On December 30, 2021, my Colorado community lost over 1,000 homes and hundreds of other structures in an afternoon. It was a devastating way to end another very challenging year and we’re just beginning to recover.
In times of deep grief – on an individual or collective level – it’s common to think that we’re “supposed to” feel a certain way for a certain amount of time. It would be weird to enjoy my comfortable home when so many people just lost their homes, right? It would be wrong to laugh with joy when I’ve just lost someone I love, right?
When we are in close proximity to suffering, it can be challenging to allow feelings of joy. Guess what – as humans we are complicated, and we can hold both feelings at the same time. Both joy and grief can be true at the same time.
Remember the Pixar movie, Inside Out? The characters Joy and Sadness seem like opposites for most of the movie, until they realize they are compliments, that one cannot exist without the other, and that they often exist within the same memories. When we realize the goal isn’t to get to a constant state of happiness, we can really feel into the complexity of all of the emotions we have access to – including the ones that don’t feel so good.
One of my teachers used to say that the point of yoga is not to be happy all the time, but to have access to a feeling of “okay-ness” whenever we need it. So when the world feels not okay, feel it. Then when you’re ready, start to make your way back toward okay-ness. Then, like shampoo bottles say, rinse and repeat.
When it’s not okay:
- Being is enough. Colorado has had a series of horrific events happen in the last couple years, prompting the use of #boulderstrong. Sometimes being strong is too much. Just be, breathe, and let that be okay.
- Feel what you feel in your body. Avoiding the uncomfortable feelings doesn’t make them go away, it just means they’ll come out in a weird way later when you’re not expecting it. Feel what you feel now: What does your belly feel like? Your chest? Your throat? Your head? What is your breath doing right now? Just notice.
- Name things you can see. When we’re very stressed or heading toward panic, our vision can start to tunnel and focus on only the painful parts. If you feel this happening, look around: Find something yellow. Find something green. Find something soft. Find something hard. Name things until you feel yourself back in the room with as much space as you need.
- Go outside. Connect with the sun and the air and whatever else is around you. If you’re able to get into a non-damaged area of trees or water, head that way to go for a walk or just be.
- Be with people. When we experience traumatic events, most people will try to hide. We get overstimulated or embarrassed or whatever, and we pull away from people. Notice if this happens to you, and find one person you feel safe with, give them a call, and let them know you’re isolating. Ask for them to help you be with people in a way that feels okay.
- Watch something dumb and funny. You don’t have to be 100% focused on “the thing” all the time. Give your system a break. Some of my favorites are:
- Miss Congeniality
- The Proposal
- The Princess Bride
- Mean Girls
- Soothe your nervous system with one of these:
- Blanket burrito. Wrap up nice and tight and take a nap or watch that dumb and funny show.
- Lie down and listen to a yoga nidra. Here’s a free one.
- Listen to music that lifts you up. I know it’s tempting to listen to downer music when you’re down, but listening to more uplifting music can help remind your system that other feelings are possible.
- Pet a dog. Fixes everything. Horses are great too if you know any.
- Ask for help. Seriously, people want to help, but they may rely on you to name what help you need. Here are some things you can ask for:
- Can you sit with me for a while? I’m not sure if I want to talk about it yet but would love to have you here.
- I’m having trouble thinking about food. Can you help me plan and prepare meals for my family this week?
- I can’t deal with any more shopping. Can you pick up some toiletries for us? Here’s a list of what we use.
- Can you take my dogs for a walk today?
- I’m anxious about all the paperwork that is going to follow this. Can I call you if I need help?
When it’s okay:
- Let yourself fully enjoy the moments when you feel okay.
- Write down what “okay” feels like to you so when you’re not okay, you can read it and remember that it’s possible again.
- Move your body – walk, run, lift heavy things, do yoga, go to a class, whatever. Move your body now while it’s easier.
How to help survivors of the fires:
- Donate to the Boulder County Wildfire Fund
- Donate to the Red Cross of Colorado
- If you are in the Boulder/Denver area, register as a volunteer
Mental health resources*:
- General support: boco.org/WildfireMentalHealth
- Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255
- Jewish Family Services Boulder County Crisis Counseling: jewishfamilyservice.org/bcc, funding for five individual or family sessions
- I Matter: imattercolorado.org, three free sessions for youth
- Mental Health Partners: 303-443-8500 (closed Monday)
- National Disaster Helpline: 800-985-5990.
*List from DailyCamera.com