Good From Bad

‘Good from Bad’ in the form of the new Christchurch CBD shopping area…
created solely from shipping containers.
Image credit:

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


12 thoughts on “Good From Bad

  1. Dorothy

    It’s strange what fear does to us. I remember after September 11, 2001 here in USA I was taking a shower when a fighter jet went over my house. The noise scared me practically to death. I thought that it was an impending attack on my silly little neighborhood and I jumped out of the shower and quickly toweled off and threw my clothes on in a panic. I didn’t know how to react until it dawned on me that it was the opening day for the baseball season and these were just the grandstanding show-offs for our Air Force for opening Day. I felt like a fool. I know the feeling of having no control and having fear and physically reacting to a situation when not even knowing if I should react. Obviously that was awhile ago but one never knows. Nature is worse I think. It truly doesn’t care because it doesn’t reason, it only behaves on a set of laws and science. I think about you a lot because my brother lived in California and lived through earthquakes too, so I understand the thinking.
    Do what you can but try not to dwell on what you can’t control. Take care

    1. I completely understand what that fear does to us, Dot. It’s completely debilitating. One thing I have learnt though is that there is little point worrying about things I can not control. It usually works, although sometimes I confess I still have problems with it. Give me time… Thanks, Cate

  2. Where I live, my country in the UK, is not in an earth quake zone although on a very rare occasion we actually do get a slight tremor but most people sleep through it. I cannot imagine the sheer fear of having lived through the earth quake you had a couple of years ago. Someone close to me was in your area at the time and phoned me in absolute terror-thank fully she was with a Kiwi who knew what to do as in get in the door frame etc. I love the quote you added to the bottom of your post. I do believe that walking through struggle, the hard times, suffering and so on truly does help to make us more beautiful people, more compassionate. We learn from this journey even though it is not one we would have chosen. Behind The Smile.

    1. Thanks for your comments . Yes I understand how it is hard to comprehend when your country isn’t faced with earthquakes. That said, we all seem to have a fair share of weather related disasters now days. IT does make us more beautiful people but sometimes I do wish it was a slightly easier process. 🙂

  3. Yes — to everything you so wonderfully stated, YES! To carry your own experience into metaphor, I suspect having a mental illness is not unlike living in an earthquake-vulnerable environment (I say “I suspect” because I’ve only encountered tremors and do not live in quake prone environs, so maybe I’m out of my depth here). Anyway, once you’ve lived through a bad mental/emotional “quake” or two, you’re sort of conditioned to live in fear or anxiety for the next one, be it a tremor you mistake for disaster or The Big One that will completely level you. You can live your whole life leaning into the next disaster…or the next. You can forget to actually live b/c you’re so terrified of the next “quake.” I think most of us have lost chunks of living to anticipating disaster. But, as you have so wisely testified, there is another way. Surrender the fear and simply take joy in the small glories that each day brings if you’re really looking. Somedays, glory lies in simply surviving. Other days, the world seems full of love and wonder. You stop trying to predict and control the universe and simply trust that you are capable of overcoming and appreciating all that falls in your path. It takes quite a bit of work to get there, but it is beautiful. As are you ❤

    1. You are so right! A week after that first quake my birthday came around (yes, it is next week and no, I haven’t sent you a invite to the party only because there isn’t one. I just couldn’t have one without you there.:-) ) Anyway what I was going to say is that one week on celebrating a birthday was the hardest thing because no one was in the mood to celebrate. But we did, just for an hour and it was so good to be able to find a small piece of joy amidst the chaos. And yes, I think mental illness is the same. Ironically my birthday iss 9/11 and that wasn’t a day to celebrate either. I was in hospital at the time too that year but even in the worst of situations it is still possible to find some joy, and I think we owe it to ourselves to do that. Big hugs! ❤

    1. Thanks for that link Kathy. I have just read it and it is amazing that you read both on the same day. I am sure there is reason for that. And I’m sure it is good for us all to be reminded that positive things do come out of the tough times. It doesn’t make up for the pain, but it is definitely a consolation. Hugs! Cate 🙂

  4. Brilliant post Cate! I love your connections between the world outside and your own personal world. This comment stood out for me: “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.” That is true survivor talk 🙂

  5. Pingback: When Your World Turns Upside Down | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

  6. Pingback: When Your World Turns Upside Down (reposted) | Infinite Sadness... or hope?

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