I just spent the most incredible week drawing and talking with our Nation's finest! Nope, not fire service personnel, but Sailors and Marines in San Diego. I was honored to take part in a Navy sponsored NCS/USO trip where we visited the USS Peleliu (an aircraft carrier), Naval Fleet Weather Center, Military Hospitals and VA wards, and participated in a panel discussion regarding the effects of humor on stress. It was inspiring to meet and draw for active service personnel, hear their stories and give them a brief respite from their daily routine. I must say drawing for the wounded soldiers at the Naval Medical Center was the highlight of my visit. I laughed, listened, listened, listened, and listened while drawing their caricatures (or, whatever they wanted). These young men and women are incredible with their resilience and spirit! There were, of course, heart breaking moments - who wouldn't be touched by the carnage of war and its savage assault on the human body. To say I have a new perspective on my personal life is an understatement!
The cartoon above was used as the opening image for our panel discussion at the Combat & Operational Stress Control Conference. In a nut shell; we need to think of humor as our first line of defense for stress. My role in the COSC panel was to discuss the parallels between the fire service and military in regards to stress. I spoke about the obvious comparisons; tradition, chain of command, pride, but also that we are both thrown into highly stressful situations at a moment's notice where we may experience disturbing and traumatic events. Unfortunately the "Macho" persona that we wear as armor can prevent us from discussing troubling emotions because we don't want to appear as weak. We tend to bottle stress up and tuck it away some place where we think it will never effect us. Unfortunately, this can become a festering wound and, over time, become a poison effecting our health, family, friends, work and job performance.
Humor is a powerful drug! We use it on a daily basis without even knowing it, but it's a medicine with healing and regenerative effects. At times, the things we talk and joke about would seem crass and inappropriate to the general public, but it performs the job of defusing stressful situations in a way that can't fully be explained. Generally playful and good-natured, other times dark and sarcastic - either way, it allows us to expel stress in a way that doesn't show vulnerability. Laughter is contagious, therapeutic, and necessary for our health, station morale, and home life. Laughter can't solve every issue, but it's an effective first response that may mitigate the problem.
Remember, if you can laugh away the stress, it can't become a poison!
I will be posting photos and drawings from my USO trip on my FaceBook page shortly: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000157193101&sk=wall
To see more of my work, visit: www.artstudioseven.com