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Taking the Flak

Taking the Flak

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. The Great SoCA Heatwave of 2014 (we have no air conditioning at the house) was followed by the Great MicroCell Thunderstorm of 2014 (which blew off one of our skylights and rained torrentially both inside the house and out). Picture Yours Truly after two very hot, humid sleepless nights on the roof with screw gun and a migraine and you’ll have an idea of what it was like….

So how do I take the flak? Not too well. When I get really stressed, not much helps. The night before the cloudburst found me pacing the back yard to get air moving to try to cool down, which hurt my head less than sitting still, while wondering if my other symptoms were heat-related or hormonal or something else. There’s a craziness that grips me when everything seems to be closing in mentally and emotionally, and with the addition of the heat and headache things got very intense. And immobilizing.

Oh, and I ought to mention I’ve also been doing some very intense (and very helpful) trauma release therapy for the last year or so, and the rawness of that work hasn’t really made me the most charming person to be around of late.

I know my little problems pale in the face of some folks’ stuff. There’s no attempt here to compare or contrast; when YOU are the one hurting, what matters is that YOU hurt. I can’t imagine what it feels like to recover from military combat stress for example, nor can I guess why my best buddy took his own life when everything seemed so good “on the outside” — is there ever a good reason for suicide? So please understand: all I can do is write from my own experience and hope it may help you in yours.

So how did I get through? Music? Drugs? Breathing? 911? I thought about each one and discounted each in turn. It was too late at night to play the piano, even though that sometimes helps the headache, and too hot anyway. The normal headache remedies won’t stop a migraine, especially a two-day-old one, and I don’t have a prescription for migraine meds. Pot’s not a good idea in that situation either. One of the other symptoms of that heat wave (for me) was constricted breathing; attempting to deep breathe through my mouth wasn’t having the effect I wanted and I was so short of breath anyhow that yogic breathing was also useless. Calling 911 was a pipe dream: power was out in our neighborhood and there were so many sirens all around that it probably would have been hours before anyone responded to a heavy breather with a migraine and symptoms of heat exhaustion.

I don’t know how I got through. I’ve tried to piece those two days together a couple of times, and the things I recall are separated by grey chunks of time I can’t remember. That night I think I eventually crawled onto the bed and just stayed still until morning…and it was cooler that following morning.

That’s when the real work started. The headache was minimal. I could think clearly again. I realized I’d probably been scary to my family for a couple of days. I began to look forward to my next therapy session. I arranged my plans to allow for a lighter schedule so I could do  some internal repair work, both around the house and inside my psyche. I started to feel human again.

In my experience, this process seems to be fairly common. We don’t always know what the key to resilience was, even after coming through a rough spot, but standing on the new hill and looking back we begin to reassemble how we got there. Sometimes we learn something new about the journey; sometimes not. I think this process is just part of being human — a clue about ourselves that helps us face the next heavy going with a bit more confidence than we had before. I know: it’s not an elegant, evidence-based intervention that can be packaged for use worldwide, the way health care professionals like to have it. But it’s happened to me a lot and, I suspect, to many more besides me who kept going over impossibly stubborn obstacles. That spidery connection to those of you who have been there and done this encourages me, looking back at things now.

If there was a way to reach out and offer thanks to the nameless, faceless ones who persevered in their adversity and somehow connected to me in mine, I’d take it. I’d like to shake their hands; perhaps pray together; offer some sort of thanks for the unsung inspiration their survival offered me.

We’ve had some plumbing issues around the place, and one of the technicians whose been out to clear the blockages more than once actually spent some time talking with me late into one evening. On that night, weeks before the heat wave and a couple hours into the job, things got cleaned up enough to relax and just sit back for a few minutes. Turns out, Sam the plumber (not his real name) has kids like me, has faced a certain amount of adversity in life like me, worries about the same sorts of stuff…is human, like me. After trading a few stories, Sam, who’s much more than a plumber, offered to pray with me. It’s been forever since that happened in any sort of spontaneous way in my life, and I was surprised but accepted gratefully. Sam’s prayer was precisely what we both needed, and we both knew it.

I think back about that now, grateful that The Universe (or whatever you name it) sends me encouragement, provided I’m humble enough to accept it, that can sustain me in ways I might not realize I need. Writing this, I’m surprised I didn’t remember Sam sooner. I can’t tell you that, during the heat and the storm and the stuff I fought during those most recent hellish days, it was Sam’s prayer that sustained me. In a way it doesn’t matter as much as knowing that someone — a stranger in many ways — offered a caring gesture to me just because we humans need it. Perhaps because we deserve it.

That kind of currency never devalues. In my book, it’s the kind of wealth I crave. Money doesn’t have the sustaining effect of the human threads that connect me — my family, my friends, guys like Sam, the homeless folk that attend my music classes, the Veterans living in both pain and honor, the caregivers who work hard with dignity to keep the hurt at bay — to you, when you’re wounded. Those connections are the ones that let us take the flak, endure the wounding, meet the next day, keep showing up. Persistent, reliable, committed, perhaps dogged, knowing that there will be rest eventually. Whatever the exchange, it’s not bought with money. It’s an investment of character, or honor, or love, or of all three, and its only dividends are paid forward.

That’s something worth living for.