No sooner were we feeling a comfort level return when Hurricane Frances decided to vie for the title of the biggest brawniest storm contest, which she was not to win.
Hurricane Anxiety By Sherry Russell
Hurricane Charley deposited a special delivery of wind and rain to my Florida East Coast area but nothing unmanageable. Unfortunately, he devastated many people on the West Coast of Florida. Our Floridian collective thoughts were draped over the ones that had been abruptly uprooted and pained from Charley’s bulldozer visit.
No sooner were we feeling a comfort level return when Hurricane Frances decided to vie for the title of the biggest brawniest storm contest, which she was not to win. Frances made her appearance and out stayed her welcome leaving a trail of wreckage not only in my state but many states. Ivan lived up to his name with a vengeance and like the wolf with the three little pigs, we here in Florida, were all huffing and puffing trying to blow Ivan away while wishing he wouldn't slather his hurricane self over anyone else. As I write this, we are still fighting the winds and rains of Ivan.
Nature’s cleansing and renewal is a perpetual repeating cycle challenging the human’s life framework. I would like to share my hurricane story and lessons with you.
While I awaited the raging fury of Frances, I decided on reading while light still streamed though the windows. As I pulled out my bookmark, I had to smile. The saying on the bookmark says, "It’s about living". It is my Hospice Care bookmark titled Compassionate Guidance for Life’s Journeys. No better time for compassion to come into play as when masses of people are affected and effected by the hurricane of anxiety.
My story starts with a duck. It appeared a duck had been swirled away in drainpipe fashion by the raging water into the near by sewer pipe. At first I couldn’t place the echoing noise, and more frustrating, I couldn’t locate the direction it was coming from. Yet, with industrious tenacity, I continued to listen and follow the noise. Reaching the conclusion it was a stuck duck, with lightening speed I located the hefty sewer grate that needed opening to free the confused duck.
My husband with another man lifted the grate with unison gruntings of "heave ho". I called to the duck. I threw food to it. The other man, taking refuge with us, was a hunter and had a duck call in his trunk. He and his chocolate lab sprinted over to the sewer, blowing the strange whistle with mimicking duck calls. (In hindsight, how odd, a man with a trained hunting dog doing his best to save what the duo normally hunted.) Nothing happened. The little duck kept crying.
The men and the big lab retreated to the building as stubborn me toughed out the pouring rain trying to concoct a way to look into the sewer. I kept thinking if the little duck saw me, it might come. The wind became so severe I was pushed forward and it took all my might not to fall in. I knew it was time to give up. The men replaced the grate condemning the duck to a dank prison. It was out of my control now and all I could do was hope for its survival. Sadness saddled all of us as we agreed this would probably be the first casualty of the Labor Day Bash named Frances with her pals, the Feeder Bands.
Later that first evening, I reflected on how the human tears didn’t urge the little duck forward. Food didn’t entice the little duck. Our lame duck calls and mimicking talents didn’t beckon the little duck. Surely, it must have been caught or hurt and needing help but no one could reach it. Maybe one reason I was so sad was because I had to face the fact that we, too, might end up like the duck with the anxiety of helplessness. Maybe we would require help and no one would be able to reach us.
I went back inside the Funeral Home. Yes, the Funeral Home, our sanctuary from Frances. Believe me, that is another story deserving it’s own article. In our storm sanctuary, we had a hodgepodge of people and dogs. Five dogs in all. My three were the worst. As I was told by a trainer once, the problem isn’t with the dogs – it is with the dog’s owner. When I thumped my nose at that thought years ago, I didn’t know I would be wrestling with those words down the line. It goes to prove our actions and our choices create our future.
As time went by, privacy became my shelter in the shelter. As I sat in a corner of my assigned cubbyhole that I shared with my husband and our three unruly dogs, I became entranced by the wind. I had never thought of wind as a teacher but it certainly was and doing it with great authority. The wind trained the trees to be precise nimble slingshots. The trees gobbled up the tricks of the trade and with notable accuracy slung birds out of nests, squirrels out of hiding places and hurled their leafed branches through windows and onto the street. I could hear birds calling to one another wondering if it was a baby calling to a mom.
One peculiar thing I re-discovered about personal crisis is the state of mind for day and for night. Day mind is active with optimism, what ifs, actions, watching, and interpreting every sound and movement. Night mind is a demon filled haunted house of fretful unknowns. Apprehension creeps brazenly forward demanding evaluation. No noise to dull it, there was no way to drown out the pecking fingers of reckoning tapping on the brain. Twaddle solo chitchat was not a viable sleep aide. Anxiety was setting in.
One of the best ways to get through a crisis is to not look at the element of time but to look at the situation as a happening. Not minutes, hours or even days but an event that begins and ends. A solider goes to war leaving his familiar life and his family. Equipped with strong coping skills for enduring the mission, a solider isn’t riddled with anxiety bullets by counting days. That would be harmful, disheartening and depressing. Instead, the solider copes through the days by eyeing the mission not the watch. When the mission is over then it is done. For people sitting in shelters day after day painfully watching the clock find it more difficult to endure than those who accept they are there until the "mission" is over.
Back in my slot, I sat for a while on my container tub - my tub of necessary clothing. My bag of indispensable comfort food was close at hand. Unfortunately, the goodies dwindled as the stress dagger shredded away at my coping skills.
There is something to be said for the comfort of favorite goodies. Something about exorbitant amounts of sugar and caffeine that wrestle away the bogeyman fears. I realize there is a lot of concern that these two ingredients are partly responsible for feeding the brain nada nourishment causing a boatload of the bogey man panic, but in my case, they are my comfort. Let there be no human dare try taking them away from me in a crisis, as my arthritic little fingers will work as Kudzu vines never giving up on releasing my comfort rations.
Plus, everything has a positive side. I look at it this way, every time I decide to go on a diet; I have to eat up all the food in the house so I won’t be tempted. Maybe now, the deed will be done and I can finally start my diet!
Dealing with confusing information is another issue hard to digest when facing a crisis. When you have been a shut in with people you didn’t know before hand, the one thing you do need is the best in direct correct information. As our little group sat around the battery-operated radio with our flashlights and candles, we would dissect the given information. Perception is an odd thing, considering a news announcer makes a statement and each person hears something a little different. Slightly different but still different. If the announcer has a lot of "gray area" in the statement, all kinds of interpretations laced with concern are discussed.
The storm now is officiating an escalating boxing match between the outside foliage and structures such as signs, lights and posts. The fence outside my window was getting ready to go. To go where, I’m not sure but I knew it was going. The stop sign disobeyed by whizzing at a high rate of speed past the window. I tried to concentrate on the renewal that will sprout from such a through cleansing. It is nature cleansing nature but woefully, humans are in the way and we don’t survive well with the wind’s sharp pruning shears.
As the days went on I was sure the earth moved and not for all the fancied reasons. This was as if the earth was shaking us like a shark veraciously shaking off a piece of his prey.
I thought back to my lost keys. Begrudgingly, I knew we had no choice but to flee inland. I had loaded my car with my clothing tub, food, pictures, work and my laptop, only to have packed my keys somewhere. In fear the bridges might close to our destination, I had to fess up and tattle on myself. With my husband’s key to my car, I followed him with three dogs to our shelter. Little did I know that we would be stuck for days and little did I know we would not be allowed to return home when the storm was over and little did I know that life would change for most of my neighbors. The days were moving on and my second box of Twinkies was disappearing.
Staring at my Twinkies, I thought about the hurricane named Anxiety going on in so many shelters. Many people moved into shelters on a Wednesday night and the storm didn’t hit with full force until Friday night continuing on Saturday and again on Sunday. Wicked abusive Francis pounded us for 26 hours, compounding an all ready difficult situation. Children, adults and animals started losing the coating around their fine tuned nervous systems unleashing a different type of storm – one that was directed by fear flanked by needs and wants.
At one point we thought the eye would come directly over us giving us a nice break to walk the dogs and get outside for some fresh air. That didn’t happen. We were whipped with the toughest of winds without a reprieve. As we watched our dogs prancing with crossed legs, we had to think about our own situation.
You can’t stay strangers very long after having meetings on which should be the designated pots for number 1 and number 2. My resourceful and in charge husband caught as much rain as possible when possible to flush toilets.
This was the second hurricane that had caused distress in my area. Even though the first was not a direct hit, it still caused panic. I thought about all the people in all the world dealing with fires, flooding rains and rising rivers, earthquakes and volcanoes. Nature belching her worst leaving the people behind with gut busting bellyaches of grief and anxiety.
Crisis has a way of bringing out the best and the worst in people. For myself, I was amazed how I was always was so sure "stuff didn’t matter". I found out that was only until I couldn’t get to my stuff. I thought long and deeply about that because I have worked with so many people who have weathered disasters and lost "stuff". I remember thinking, they have lost their memories and that in itself can be devastating, but it is more than that.
People lose their personal history, not just the memories of the trips or the family reunions or the pictures of the loved ones no longer here. People lose themselves when they lose their items. Items represent how we think, they reflect our likes and dislikes, they reflect our personality of extravagance or minimalist or somewhere in between. Each item carefully placed is a representative of the person who placed it. When you can’t get to your home to see your stuff, that night mind pulls a shade over the day mind and you become convinced those in charge must know something and won’t regurgitate the information.
A friendly policeman stopped by to see if we were OK. We asked him if he knew about the island. He asked when the homes were built. We looked at my neighbor who has lived in her rich history filled home for a very long time, as we squeaked out "in the 70’s". His look down was enough. He tried to reassure us but we would not be reassured until we could see our houses or even the house planks and see and touch our stuff. Finally, a couple days later, we were allowed to go home. To my husband’s and my surprise our little house stood due to the graceful strength of our neighbor’s house. Her house gave our cottage shelter but the storm was not kind to her. As I looked at parts of roofs, sides of houses, blown out doors and windows and a battered beach naked of sand dunes and deck stairs, I was in stately awe of Frances and her endless Feeder Bands.
I learned a few things from my experience and my brain coughed up a few things I had long forgotten. Experience is like that. Experience is education for the soul. Sometimes it challenges you, sometimes it tickles you with delight and sometimes it pains you but experience makes us grow and learn to ask "how" rather than "why".
I was reminded of the importance of concrete information. The scattered reports and the differing opinions created uneasiness. We need boundaries. In a crisis you need a fence not an ambulance. In a poem written by Joseph Malins – 1895, he makes a plea to his town that one’s efforts should be on prevention of unwise actions rather than being forced to put in good time cleaning up from an ill-judged decisions. His example was to build a fence on the top of a cliff is far better than cleaning up after a fall at the bottom of the cliff by calling the ambulance. If we prepare and work on our coping skills, we are much better off than if we stay blinded by panic.
I was reminded of a theory, the Schema Theory, which seeks to explain how we are able to cope with our constantly changing daily environment. It allows us to comprehend each circumstance as familiar or unique and we are, in a blink of an eye, able to distinguish familiar environmental factors and patterns in the activities unfolding around us. This enables us to behave correctly in situations. According to the theory, this remarkable ability to make sense out of our ever-changing surroundings clearly depends on memory. We are somehow able to extract just those elements from our huge store of experiences, facts, all of our senses to allow us to make at least an educated guess as to what is occurring around us. If we are given good information and resources, we can make educated guesses while preparing for prevention of unnecessary harm and emotional distress.
I observed people, who knew they might lose everything, reach out and emotionally wrap a warm arm around another’s shoulders offering comfort and guidance. I observed people who want to "win the contest". No matter what, they are determined to have it worse than anyone else. They believe the storm only piddled on their personal life parade.
This reminded me of the importance of getting outside of yourself and doing something for another person. Volunteering in any fashion works as a healing wand. We are our own survival architects and from time to time, we all could use a generator to energize our soul power. Concentrating on the small miracles of the day is a way to regenerate. It is a way to remind ourselves life does go on and it is OK to be sad, to be heartbroken and to be shattered – it is not OK to stay in that place. You and only you can determine if life throws you a stumbling block or a stepping stone. It will take time and you must take whatever time necessary but at some point you do need to determine to take a step forward.
Speaking of small miracles…. When the storm was only gusting winds and not a steady spanking, my husband heard the duck. He was afraid to tell me for fear I would plunge myself into the milder 80 mph puffing winds to save the duck. He also reasoned if he heard it close to the window, it was alive, well and best of all - free. As the winds charged up the state leaving us with fewer and fewer bands, he told me about the duck calls. I was elated and spread the news. We all were thrilled including the hunter. And yes, I bounded outside looking for my duck. It had moved and was no longer where my husband had heard it. I was starting to think the storm had played with my husband’s imagination.
With shoulder’s humped over with defeat, I walked around the building and lo and behold I heard it. I followed the call until I got to a collected pool of water and a large bush. I knew it had to be under the bush. Plowing through the shallow water, I dug my hands into the bush separating branches hoping to get a peak at, what I now considered, my duck. I finally could see all the way to the ground below the bush and no duck. I knew it was there, I could hear it louder than ever. About that time a small tree frog croaking a huge duck call jumped almost into my hand. If only this little critter knew how I tried to get my husband to hold me by my legs so I could see into the sewer. If only he knew it took two strong men to do the back breaking grate lifting to try to free him. If only he knew the sadness we all felt in not saving him. If only he knew he was my small miracle of the day. My duck was safe.
Stay tuned into all the small miracles of each and every day. It is sanity building and soul enriching. There are some times when you simply have to stay atop of life’s biggest and frothiest waves just because they tickle the best.