I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, old and new.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
If the only prayer you said your whole life was ‘Thank you’ that would suffice.
An incredible thing happened to me this week. I felt a great weight lift from my body and I could breathe freely and unrestricted. My heart felt lighter, my body and mind too.
You see, I returned from Nepal a couple of weeks ago. I experienced the earthquake and the devastation it wrought. There were times I was pretty scared, I guess, running from buildings in the middle of the night unsure if it was safe to return, afraid to sleep in case I should not wake in time to leave should an aftershock, or worse, strike again. I say, I guess I was scared because at the time I wasn’t thinking, I was simply reacting. Fear really didn’t come into it until I returned home. Then, in the quiet, safe spaces of my house I felt my body and my mind crumble under the weight of what had been, what I’d left behind and the realisation that I had survived when others hadn’t.
A pressure began building in my body. I could feel a constant vibration deep within and a heavy hollowness braced my heart. The hyper vigilance persisted. I was no longer in danger but my beloved, was he safe? In the time after the earthquake I was not only reacting to Mother Nature’s rumblings but I was fearful for the safety of my beloved husband. We were not together. He was in a different part of Nepal, uncontactable. The uncertainty and the not knowing was torturous. I can’t explain the unbearable nature of the situation. Once I returned home, to safety, the weight and the agony of my fear for him multiplied exponentially. It became a physical burden. I hadn’t realised at the time what it was. I thought I was suffering as a result of my experience. I thought it was panic attacks, anxiety.
For two weeks the pain grew. It deepened and became like vice around my heart. Seriously, I thought I might be having heart issues. Then, as the days progressed and his return inched closer I could feel a little space, a little lightness creeping in. Two days before his departure there was another earthquake and a series of large aftershocks. The vice redoubled. The heaviness dropped right back in. My thoughts were scrambled. Not only did the news from Nepal bring shock, fear and a renewed anxiousness for the safety of my beloved and his companions but I found myself transported right back to Nepal. I relived the nightmare, the guilt of having left, the sorrow and heartache for the beautiful Nepalese people who were suffering.
As his departure drew nearer, and after news of each small step closer; baggage checked, boarding pass issued, boarding the plane; I started to breathe easier. I slept, not without nightmares and not without waking through the night but it was sleep like I’d not experienced for a few weeks. On the morning of his arrival home I realised the vice around my heart had loosened its grip, I felt a new energy seep back into my body. Could I have been feeling the weight of fear?
I’ve lived my life in fear. Fear of not being good enough, of not being smart enough, pretty enough blah, blah, blah. Fearful of trying new things, fearful of being seen, of speaking up, of being vulnerable. Its limited me, its held me back and at times its kept me safe. Safe but small. This recent fear. Real fear. Fear for a loved one. I might venture so far as to say ‘terror’, was so strong, so physically and mentally palpable, I didn’t actually know how to respond.
Why, after all these words, am I actually sharing this with you I wonder? I don’t know. I felt compelled to write. Maybe this is my medicine? My healing? Whatever it is I think it’s also about compassion. And it’s about gratitude.
We don’t always know what others are feeling or what they are experiencing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is ailing, grieving or suffering. We are pretty good at putting on masks and covering up our messy emotions. I think this experience has taught me to be mindful and gentle with others for they too may have a vice around their heart, a heaviness in their body and be aching in ways I couldn’t imagine. This experience has caused me to feel a deep and abiding gratitude. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring (there really is no better way to describe it) of support, of concern, of blessings from friends, family, acquaintances and work colleagues. Messages, texts, phone calls. Hugs (virtual and real), friendly chats, offers of support. I cannot begin to tell you the comfort and the reassurance they have bought me. My eyes well with tears as I recall how, every few days, dozens of people would check in on me, ask about my beloved, and ensure I was okay.
I’ve felt compassion. I am humbled by it and I am immensely grateful. No words or actions can adequately relay to those wonderful people how much their support has meant to me, how it has helped me through. Except to simply say ‘Thank you’.
I have an abundance of good on my life.
I know I am blessed and I know I am loved.
It feels wonderful.
Post traumatic stress disorder can effect those who have experienced a significant threat. It can effect those who enter a place after a threat (such as aide workers) and it can effect the loved ones of those who have been under threat. I mention this, not because I know I have PTSD, but it kind of fits how I’ve been feeling, on two levels, my own threat and that of a loved one. It’s real. It’s debilitating. Again, be gentle with those around you. We can never really know how deeply anyone is suffering.