Hurricane Irma tore though Florida five to seven days ago, depending on where a person lived. Since then, in the Orlando area alone, there are still nearly ½ million people, businesses and schools without power, even more without any internet service, and countless others without land-line phone service. Some businesses are fully operational while others are partially or completely shut-down.
Our local coffee store still has no dairy products which means no lattes. A neighborhood restaurant chain offers customers paper menus with limited selections. Many grocery stores have bare shelves and a small number of frozen or refrigerator items. Gas stations near the major interstate roadways have lines that wrap around the corner. Schools are still out.
Last night while driving home in an unexpected torrential rainfall, the streets flooded. Already high lakes overflowed and in some cases spilled out onto neighboring streets. Debris from downed trees which lined the streets in anticipation for garbage removal shifted into the road clogging drains. Flooding in some parts of the city from the hurricane expanded rapidly to others making driving nearly impossible.
Life is not normal. Tensions have mounted. Anxiety is pushed to the limit. The desire to go back to way things operated a couple of weeks ago before Irma was a known threat is felt by all. Yet it is precisely in these moments, that the real character, specifically the unhealthy parts, of a person is revealed.
- “It’s all about what I’m going through.” Even knowing that the lack of power, internet, and limited cell service is a communal experience, some find ways to make it about them and their agenda. The selfish demand for attention doesn’t stop because of the storm, rather it escalates. In some cases, the arrogance is so intense, that it generates it’s own mini hurricane within the overly stressed family unit.
- “Why is this happening to me?” The victimization of the storm into a personal experience instead of a statewide experience, causes some to complain non-stop. This drains much needed energy resulting in a lack of productivity. This victim mentality frequently paralyzes a person which in turn generates even more issues.
- “If I was in charge, things would be different.” In an effort to prop up one’s ego, some use this opportunity to be overly critical of businesses, school districts, and governmental officials. Their oversimplification of complicated issues, most of which has not been discussed with the public yet, creates a superiority attitude. Those who need to feel better by putting others down are really bullies at heart and not team players.
- “Get out of my way.” Unfortunately for some, anger is the only emotion expressed during stressful times. Instead of using the full range of an emotional experience, sadness, fear, anxiety, and frustration are lumped into anger. This raging intensifies as circumstances change very slowly separating neighbors at a time when unification is far more beneficial.
- “I’m fine. Everything is fine.” Denial is a powerful defense mechanism every bit as destructive as anger. Those who choose to pretend that life is OK at a time when it clearly is not, miss out on the opportunity to connect more deeply with others. This lack of intimate connection isolates a person from others who don’t feel valued or needed in the relationship.
- “It’s all your fault.” When tension are high, some people look for others to blame rather than to take personal inventory of their contribution. This blame shifting is a way of not taking individual responsibility. For some, admitting their shortcomings is too vulnerable so they go out of their way to point out the flaws in others as a way of hiding their own. Eventually this wears others out and causes them to leave or abandon the blamer.
- “Just leave me alone.” Rather than lash out on others, some chose to withdraw completely from others for large periods of time. The flood of emotions from within is so overwhelming and uncomfortable that they retreat instead of reaching out to family or friends. It is a shutting down of sorts that is hard to bounce back from if not addressed soon. The more a person isolates, the easier it becomes, until they find themselves completely alone.
- “There is so much to do.” Some respond to the stress by busying themselves with unnecessary activity. In an anxious effort to distract from the real problem at hand, some obsess over things that are insignificant. This nervous energy is difficult to be around and most run for cover when they see it. As a result the anxious person takes on the runner’s tasks resulting in a rapid burn-out from all the unnecessary work.
- “There is nothing I can do.” At a time when extra volunteer resources are needed to help with the clean-up, some choose to remain inactive. Rather than seeking out opportunities to engage within the community, they hibernate claiming that their help is not really needed. This is an unfortunate waste of human effort which only compounds isolation.
The antidote to all of these unhealthy responses is balance. While it is good to stay active during stressful times, too much activity or complaining is exhausting. Releasing some pent up emotions such as anger is important but doing it in a way that harms others is hurtful. And while connecting honestly and openly with others is essential, overwhelming or blaming others is destructive. Even when life is unbalanced on the outside, there can be balance on the inside.