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Emotional Sixpack | On power outages and flexing different muscles

[pixabay lightbulb]The power went out last week in the wake of a crazy windstorm. And it stayed out for almost six days.

We lasted two nights in the house, then resorted to spending days in the library—along with everyone else in our area, it seemed.

Who knew that it is now perfectly acceptable to talk at a normal volume in a library? Someone joked that the library is now noisy, while the coffee shops are quiet—you’re much more likely to be shushed in a café than in the reading room!

I was only mildly entertained by the scores of high schoolers getting all dramatic about “Can you believe the power is out and tomorrow is the beginning of finals? How are we expected to study?” I managed to not embarrass by daughter even though I really wanted to snap, “Well, if you would just be quiet and study….?”

The whole Little House on the Prairie thing got old pretty quickly, but we did manage to cook and eat at home for two days, thanks to a gas stove that can be manually lit.

And we were otherwise blessed:

  • With wonderful neighbors who let us plug our sump pump into their generator (thanks, Marc + Colleen—we’re a bit traumatized by our basement flood last month!)
  • With a community of friends who took us in on various nights (thanks, Jean + Jennie, Brett + Brenda for putting us up and putting up with us, and Kate for the offer, should the situation drag on!)
  • With the funds to rent a room at a hotel and pay for the gas to drive 30 minutes each way to get there (because all the local ones were booked).
  • With enough money to eat out (yes, being unable to cook and eat healthy food was probably the worst we suffered).
  • With a house that is so well built that even after five nights only dropped to 39ºF inside (by the time you could see your breath inside, the cat’s “What the !@#$?” attitude was obvious as we stopped in every 6 hours or so to feed her…then deserted her again).
  • With DTE crews who, supplemented by reinforcements from out of state, worked through the nights and through blizzards to get us back up and running.

It took only nine hours for the temperature to return to normal, and soon we were going about our business again.

Net loss other than increased food and lodging expenses: four pints of melted ice cream. (That’s a benefit of living in a cold climate—the garage doubles as a refrigerator/freezer.)

Others were not so lucky as their powerless state continued to upwards of seven days, the temperatures dropped, and their pipes froze.

It would be easy to perform what Christine Hassler calls a “spiritual bypass” and think, “Oh, that’s the lesson I should learn from this—I’m lucky. Okay, I’m grateful. Now back to our regular programming.”

But I was struck by something very different: the complete mental and emotional exhaustion that took over in the face of a few added logistics for four people: food, shelter, transportation, etc. Tempers got short, especially since the majority of us are introverts.

By Monday, I found myself taking refuge in the office of the non-profit for which I contract, thinking, well, at least I can get some work done. But all I did was stare at the screen and answer a few emails. My brain felt numb, slow, frozen.

It took about five days after the power returned to finally feel rested. (And I know—really, as my teens would say, “#firstworldproblems.”)

I’ve read about how homelessness can cause chronic, debilitating stress, and while it completely made sense to me on an abstract level, it really began to sink in this past week to a different degree. And we weren’t even technically homeless: we had a roof over our heads each night and three square meals a day!

pixabay muscleThis week, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the homeless in our community and, given the current state of politics, refugees around the world. It’s really felt like I’ve been learning how to flex a new muscle—let’s call it the empathy muscle—one that I’ve sort of “worked out” before, but never in a serious way.

It’s not a comfortable sensation, it’s exhausting, and I’m not really sure what it’s going to do for me. And as a human being navigating today’s world, it feels like an important thing to develop—a sort of emotional six-pack?

As a health coach, I spend a lot of time helping people develop habits that improve their health: most often, clients start out wanting to improve their physical condition. And because I’m trained in integrative nutrition, we also spend a fair amount of time looking at the habits that influence their mental, emotional, and spiritual health: I view it as developing a “workout regimen” for the more intangible aspects of their lives.

Leave a comment and let me know: What “emotional muscles” have you been developing—intentionally or not—and which ones would you like to work on?