Riding The Emotional Rollercoaster: Bushfire First Aid

From the moment I landed at the airport in January my phone began to make a strange sound.  Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.  I vaguely recalled the sound, but I’d also never heard it before.  At least not like this. The sounds I was hearing were the VicEmergency warnings for the 100km radius I had nominated as my watchzone.  The days that followed my arrival back in Australia, were no different, endless high pitch warnings.  My partner was permanently tuned to the ABC national broadcaster, that had taken on the role of constantly updating the community on fire warnings.

Anxiously waiting for the next news broadcast or emergency warning has been like being on a collective roller-coaster.

A Time of Strong Emotions

Strong emotions are being felt and expressed as we come to terms with the devastating losses being experienced at family, community, business and ecological levels. As we dig deep to discover and articulate what is important to us in the face of a summer of unprecedented climate related disasters, a new urgency is emerging.  That urgency is both vitally important and challenging to navigate.

Just as flames engulf communities, I find myself on occasions overcome by emotions ranging from grief, to fear, to fury.  I am not always aware of which of those feelings is driving my behaviour, I am just in them. Whilst I regard myself as having reasonable self-awareness, these days I’m having to work hard at it.  On occasions my primitive survival-based brain has kicked in.  As I know it has for many others.

Acknowledging the Impacts

As a therapist I think that one of the most important things we can do under these circumstances is to recognise that we are impacted both directly and vicariously by the tragedy that is unfolding.   No-one has been spared.  So we need to develop skills for taking care of each other.

Giving ourselves permission to feel even when we think there are others far worse off than ourselves is important.  Even if our homes have not burnt down, we have all experienced some level of loss in these fires.  Not least of which through these losses has been our emblematic and much loved flora and fauna.

Our sense of security has also been challenged.  The question at the back of most people’s minds is:  What comes next?  Within just one season communities are dealing with fires and flooding, smoke and storm damage within quick succession.  There is talk that this summer is a sign of things to come, unless we address man-made climate change.

The Road to Change and Recovery

Our feelings – our grief, our rage and our despair – are an important part of the cycle of change.  They alert us to the fact that something is wrong, very wrong in our nation and our society.

So make room for them if you can.  Acknowledging your feelings and reaching out to others in a sense of community is not just a symptom of what is happening, but part of a much larger story of healing as a nation in which we recognise our vulnerability and interdependence.  It will take a whole society to understand and address the root causes of this tragedy.

Our feelings themselves help to create a momentum for change and recovery.

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