owner asked if I needed her help: a ride home, bandages, etc. My first response was to tell her I would just walk home, that I was “OK” but it hurt, that I only had five more miles to go.

But that was ridiculous. The wounds  gaped, the torn fascia hung outside of the broken skin, blood was filling my shoe, and the pain was so bad that tears were involuntarily shedding and rolling down my face. I sat down on a rock nearby, and then told the dog owner that I needed a ride home to pick up my car and my ID for the Urgent Care facility nearest to me.

I needed  help. And I needed to be flexible to handle the very real emergency that had just occurred.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you find if difficult to ask for and receive help, even when it is clearly needed? Do you find yourself frozen or rigid, trying to keep to a schedule or a plan instead of adapting to the circumstances you find yourself in during an unexpected moment.

Read on for what you can do when you encounter the unexpected.

So. What’s THAT All About?

I’ve always known that I have no problem helping others. My problem is receiving help when I need it. And because I know this about myself, the minute I heard myself try to fight my way through the pain and blood, I made myself do two things.

But before I talk about what to do,  you should understand more about how you operate when unexpected events occur.

In our rational minds, we spend much time creating systems and routines for going about the events of our day. We may insert buffers of time, energy, or individual actions just in case we are delayed during a commute, a child becomes ill and necessitates a change in childcare needs, or work holds us over late into the evening.

What most of us do not prepare well for is the emotional and mental flexibility required to make changes in our ritualized days. You may find yourself blasting your car horn at no one in particular during that unexpected traffic jam; you become so worried about your child at home ill with a fever that you can’t think straight at work; you become so angry at your boss and your team for putting you in a position to have to make even more excuses and face an unhappy spouse at home because you stayed out late one time too many.

So even if you adapted your schedule, you might have left your mind behind.

Adapting to the Unexpected

Adapting to an unexpected  event really means that you also need to help your mental and emotional mind flex with the pressure it has been asked to bear. 

Here, I return to the two things I asked of myself after I saw blood and fascia slide down my leg.

First, ask yourself the Four Questions. The Four Questions I ask my clients to consider in a panic-filled moment are:

  1. Is anyone bleeding? (Attend to the bleeding immediately
  2. Do I need to call 911? (Fire, medical, rescue, police)
  3. Has a crime been committed? (Call the police)
  4. Is my home on fire?  (call the fire department)

With each of these four questions, there is a specific action that needs to be taken to address the emergency. If none of the Four Questions produces a “Yes” answer, then you most likely do not have an emergency on your hands; you may, however, be in an uncomfortable urgent situation that needs attention that is not covered by the actions to Questions one through four.

In my case, I stopped fighting myself and was able to answer Yes to 1 and No to 2-4, as long as help was being offered. As I was five miles of walking away from my home, I had the choice to accept help from the dog owner for a ride to the Urgent Care and Emergency Department of the closest facility where all my medical records are also kept, so I did not need to call 911. She offered clean bandages that could provide enough pressure to stop the bleeding long enough to get me to medical care. This was a pretty cut-and-dry situation.

If I had been alone on a remote trail, I would have had to provide my own bandages and pressure, and used a cell phone or sat phone to call for additional help if I was stranded an unable to walk. If the dog owner had walked away and abandoned me (she did not, for which I am grateful), I would have been left to flag down another runner or walker and ask for assistance, or called 911 and walked onto the public access to look for a sign as to the cross street for an emergency vehicle to meet me.

Secondly, I instruct my clients to ask themselves what else they might need. Besides basic medical care in an emergency, perhaps they might need to rest, to take a break, to breathe quietly in a corner, to take a walk, or to soothe themselves through a difficult moment.

It happens to the best of us. Imagine you are on your way to an important event, when a car comes from behind, speeding through traffic and veering dangerously close to cars as the driver attempts to frog hop to save time. He comes dangerously close to your car and nearly clips your fender. Before you can even yell at him, you hear the sound of metal smashing against glass, and see that he has collided with another car ahead, and smoke is rising. Ten cars have slid to a halt. You see a couple of drivers attend to people who are hurt, so you pull your car out of the way. Should you pull over, or should you keep driving?

The answer to that depends on whether you are good at assessing what you need.

Asking yourself what else you might need, even if no major intervention is warranted, can help you in an adrenaline-filled moment. Pulling over at the next exit and taking a moment to catch your breath, calm your nerves, and drive with your full attention could be a good option for you. Remaining jittery, tense, and on alert from a near accident could end up playing out negatively for the rest of your day as the body and mind try to process what it experienced in the blink of an eye.

Once the urgent or emergent moment has passed, you may find it helpful to take some time to talk about what happened with a trusted friend and a good listener. In retelling what happened, you may discover other emotions and needs that are just under the surface of your awareness. Take a moment to write those things down. If they linger with you and cause difficulties with how you are feeling or processing the unexpected event, you can consider professional help to address those issues.

Through Seattle Direct Counseling’s telemental counseling and coaching services, we’re ready to help with processing your unexpected moments. Let us know how we can be of help by scheduling a complimentary consultation.

One of the newer features of private practice counseling with Imei involves supportive therapy for those diagnosed with Autoimmune Disease and Chronic Illness. I (Imei) has been recently added to the professional resource list of the Center for Chronic Illness, a 503(c) non-profit organization. For that unexpected moment when one receives a life-changing diagnosis, I have poured myself into the work of providing better support, personal research, and a framework of counseling to help those who struggle with these debilitating and progressive diseases.

If you or a loved one could use these resources, please take a moment to check out this new organization, which also includes two support groups (one for caregivers, and one for those with a chronic illness) in Fall 2017.

Post Script: Some people have asked if I have experienced any trauma from the dog bite incident. First of all, thank you for asking. Second, if there was any trauma from the entire experience, it didn’t happen directly from the dog bite, but from the infection that took place afterwards. Treating infection in someone with Celiac Disease and food and medication allergies is a complicated process involving decisions that have long term consequences. I’m resting at home and have begun some of the rehabilitation process, but the wound remains open at the time of this writing, and I am still seeking treatment for it. 

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 29+ years in healthcare (20+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She is launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018), and is currently training for her third Ironman in August 2020; she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for two separate 100 Mile trail races in 2020. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, and cooking real food.

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