Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
Long ago when Hurricane Katrina did the unthinkable by flooding much of New Orleans, I couldn’t imagine the psychological trauma of losing your home, your neighborhood, your town, your nearby friends, and even family members. How do you come back after that? You’ll never forget the scenes or sounds or smells. One survivor told her story of watching others die, and her eyes were wide with shock that will never fade. Who do you call for comfort? How do you call when your bank and post office and phones are all gone? If you don’t have caring family somewhere safe, to whom do you turn? The stories of what happened as the survivors did their best to continue surviving were horrific, because many survivors had no resources left.
Today, we’re watching fires do the same kind of sweeping damage. One victim commented that no one can understand what it feels like unless it happens to you. I believe him. On top of the catastrophic loss from wildfires, of course, comes COVID-19. Many can’t conceive of what it must feel like to stand behind glass, knowing a loved one is suffocating with no family member to hold their hand and tell them it’s okay to die when they must. Some families have already lost multiple members. But those who haven’t yet lost someone pretend they’re immune—perhaps too good to catch a stupid virus, too strong not to recover. They don’t pay attention to the after-effects even COVID survivors can suffer. They won’t believe the science pertains to them.
One of our family members lost her home and family pets in a fire early in her marriage. She couldn’t bear to be near any flame—even candles—for years afterward. Emotional scars don’t heal; they must be softened and incorporated into an aware life. I can’t help but wonder how much of the utter madness and loss of self-discipline, not to mention loss of common sense, prevalent these days is due to too many people enduring too much stress, too many losses at once.
Even those who haven’t yet had to cope with death and destruction have been forced by circumstances to submit to weeks of nearly solitary confinement. They desperately want to believe it was and is unnecessary. Any psychologist you consult will tell you not everyone can tolerate being cut off from friends, in-person entertainments, and social gatherings. I remember hearing of one study of the survivors of military prison camps who, like the late Senator John McCain, had to suffer not merely solitary confinement, but also torture. The study concluded that more education seemed to help victims survive better and longer. No wonder so many people who now simmer with furious resentment at the request they wear protective masks assign irrational blame to those who are better educated than they are. They don’t have the tools to resist the effects of deprivation, and perhaps they’re secretly jealous of those who do. They also act out against those they believe have even less than they…because they want to distance themselves from realizing that possibility? They want to feel too right.
The bottom line, I suppose, is the importance of learning—whether or not it’s done in a formal educational setting. According to the first episode “Living on Autopilot” of the excellent PBS series HACKING YOUR MIND, we use our “fast mind” (also known as our subconscious*) to make most of our decisions based on fragmentary, often obsolete information. Instead, we must slow down and engage our conscious, rational mind to come to better conclusions, because we’re being deliberately manipulated by fear and other emotions surreptitiously generated by sophisticated persuasive programming.
Instead of staring at social media when we can’t travel or interact with others, we need to read thoughtful books, memorize soulful poetry, and/or watch insightful films. We need to expand the bubble in which we live. We need to remember how to imagine ourselves in the place of the lead character or the victim being wronged or the person down the street we don’t quite understand. Our first experiences with empathy may have developed as we listened to an adult read to us. I cried as I read OF MICE AND MEN or watched the play OUR TOWN—almost as much as I cried watching SCHINDLER’S LIST or TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE. We need to work to keep ourselves and our society civilized and rational. We can degrade. Stress has made us more vulnerable.
*The subconscious is the seat of memories (often faulty) and emotions. In hypnotherapy, we call it “the doer.” We can intentionally reprogram positive messages. The subconscious can’t discern truth from falsehood on its own.