By Jennifer Shannon, LMFT
It has been three weeks since the wildfires ravished Northern California, and I, along with so many others, lost their homes and everything in it. So many changes! Learning where everything is at my friend’s house where we are staying temporarily. Shopping at new grocery stores, learning which aisle has what stuff. Replacing our burned car with a new one with a new set of buttons to push. Driving in Santa Rosa and suddenly coming upon a entire block that has been burned, leaving charred earth and twisted metal. Looking up at the surrounding hills that the fire devastated. Nothing feels normal anymore.
Least of all my brain. I am a highly organized person, but I really believe that I can relate to people with ADD now. I start a sentence and then can’t remember where I was going with it. Having so few possessions, one would think I could keep track of them, but I have lost my water bottle and needed to get a new one twice in the past four days. I misplace my eyeglasses at least five times a day. The other day I tried to add something to my iPhone calendar, something I have been doing for years, and I could not remember how to do it! I feel emotionally fragile, easily exhausted and overwhelmed.
I do know, as a therapist, that routine and structure are important. So, I have purposely been doing things that I did before. I have returned to my gym, doing my familiar workouts, and this has felt great. I have been attending my regular Feldenkrais class and Doug and I are meditating at least once a day, just as we did before. But the biggest structured routine in my life has been my work, and this week I decided to return to it. The thought of it excited me, but scared me too. Could I be there for my clients? Could I focus? Would I have enough energy for it?Walking into my office and seeing my desk, my chairs, my books felt good. The first thing I did was water my plants. Soon it was time for my first session. My client felt awkward talking about her issues, when it was my house that burned down, but soon we eased into the work at hand. Listening attentively, choosing tools to help her with, felt like second nature to me. I could do this! I felt focus, a sense of purpose, and more steady than I had felt since the fire. It was as if the rudder that I could not feel that morning, dropped down, righting and steadying me among the waves of uncertainty.
So, going back to work was finding some normalcy. It does not mean that everything is back to normal. Most things aren’t, and won’t be for a good long time. But for those fifty minutes, I knew what I needed to do, and I could do it. And that felt good.
As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.