Hurricane Irma: The New Normal

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Hello All,

Things are slowly returning to normal on Marco Island, my home, after Hurricane Irma swept over it last week.

I should say, the new normal because things will never be the same for any of us here or in other places affected by the storm.

Let me explain...

Over the past few days I've tried to re-establish my routine, my normal lifestyle. I've run and meditated on the beach, played tennis on the newly re-opened YMCA tennis courts, even taken my kayak out and paddled with my friend as the sun came up over our beloved San Marco River and Gulf of Mexico.

These are the things that give my life, and many fellow Marco Islanders meaning. It is our connection with nature and the water that drove most of us here. This connection is one of our deepest-held values. It is also what will keep us here despite being run-over by a Category 4-5 hurricane.

My training in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Naikan Self-Reflection, and Morita Therapy teaches me that the best way to manage the troubling Irma thoughts, personal scripts, mental images and painful emotions, that are swirling around in my head is to accept them, co-exist with them, and shift-my focus off of them, while engaging in values-based action (like running, kayaking, volunteering at the food bank, helping friends clean their pool, property etc.).

However, I am changed forever because of my experience with Irma. Living through this frightening experience has created new relational frames that are forever embedded in my mind and will never disappear. They represent a new nornal; a new kind of pain and suffering, unlike any I have every known.

I will add my Irma-related troubling thoughts, personal scripts, mental images and emotions to my life's collection of pain and suffering that resides in the deeper recesses of my mind.

I always tell my clients and students to imagine that all of their pain and suffering can be stuffed into a big duffle bag. Some people are weighed down with a lot more pain and suffering than others and have a much bigger duffle-bag but we all have one.

We sling that duffle bag over our shoulder and carry it around with us everywhere as a reminder of the tough, painful life we have had, and the devastation caused by Irma.

We can let our bag of pain and suffering weigh us down to the point where we stop caring, planning, and moving forward in our lives.

Or, we can acknowledge our burden, accept it, and choose to drop our duffle bag and move forward, co-existing with what is in it.

I choose to put my duffle-bag on the top shelf in my closet. I know it is there. I know what is in it. I know that it is part of what makes me who I am but I choose not to let it burden me to the point of inaction.

So, my new normal is to move forward on my Island Paradise, appreciating its beauty and what I have, understanding the power of nature a lot more, and stopping to acknowledge the suffering of others and to help whenever I can.

I shot a little video from the beach this morning to try to capture this feeling. I hope you enjoy it: