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A Dream Turned Nightmare [Backpost]

Posted on 27 Dec 2016 @ 10:16am by Ensign Kelly Khan & Lieutenant Avery Stuart Ph.D.

Mission: Click Three Times
Location: Counselor's Office
Timeline: MD 8 || 1600 Hours

All Ensign Kelly Khan fretted as she sat in the quarters she normally shared with Cadet Elisha Cherno, but Elisha was in Medical now with a sizeable portion of her memory missing. With all that had been going on with the ship and the fact that she was just a Flight Control Officer, she didn't have much to do. Granted, she held a secondary in Engineering and could be helping repair the ship from there, it was a section that was already swarming with people. The Black Hawk was in bad shape, but it was in better shape than the Chimera had been when last she had seen it.

She shuddered as she remembered the brief time she had spent in command of the Intrepid class ship and everything that had transpired there. The Romulan Valdore warship with the deadly thalaron weapon, the deaths of many of the crew, the explosion that had opened a rip to another universe. The deaths were the worst part of it and she didn't know who to talk to. Her boyfriend Quinn was busy in Operations and she didn't want to bother him with something that he had no experience in.

Finally, she got up and left her quarters after making sure her uniform that she hadn't removed after getting off duty was still clean. She could almost smell the grease and blood that had been on her even though the uniform was brand new and she had taken multiple showers since she had returned from the doomed Chimera.

Kelly really didn't have a destination in mind until she found herself looking at a door that said Counselor's Office on it and hesitated. She had been through a lot of counseling during her time at Starfleet Academy and admitted that it had helped resolve some of her issues, but she also shied away from it due to personal reasons in the form of a Counselor that she had become close to while at Academy. Almost against her will, she reached out and pressed the chime, hoping that there would be no answer and she would be free to go elsewhere.

"Come in," Avery called out, looking up at the door with a somewhat perplexed expression. Last she checked, she had no scheduled appointments now and while walk-ins weren't entirely unexpected generally, she hadn't anticipated she would receive any, given everyone was just trying to complete their duties and figure out a way out of their current mess, or more accurately, their current universe.

Kelly checked her uniform and used a soft microfiber cloth she had tucked into the collar to give HG a polish, then tucked it back in before she entered. "Lieutenant Stuart, I was wondering if you had some free time for a session. I'm Ensign Kelly Khan."

Avery said up from behind her desk and came around it, offering her hand. "Of course. Feel free to call me Avery, if you like." Stuart gestured to the many chairs in her reception area. "Feel free to take a seat. May I get you something from the replicator?"

The petite brunette shook the woman's hand with a nervous smile. "Thank you, Avery," she said. "Call me Kelly or Conga, whichever makes you more comfortable. I'd love an icoberry juice."

"Coming right up," Avery replied, heading to the replicator and retrieving the order easily enough. Handing Kelly the glass and sitting across from her, she waited comfortably for her to share why she'd come. Stuart didn't want to rush her and had a sense she would open up in time.

"Thanks," Kelly said as she accepted the glass of blue juice. "I wanted to get a few things off of my mind. Everything that's been going down since I came aboard is starting to get to me. I know I've been trained to be able to handle all of this, but..." she paused. "I feel like I've been thrown in at the deep end of the pool and someone tied weights to my ankles."

"That's a very creative way of describing your feelings," Avery remarked. "I can't say that I or others don't know exactly what you mean."

Kelly took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I had command of the Chimera when we found the Valdore," she said. "I was responsible for everyone who was still aboard. I saw people die, Avery. There were bodies and piles of ash everywhere. I had their blood on me..."

"That's a huge responsibility for anyone to have," the counselor offered gently. "I'm sorry you had to witness all of that. It makes complete sense you're having trouble letting all of that go now. I wouldn't expect anyone to be able to do that, regardless of their experience in Starfleet."

"What can I do to get past this without forgetting it?" Kelly asked her, her eyes haunted as she remembered her time aboard the doomed ship.

It was a surprisingly deep question from someone so young. "I don't think anyone truly forgets an experience this traumatic, but I think the key is to give yourself time to process it and the associated thoughts and feelings so that what you remember are the lessons learned from the experience. There's a difference between recalling an experience and reliving it."

"I know that I don't know if I can," she admitted. "Those people's lives were in my hands. What lesson can I learn from that?"

"That part of being in command means experiencing the loss of those that serve with you, that no single person who's ever commanded others escapes the experience without having to grieve the loss of those who take their orders. I know that fact doesn't offer you any comfort right now, but it is a reality that every commander faces. The good ones are those who acknowledge the losses, grieve them, and dedicate their efforts to doing whatever they can to be the best commanders they can be. You'll never be able to prevent loss, but with each experience, you can learn things about yourself and about serving in Starfleet that you didn't know before."

"That's it?" Kelly asked. "Just learn from it? I came here to get help and all you have to tell me is to acknowledge that it happened and move on?"

"You asked me what you could learn from it, not how you can move on," Avery pointed out patiently. "There are very specific things we can do in counseling together to help you process the trauma, but learning from past events is a very individual exercise. Try answering your own question. What lesson do you think you can learn from your experiences?"

Kelly sighed. "That I wasn't ready for Command," she said. "No matter how much someone thinks they're ready for something, reality steps in and does what it wants, anyway."

"I don't think anyone has ever truly been ready for the emotional burdens of command," Avery pointed out. "Anybody who thinks they are probably has figured out how to suppress emotions in a somewhat unhealthy way. There is no scientific formula for managing emotions, especially in a command situation, and the best commanders accept that and take the risk anyway."

"Most people who get put in Command aren't cadets being assigned to broken ships with injured crew," Kelly said. "I was the only other person on the ship who was qualified to take over and now that it's over, I'm not qualified to even think about it without seeing the eyes of dead crew looking at me."

"What you are experiencing is completely normal," Avery reassured. "It has nothing to do with your status as a cadet. I'd be more worried if you weren't affected by what you experienced, but the good news is, there are specific things we can do in counseling to help you process the trauma, so it doesn't overwhelm you in the ways it is now."

"Such as?" Kelly asked. "I really don't want to live on caffeine and chocolate, as delicious as both are. I have to sleep some time and when I do...I see them again."

Avery smiled wanly at Kelly's chocolate and caffeine comment. She could understand not wanting to live on either of those things too. "Well, to start, we'll focus on teaching you relaxation skills like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. After a trauma, it's normal for people to feel like they are on high alert all the time. Even when people don't feel particularly anxious mentally, their bodies and minds can still be conditioned to expect danger so that they're more likely to perceive situations as dangerous or threatening and go into flight or fight mode more quickly than other people who haven't been traumatized. Teaching you relaxation skills and encouraging you to practice them is a way to remind your body what it feels like to be relaxed and it is a way to remind your body how to get there. Other skills along the way will help you identify your emotions and challenge your thoughts, but relaxation is the first step. Being able to relax should help you fall asleep. As for the nightmares, as uncomfortable as they are, they are actually your brain's way of trying to make sense of what you've been through, and they are a natural healing response. I can't change the fact that you'll experience nightmares, but I can give you strategies for coping with them when they happen. Relaxation helps, as does journaling about your nightmares. Traumatic reactions become a problem for people because they fight hard not to think about or address the trauma. Once you're given the skills to confront your reactions head-on, they don't have the power to clobber you or make you afraid anymore."

Kelly listened thoughtfully to what the Counselor was saying and offering to teach her and gave a smile that wasn't forced. "I think you'll find that I'm a eager learner and a stubborn person at the same time, Avery. I'm not resistant to learning new things, but you may find me questioning some techniques before I try them, so if I try, remind me that I haven't tried them yet."

"That's a deal," Avery replied. "Feel free to ask as many questions as you'd like. I wouldn't be much of a therapist if I couldn't explain the reasoning behind my methods, and I want you to feel as comfortable with everything as you can be while were working together."

Kelly finished her juice and held the glass. "My first what do we do first?"

Avery smiled. "Let's start by tackling some deep breathing…"


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