I live in North Carolina. where we were recently hit with a powerful hurricane that caused a lot of damage. Many trees fell on and around my house. One tree limb speared through my roof into my living room. I was not able to go anywhere because my driveway was covered by a wall of fallen debris. Not that it mattered much since all the roads were covered with massive trees and power lines, it was still a claustrophobic feeling, especially with no power for 5 days and food running out.
Thankfully, my chronic pain from dystonia has not been too substantially worse from the stress.
I had a couple days of bad pain, but overall, I did well. I attribute this to really focusing on keeping a level head through it all and doing my best to not physically overextend myself too much. I also had the help of very caring friends and family, and I made sure to keep practicing my daily self-care activities, many of which you can find in my book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, my blog about self-care, and my new video, Living Well with Dystonia.
I think events like this can either bring us down or make us stronger. Some people may look at the hurricane and see it as a complete tragedy, and in some ways, it most certainly was. But I believe that with every obstacle comes opportunity. I have witnessed new friendships formed, kindness from complete strangers in ways I have never seen before, stronger bonds formed between family and friends, greater compassion for others, and so much passionate, hard work from everyone to rebuild. People are working together like a fine tuned machine to get through this tough time; people whose paths probably wouldn’t cross otherwise. There is a greater sense of community and a beautiful expression of the strength of the human spirit.
Personally, I learned that my body is quite resilient and that I could trust more in my ability to handle difficult situations; trust being one of the main components for coping well with the mental/emotional side of any chronic condition.
I believe the impact life events have on us physically and emotionally is in large part due to our emotional response to them. I could have totally freaked out when I saw that tree in my living room when I woke up. It could have put my health into a major tailspin, and I live with a pretty severe condition, but I did not panic because I knew I needed to have a level head to take care of the mess and process all the chaos. I had a choice how to respond, as we do in all situations, and I needed to remain calm for the sake of my health.
Several days after my yard was cleared, I saw something in nature that illustrated amazing resilience. It made me think about our resilience in the wake of trauma and chronic illness, which prompted me to write this article. This year I planted a number of different flowers in my yard. Prior to the storm I took them all indoors, except one large planter of impatiens that is too heavy to move.
When I woke the next day after the brunt of the storm, the planter was buried in tree limbs that had fallen. I thought for sure they would have all been destroyed. I was proven wrong. Within a few days of clearing the debris, the flowers began to bloom again! They don’t look like they did before the storm, but those that made it didn’t give up and kept on growing, with new buds ready to bloom!
Just like those of us who have obstacles in our lives, be it health or otherwise, if we keep hope alive, work hard every day to take steps towards our goals, learn to live with adversity rather than fight against it, and never give up, life doesn’t have to end. It may change and look different, just like this planter and much of my community from the hurricane, but it doesn’t have to be any less fulfilling, meaningful, or beautiful. In fact, I think if we continue to fight when we are faced with tough hurdles, it is a sign of our strong character and is far more meaningful than a life without challenges. It also prepares us to handle adversity when it comes our way again.
I understand that some of you reading this might be in a place right now where nothing in life makes sense and you are full of pain and fear. This is okay. Sometimes we need to get lost in order to find our way and maybe even get on a better life track. When I got sick with dystonia, I was lost for years. Every day and night I would bury my teary face in my hands wondering what I was going to do with my life. Eventually, I found my way and you will too. We all have a different time frame so it is vital to be patient with ourselves.
Just like the impatiens that keep on blooming after being buried by trees, we can also keep on growing. If life has been turned upside down, allow yourself to find your bearings and then take steps in the direction you want to go. Don’t beat yourself up. Lift yourself up. Attitude determines altitude and how far we climb when faced with adversity is up to us. If we view all “bad” things as tragedies we become victims of circumstance and never see the hidden blessing or meaning. There is great beauty in tragedy, and often, finding that beauty is what helps heal us from that tragedy.