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What Hurricane Florence Taught Me About Chronic Pain

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I live in North Carolina in the United States where we were recently hit with a very powerful hurricane that caused a lot of damage. Many trees fell on and around my house. One tree limb speared through my roof into my living room. It is not every day you open your bedroom door and see a tree staring at you! There was an eight foot wall of tree limbs blocking my driveway entrance and the roads were covered with massive trees and power lines. It was a claustrophobic feeling, especially with no power for five days and food running out.

I was very worried that the stress would really impact my chronic pain from dystonia. I had a couple days of bad pain, but overall, I did quite well! I attribute this to really focusing on keeping a level head through it all and doing my best to not physically overextend myself too much. I also had the help of very caring friends and family, and I made sure to keep practicing my daily self-care activities, many of which are in my new video, “Living Well With

A picture of the writer's house with a tree fallen.I think events like this can either bring us down or make us stronger. Some people may look at the hurricane and see it as a complete tragedy, and in some ways it most certainly was. But I believe that with every obstacle comes opportunity. I have witnessed new friendships formed, kindness from complete strangers in ways I have never seen before, stronger bonds formed between family and friends, greater compassion for others, and so much passionate, hard work from everyone to rebuild. People worked together like a fine tuned machine to get through this tough time – people whose paths probably wouldn’t cross otherwise. There is a greater sense of community and a beautiful expression of the strength of the human spirit.

There are many more examples I could give. My point is that we have a choice how to view and respond to life events, and how we choose to view and respond to them will determine their impact on us physically and emotionally. I could have totally freaked out when I saw that tree in my living room when I woke up. It could have put my health into a major tailspin, but I chose to not panic because I knew I needed to have a level head to take care of the mess and process all the chaos.

A picture of a tree uprooted from the ground.

Several days after my yard was cleared, I saw something in nature that illustrated amazing resilience. It made me think about our resilience in the wake of trauma, which prompted me to write this story. This year I planted a number of different flowers in my yard. Prior to the storm I took them all indoors, except one large planter of impatiens that was too heavy to move.

When I woke the next day after the brunt of the storm, the planter was buried in tree limbs that had fallen. You couldn’t even see it. I thought for sure they would have all been destroyed. I was proven wrong. Within a few days of clearing the debris, the flowers began to bloom again! They don’t look like they did before the storm, but those that made it didn’t give up and kept on growing, with new buds ready to bloom!

A picture of beautifully planted flowers.

Just like those of us who have obstacles in our lives, be it health or otherwise, if we continue to keep hope alive, work hard every day to take steps towards our goals, learn to live with adversity rather than fight against it, and just never give up – life doesn’t have to end. It may change and look different, just like the planter and much of my community from the hurricane, but it doesn’t have to be any less fulfilling, meaningful, or beautiful. In fact, I think if we continue to fight when we are faced with tough hurdles, it is a sign of our strong character and is far more meaningful than a life without challenges. It also prepares us to handle adversity when it comes our way again.

Just like the impatiens that keep on blooming after being buried by trees, we can also keep on growing. If life has been turned upside down, allow yourself to find your bearings and then take steps in the direction you want to go. Don’t beat yourself up. Lift yourself up. Attitude determines altitude and how far we climb when faced with adversity is up to us. If we view all “bad” things as tragedies we become victims of circumstance and never see the hidden blessing or meaning. There is great beauty in tragedy, and often, finding that beauty is what heals us from that tragedy.

Originally published: October 13, 2018
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