Finding your way in a disaster

Talk about detours. I’ve spent many hours discussing with people the existentialist confusion that has struck us during the worldwide pandemic known as COVID-19.

Much of the work I do is centered on helping people find a context for this angst. No crystal ball can forecast what lies ahead. I have posed this question to everyone: “If I had told you one year ago today that we would all be in a lock-down status in our homes, would you have believed me?”

“No Way!” is the universal response.

Now, some people have toyed with the idea because of their own conspiracy theory predispositions. “Yes, I would believe that if you had told me.” Of all of the projections a person can make about her future, for me the COVID-19 was not an event I came even close to speculating on.

With the same swing to the other end of the polarity, is it possible to conjecture an even wilder positive outcome from this ordeal? We have all been forced to pivot in some fashion. For me, I had been tiptoeing into the pool of #telehealth for counseling. COVID-19 has plunged me into it. After shaking off the cold awakening, I’ve come to enjoy the platform. I can see more people because I’ve eliminated a stressful commute.

Would I have come to embrace it in the same way if I had continued on in my plodding, methodical fashion? Perhaps, but I would have extended the dateline of my full grasping of it by months, maybe even years.

What about the narrowing of our worlds to literally just blocks within our homes? The variety of neighbors I did not know existed in my development has been a pleasant surprise. Young families are playing hopscotch with their children in the chalk-dusted driveways. I see empty nest couples holding hands as they take their daily walk to shake the creakiness of being cooped up inside all day. These are small treasures which will likely drift away once COVID-19 is contained.

If neither you or I could have predicted an event such as this, than why continue on in trying to predict anything, either negative or positive? Previous disastrous events were somehow overcome by the survivors. I spent a lot of time with people who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf Coast region. Their homes were flooded and destroyed. Some people were rescued from the roofs of their homes. They lost everything but they still had what was the most important aspect: their life. As they allowed themselves to process their grief and get a handle on their anxious PTSD suffering, they began to see they could find hope. In sharing during free support groups I offered, people discovered the unique life that had been so miraculously preserved was the best gift they offered each.

I started learning more specifically about the condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a few years ago when I read that natural disasters were going to be more commonplace. And I wanted to also be available for people who were captured in mass shootings. As these types of events continued to manifest, I wanted to be better equipped to help larger numbers of people. I had decided PTSD was no longer a disorder relegated only to combat war veterans. It is a condition that the general public is more susceptible to just by the virtue of the times we are in.

Simultaneously, I give care to myself to ensure I don’t develop secondary traumatic stress. What helps me is reading about inspirational figures who overcame great suffering, such as Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. He studied and embodied the characteristics he saw in other victims who were surviving the experience and avoiding deep depression.

Because I needed the tool for myself to reset my own autonomic nervous system, I began studying hypnosis. One of the pre-eminent medical doctors of modern times who brought credibility to hypnosis was Dr. Milton Erickson. He conducted his professional work while he used a wheelchair. He had suffered from polio as a child and it left him paralyzed. But he literally helped millions of people with generous sharing of his intuitive healing nature.

Perhaps it will be a sheer act of will for you to find the fortitude and discipline to forge something positive out of this international disaster. Maybe you are one the of luckier ones and seeing the silver lining comes naturally to you. Whichever side of the coin you’re flipped toward, I offer my support that you find a better destination on this unexpected tour. And if loss is part of your experience, I hope you can and will forge your grief into a platform which will allow you to find meaning in the suffering.

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