Today’s #SameHere Hero: Ying (and her current boss, Sariya, from Thailand). Each Hero story pertains to different life traumas individuals have experienced. Natural disasters may be a very specific type of trauma – tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. However, what’s fascinating and relevant is how trauma itself (regardless of origin, can affect us in such similar ways, just sometimes to varying degrees). The first time I was every properly diagnosed with PTSD related to my own past experiences, my doctor told me that my cognitive dysfunction was manifesting itself very similarly to ppl he had treated, who had witnessed 9/11 up-close, lived through tsunamis and earthquakes, seen tragedies of war, and been involved in slave trades. Trauma – in some ways unfortunately, but in other ways FORTUNATELY connects us. Just bc the circumstances and ultimately the level of symptoms of one trauma to the next may differ, doesn’t discount the fact that our bodies still are impacted in similar ways. Thank you to Global Mental Health Alliance TSRR Board Expert, Kim Barthel (world-renowned neurobiologist, and trauma-occupational therapist) and her amazing husband, Bob Spensley, for sharing Ying’s (far right of picture) Hero story with us! From Bob:
“Tsunami. In some parts of southern Thailand, you can’t even say that word. It’s too hard. Everyone there has known someone to have gone missing, or was impacted themselves, in that unthinkable disaster 13 years ago on Boxing day. Getting to know Ying on a work retreat in Thailand this week (her name means many things in different languages, including, very fittingly, ‘hero’ in Mandarin; in Thai it simply means ‘woman’), Kim and I were in awe. We’d never met someone to speak directly and clearly about their personal experience in that situation – and with her boss at work as well. For this, speaking the unspoken, both vulnerably and empoweringly, this woman is our hero.
On Dec. 26th, 2004, when the ocean receded so much and so quickly that fish were simply left stranded, we heard many people around Phuket, Thailand were overjoyed and ran out to get the fish. They had no idea that the ocean receding meant that a huge wave would inevitably be coming. Back then Ying was working in the office of a prominent hotel complex, directly on the beach. At the moment of the impact of the tsunami, she was on the phone from her apartment, telling her best friend and colleague at her work that she was sorry but she couldn’t make it in to work because she’d had too much to drink the night before. It was a fluke and yes, she credits that one night of drinking to have saved her life.
While on the phone call, she heard huge crashes in the background, crazy confusion in her friend’s voice, then the line went dead. Ying had no idea the context, but she did soon enough. As soon as she could, she went to her workplace. All that was left were large concrete slabs where the buildings had been. Her job as a human being, no longer a staff member, was opening body bag after body bag (over 1,000 in all) in an effort to identify her co-workers. Numbers don’t always tell the story, but in this case, 250 people who were at the resort in that exact moment had died, and only one person survived. It was Ying’s friend who was speaking with her on the phone when the waves hit. But reportedly, her friend hasn’t yet recovered emotionally.
Ying herself described that she went through a few weeks, more likely a few months, of being ‘a little bit crazy.’ But she was ‘lucky’ as survivors are, and piece by piece recognized an upside in the trauma. Along the way of dealing with those who had passed, she found a couple friends (Americans) who were doing as she was, and they bonded. Today, and every single year since the tsunami, they get together either in Thailand or in the US, and just spend some time together in thankfulness.
By speaking about her experience this week, her first time doing so in her workplace (in all these years), she’s just made more close friends. And for doing so also with her boss Sariya present, holding space as we were trying to do in the face of hearing heart stopping tragedy, the two of them together just set a powerful example that sometimes it’s okay to share uncomfortable things in the workplace. The word that sometimes still can’t be spoken (tsunami) was spoken, and it was heard, and Kim and I have a couple new heroes.”