The letter had begun: ‘Dear Lee Moore, my grandmother used to sew my clothes into my skin with yellow cotton…’. These words, written in black biro, on narrow, lined paper torn from a notebook, plus the intrusive imagery which accompanied them, prevented me from sleeping. I went downstairs at three in the morning, ate some hot-buttered toast, tried watching TV, then reading, but the imagery and words would not leave me.
I could not concentrate. Self-medication was not a successful antidote. Abandoning my resolve not to bring work home or into my marriage, I woke my husband and asked him to talk to me. It proved a temporary solution for neutralising what I was shortly to discover was a symptom of secondary traumatic stress (STS). This is a natural stress that can occur in those exposed to traumatic material on a regular basis. STS strikes suddenly and without warning. It is an event, unlike burnout, which is a slow process.