Regular readers will hopefully forgive me for going on again about earthquakes, and earthquake recovery. I do realise that while it is a very important issue to me, that it is not so interesting to others, especially if you have never even experienced a mild tremor in your lifetime. I wrote a couple of days ago in In My Corner Of The World… There Is Hope that today is the two-year anniversary of the start of our earthquake nightmare here in Christchurch, New Zealand.
I was thinking, and came to the conclusion that today’s date, 4 September is significant for me in more than just the reminder of the quakes and the destruction. I realise that it was the trigger to finally beginning my road to recovery from mental illness.
What I have learnt through this nightmare is to take one day at a time. In so many ways. People often talk about taking one day at a time. Actually, it is almost too often sometimes, because it is difficult to understand how that might possibly make a difference. Let me explain…
Every time an earthquake strikes there is no certainty of whether this will be a tiny shake that you just wonder whether it was actually just the wind. Or will it go on, and build to a much more traumatic and damaging quake? Many times I have sat here at my computer as a quake starts and I wait a second or two to decide, do I run for cover, or do I just ride it out? Sometimes I have run for cover only to feel a little silly when it was just a small tremor. But other times I have been glad I made the choice to move, as things come crashing down around me once again.
The other thing I don’t know is when the next one will come. I always knew that after a major quake, smaller quakes called after-shocks would follow, but I had no idea that after-shocks, and then new major quakes could continue on for years.
It’s difficult to know exactly what to do after the quake stops because I don’t know what will follow. Is it worth putting all the photos back in the shelf? Should I pick the television up off the floor? (actually we Cantabarians got clever eventually and screwed televisions down. Actually anything that could be screwed down was) I have now had one new television courtesy of insurance, but I don’t really want to have to go back for another. And to be honest there are some things that now live in the floor so they can’t fall any further.
I had heard people say that animals often gave advance notice of earthquakes about to hit, and that the birds went quiet, and the like. Well my cat Penny lived through a good number of the quakes and never once gave me any warning. She would look as shocked and terrified as me, except usually she would move a whole heap quicker than me.
When you’re in an earthquake zone, like I now know I do, you realise that there is little certainty. I have learnt to have bottled water on hand, extra non-perishable food, and batteries in the torch and radio. Actually I know have a solar-powered torch/radio so that solves the problem. These things are so much more important to me now that I have experienced needing them, but not having them. Now if I am prepared for that uncertainty, then it becomes manageable. I know exactly the things I need to do if, and when a major quake hits. I can just go into that action plan almost on automatic pilot rather than the shock of it paralysing me. I know what is important.
When I learnt to take one day at a time with regard to my material needs, I started to take one day at a time with my emotional health too. I have finally realised that worrying about my future, won’t make it any better. Worrying about the past wouldn’t make it have not happened. I have finally learnt to say what is on my mind because I don’t know if I will get the chance again.
I particularly learnt that with the death of my father. At the moment he died, he and I were having a very rare argument (about chemical toilets of all things). Clearly it was heated enough to literally stop his heart, on top of the stress he had already experienced. What I struggled with afterwards was the fear that in the argument he would have lost sight of the fact that I loved him. There was no time, it was over in an instant, and if only we had stopped and just appreciated each other rather than arguing.
I should say that I have dealt with that now. I know my Dad knew I loved him and while it is unfortunate that our relationship ended in anger, I know it is okay. I feel at peace with that, and achieving that in itself is a very big difference from the person I was, who would have felt bad and guilty for the rest of her days. I have learnt to say what’s on my mind, at the time. I will never know if I will have another opportunity to say I love someone.
By learning to live in the moment, and be very clear about my feelings with those I care about, I have been able to correct some of the other things that were screwing me up, particularly in terms of my relationships with other people.
I never want to live through another two years like I have just been through, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But good does come from bad. I have learnt so many things that otherwise might have taken years to discover, if I ever did. While the experience has been a nightmare, my mental health has strengthened in leaps and bounds, when for so many years nothing seemed able to achieve that.
We usually look at mental illness as being a bad thing, and quite rightly so, when you stop and think of the anguish and pain for the sufferer, and those around them. Again I wouldn’t choose the last 19 years again. Not for one minute. I lost so much, and I know I hurt people along the way.
But the suffering I went through created a new person. I am not the person I was in the 1990’s, and actually I am quite glad I’m not. I am a better person. I have new opportunities because of the person I have become, and so I would go so far as to say that good came from the bad of my mental illness. I fully expect that some people may have difficulty accepting that, and that’s okay. I am just saying that for me, there is good as a result of the pain and suffering I experienced.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
- In My Corner Of The World… There Is Hope (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Leaving My Comfort Zone (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Anniversary of first quake (radionz.co.nz)