Nature’s Resilience After a Hurricane: A Metaphor for Life Challenges
I live in North Carolina in the United States where we were recently hit with a very 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. It is not every day you open your bedroom door and see a tree staring at you! Thankfully my car was spared, but it was surrounded by tree limbs, along with an 8 foot wall of trees blocking my driveway entrance. Not that I was able to go anywhere since all the roads were covered with massive trees and power lines as you can see in the pictures below, it was still a claustrophobic feeling. Especially with no power for 5 days and food running out.
Two days into the storm, I woke up and my neighbors were outside in the pouring rain, soaking wet, clearing my driveway. I was beyond moved by their kindness. But that was just the beginning, as there was so much more to clear in all the yards, not to mention the water damage in my living room caused by the hole in my roof. Needless to say, the past few weeks have been overwhelming.
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.
There were some people who had their homes absolutely destroyed and instead of thinking about themselves, they were out volunteering their time to feed and clothe other families in need. Some people took advantage of the beautiful wood laying in piles on the side of the road from all the trees that fell so they could make all sorts of different projects. They are turning a mess into beautiful art, while also helping the massive cleanup effort. Personally, I learned that my body is quite resilient and that I could trust more in my ability to handle very difficult situations; trust being one of the main components for coping well with the mental/emotional side of any chronic condition.
There are many more examples I could give. My point is that we have a choice how to view and respond to life events, and how we choose to view and respond to them will determine their impact on us physically and emotionally. 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 chose to not panic because I knew I needed to have a level head to take care of the mess and process all the chaos. I also didn’t panic because I practice mind calming activities on a regular basis which help keep me pretty even keeled. Put simply, 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, which prompted me to write this blog. 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. Below is a photo of the planter in bloom prior to the storm.
When I woke the next day after the brunt of the storm, the planter was buried in tree limbs that had fallen. Below are pictures of the side of my house where it is located, and the close up is a photo of the trees crushing the planter. You can’t even see it.
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 continue to keep hope alive, work hard every day to take steps towards our goals, learn to live with adversity rather than fight against it, and just 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 heals us from that tragedy.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021). He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.