By Jennifer Shannon LMFT, with Doug Shannon
I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen and I like to be prepared for it. But the wildfire that destroyed our home and belongings was something I hadn’t planned for. I planned for an earthquake.
Our Fountaingrove condo complex practically straddles the Rogers Creek Fault line, the most active fault in Northern California, so I did everything I could to minimize risk. We installed earthquake latches on all our cabinets and attached all our bookcases and bureaus to the walls. We had an earthquake shed built onto our deck with enough food, water, first aid to get us through a week or two. I hosted annual earthquake preparedness socials with other residents. I had the condo association put gas wrenches next to each gas valve. And to top it all off, this summer we hired a structural engineer and had our condo retrofitted. We were locked down and ready for the worst that mother nature could throw at us!
But I didn’t expect a wildfire that we would have only minutes of warning. We escaped with little more than the clothes on our backs, our laptops and a few boxes of family photos. It didn’t take long for me to begin questioning myself. Shouldn’t I have been more prepared? Shouldn’t I have made copies of my birth certificate and passport, uploaded family movies to the cloud? Why didn’t I have enough insurance to cover all our belongings, not just what would be destroyed in an earthquake? Couldn’t I have done more to prevent the complete devastation that we have experienced? The more I questioned myself the more I compounded the misery of our loss.
As a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety, I recognized the chattering of my monkey mind. Something is wrong and I should have prevented it! The belief that we can eliminate all uncertainty and guarantee safety and security is the biggest cause of anxiety I see among my clients. But as my experience showed, even a planner like me can’t be prepared for everything. I knew that if continued to feed that monkey mindset I was destined for more chronic worry and stress. When I examined my values, I knew that it is better to live in the present moment and be flexible about the future than it is to lose the present moment trying to control the future.
My healthier mindset has been severely tested. The night of the fire, I lost a lot of things that I loved, and I don’t want to lose any more. But I ran out of the door with two precious resources that no disaster could take away from me; flexibility and resilience. I’ll use and develop them every day for the rest of my life.
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.