Hey everyone! Uncle Dale with a scary titled Note. It will likely be a hard one to read for many people. Please do though. It is one of the hardest lessons to teach and most important to learn in this odd work we do.
This Note came up because twice this week I got two questions that are really the same question from two different angles. Thus, a Note is in order.
Question One: how should I deal with really emotional events as an interpreter?
Question Two: do you ever get nightmares or have mood swings or psychological fallout from really awful things you’ve had to interpret and how do you deal with that? (Honest answer from Aunt SuperTam: Yes. You do. You know you do.)
As I said, at heart these are the same question.
The easy answer here is point to Rule 70, Rule 77 and Rule 112.
But there is a reason easy is not a virtue. Because when you are the witness to someone’s world crumbling, easy is a million miles away.
There she is, devastated by what the doctor just said, you sat and talked with her at an ASL storytelling event just last week. She was getting ready to go back to school because her youngest was finally in first grade and she would have some time to study during the day. Now, time may be the one thing of which she has the least amount. She may not have much of it at all.
Or the VRS call, the one that did not go as the caller planned. I mean, you don’t know him, but there he is on the screen looking devastated. His significant other is gone. You have interpreted as he called her work, her mother, her friends and no one knows (or at least no one is telling where she went or with whom) but the house was empty, her drawers and closets were empty when he came home.
Or, the hospital room is dimly lit and you are waiting for the doctor to come and explain to the family how all of this will work. Their son walked out the door with his skate board under his arm and the next time they saw him it was here. Like this. You interpreted for his birth, and now you are waiting to interpret the process of turning off the machines and letting him go.
How do you do it. How do you interpret for an investigation of abuse or for sex offender therapy or violence or death without it changing you in some fundemantal way?
The answer is you can’t. Pain changes you. Violence changes you. Dispair and misery change you. If you are going to do this job you will eventually interpret for something… awful. You will have, as the Rule says, something in your head you wish you never knew was a thing.
Somewhere out there a reader is thinking, “That is why I only interpreter K-6…” I don’t like being the one to burst your bubble. The situation that drove me from interpreting for several years (and actually into law school) came out of a K-6 setting.
I wish I had a magic wand or ancient book that I could send you too and say, “this! This is the answer.” I don’t. I only have my own experience and what works for me. I do my job.
I do my job and do it well, because in any situation where a person must stare grief or agony in the face the first question always seems to be,”what can I do.” Any time that question pops up in my head the answer is the same. Do your job.
In all of these situations you are there because this Deaf Client, friend or stranger, needs to communicate. Each Client in the middle of trauma has something to tell or something to hear. Each must effectively get that message out or clearly process it in.
Right now it is not important that I am their friend. It is important that they can ask that doctor or that police officer questions and get answers, or maybe just say their piece.
The doctor is there to address the medical needs, a social worker may show up to address the emotional needs. Family and friends are, or will, hold them while they cry. My job is to make sure that they can rage or scream or question or accuse or beg or bargain or sob without worrying that there was something they missed or that something was left unsaid.
The most loving, caring and considerate act in which I can engage in this crisis is to do the thing I was brought in to do; facilitate open communication. I can’t control the outcome. Any doctor will tell you that you “do your job and depend on others to do theirs.” You never forget a face you have lost. But if you did everything you could, the best that you could, when they come to you in the night it’s a visit not a haunting.
If I do that, I interpret, and do it well, I don’t need to worry that I did not do enough.
Never forget, Pain changes you. Violence changes you, and doing your job well not an inoculation against all forms of vicarious trauma. You must accept that as a fact. I am talking about a tool not a cure. Everyone deals with emotional things in personal ways; this is what works for me.
Now, back to the first question. It did not specifically address horrible things. It addressed emotional things. Births are emotional. Weddings are emotional. And they are wonderful, inspiring and, sometimes, just as dangerous.
It’s not your baby, it’s not your wedding. You are not family-you are not a Guest-you are the “help.” Getting invested in other people’s lives is fine, if you are a friend, or if you are family. But the minute you enter the picture from a “professional angle” it changes the relationship generally and also quite specifically for that event. You are forever connected with that moment. Ask a divorced person who is Deaf who was at their wedding they may not remember everyone but they can all name the interpreter. Most can tell you who picked that interpreter.
Joy to Pain lingers in the mind much longer and clearer than pain in purity.
The advice is the same however. Do your job and do it well.
Oh and try the creampuffs if you get a chance. They are heavenly.