When your loved ones/people you know/strangers are in crisis, don't make it harder for them.
I'm not actually sure how this got away from us but while Houston was drowning this week, I found my gut churning in a brand new and impossible to ignore way. We need to talk about it. This one is easy to shift. At tender times like these, I say let’s take as many of the easy ones off the table as possible.
Maybe the 24/7 news cycle hurled us upon this slippery slope of demanding to be all up in other people’s business. The news is all shock and awe--harvesting people's darkest hours for profit, deliberately over-humanizing the story in order to paralyze us so we’ll keep reading, keep obsessing... keep clicking on their slot machine of a website.
This isn't about activating us, of course, because that would actually be sort of admirable. It's a fucking prison, both emotionally and cognitively. This is a trauma trap under the cover of helping us stay informed.
And we've fallen for it, completely smitten with the immediacy of news. We demand all.the.knowing. before it's even reasonable for accurate answers to be available. So instead of hearing about a celebrity car chase that happened overnight, we watch the damned thing unfold on television. We watch reporters describe the mysterious scenes unfolding live behind them on our screens.
Yes, I can see there's smoke. Yes, I can see that people are fleeing. Yes, I can see that there appears to have been some kind of explosion. How about you call me when you've got some details and let me know what actually happened there?
And for the love of all things glittery, can we please stop risking life and limb to "report" that the rain and wind from the mega storm are actually life-threatening? This is ridiculous. It's 2017 and we are better than this. I'm guessing you and I pretty much agree up to this point. Bear with me as this gets personal.
We need to stop asking those struggling in the storm to take care of us.
How are you holding up? Is it bad? Are you guys okay? Will you please mark yourself as safe on Facebook? I’m worried about you!
And if you ever hear yourself telling someone in the middle of the storm how afraid you feel about them being in a storm, please tackle yourself. You are home. You are safe. You are not actually in the storm. They are in crisis. You are feeling like you’re in a crisis. It’s not the same. You need to find someone who is not in crisis (and who has time to support you… yes, ask first.) to vent to about your fears and helplessness and regrets or whatever else a crisis in someone else's world is bringing up for you.
I'm not saying you aren't allowed to feel those things. Triggers are real and you get to have them. But deal with yourself instead of unloading that shit on Storm Person who, you’ll recall, is actually in the storm.
And when exactly does Facebook want to know it’s all going well? In the thick of the storm? When the power is back on? When all of the missing people’s bodies have been found? When communities are rebuilt? When we move to a new place to rebuild because everything is gone? When the panic attacks stop? Because I’m still at risk for having a panic attack in tornado conditions and I experienced that trauma almost 20 years ago.
Also, once the streets are impassable, please don't talk to the Storm Person about how they should have evacuated. Don't ask why they didn't leave. Just no. Their hair is on fire. Your inquiry is more fuel. Fires never need more fuel. They may have had a really good reason for staying put. Local authorities sometimes advise this.
Or maybe Storm Person didn't have the resources to leave. You may be thinking "Oh put it on the credit card, take it out of savings, just get in the car and go... something!" Yeah, what if you don't have dollars to put in the tank, or a credit card, or someone to borrow money from. That's a thing. Lots and lots of people are living without enough dollars to fuel their cars (and sometimes fueling stations run out of fuel before the storm hits). People are living on the edge. One crisis is all it takes to financially ruin many of us, and lots don't have the resources it takes to get out, to find shelter and food and whatever else until it's safe to return. Plus, there's the cost of recovery of whatever was damaged. If you don't understand staying in the storm, you are likely speaking from a place of privilege and we would all be very well served by you taking time to research before speaking.
At the very least, if you don't understand, then admit to yourself you don't understand. You don't understand why someone would stay is honest. Saying you would never stay, judging and dismissing others is a coping mechanism to make yourself feel better and you're not in the storm. You don’t need to be made to feel better.
Lastly, there's the chance that Storm Person just stayed because they thought they had it. They might have just gotten it wrong, or the storm shifted or whatever. Perhaps they were too bogged down in their stuff and their responsibilities to pull away. Maybe their jobs are threatened if they evacuate. (Yes, that’s a real thing.) Maybe they are just cocky little punks who think they are invincible. Whatever. They are in the storm now, in the hell of it, being Storm Person, and they need support. Or, at the very least, silence.
And when second cousin Jane who you haven't talked to in twenty years becomes Storm Person, now isn't the time to reconnect. Jane has her people, you know? Like Her People, Jane's People. They may not be people you know because you don't actually know Jane anymore. But Jane's best friend that she texts on a daily basis, her sister she vacations with every year, her co-workers who see her every day, the ones she sits by at her kid's soccer games... these are the people who are close to her now. These are the people she's going to call if she needs to talk or vent or receive encouragement. Or Jane will call 911 for a helicopter evacuation.
I'm not trying to be hateful. I'm trying to provide perspective. Just because you once knew or now kinda know someone in a storm, doesn't mean they need to hear from you while they are in the storm.
The good news is that lots of people we are not close to are connected to us on social media. If you care about their well being, go the extra mile and visit their Facebook profile, scroll down a few pages and catch up. If they are willing to provide updates, I bet they've done it there. You can leave your supportive thoughts and love notes there in the comments under their updates where it doesn't create more work for Storm Person. If they need help, they will probably say so there. If you want to help, you can say so there. Again, as a comment on their post so that you’re not creating more work for Storm Person.
So since we're no longer going to burden Storm Person with the responsibilities of explaining themselves, justifying their place in the crisis, updating us on the status of their crisis, or making us feel better about how upset we are about their crisis, we need a new plan.
Before we take any action toward Storm Person, let’s just pause and think about what it will mean. Does what I’m about to do require energy from Storm Person? Can I do something else or can I do it differently to keep from costing Storm Person more energy and attention? If you can make it easier, lighter, better in any way, do that.
Things that we can do:
1. Send love and light, light candles, pray, throw glitter, whatever you call it in your heart. I know it's not as hands on as your stressed out self wants to be but what are you going to do? You're a thousand miles (metaphorical or literal) away and you're not in the storm. They are in the storm. Take pictures and send them or post on social media. I hear it’s actually cheering.
2. Donate money to them directly if they have shown you how to do so or to legitimate support organizations. If you don't know what they are, google it.
3. Donate stuff to them directly ***IF THEY HAVE SHOWN YOU HOW TO DO SO*** or to legitimate support organizations. (This is not a suggestion to unload your crap. Read about the actual needs and try to meet them.)
4. Deal with your old wounds. I know when they are in crisis, it feels so not enough to focus on you. Don't worry about that. Everyone else is already busy with the storm and nobody is going to miss you while to heal whatever old untended wound is making you want to act in unhelpful ways.
5. Visit people you want to support ON THEIR TERMS. Again, go to their social media pages and join the conversations they are having, read their updates. Do not make extra work for them.
6. Listen. I think this is humanity's big homework until further notice. If someone needs to cry, let them. If they need to be witnessed, listen to their trauma story (if you're strong enough to do so). If they need support, either provide the support they are asking for or perhaps try to coordinate that support for them. Your ability to be in service is limitless, just choose wisely in a Storm Person centered way. Put yourself on the outside of the circle.
7. Be useful. If Storm Person asks you to be useful, be fucking useful. Verify information before you post; they don't have time to fact check. If they ask for food ideas, provide a link to the recipe. Realize that they are struggling, and remove whatever roadblocks to them that you possibly can. Go ahead and ask, "How may I remove roadblocks?" and then LISTEN TO THEM AND DO IT WHEN THEY ASK, HOW THEY ASK! If you can’t do what they ask, it’s not a new crisis but please just tell them that you cannot do what they asked so they can pursue other options.
8. This is not the time for politics. Everybody needs to help. There’s no need to be pissed that companies are helping in a way that makes them look good. They are helping. Stop worrying about blocking FEMA because the politicians are jerks. Help is needed. All real help is needed. Everybody back down, tend your emotions, and contribute real help.
9. Learn from Storm Person. Take time right now to tend to your personal business. Release what no longer serves you, simplify your life, prepare for your own storm. This is life. Storms are coming. (If you need support with this process, I’m here. Or just get the book.) Take this opportunity to learn how to respond in a crisis. Commit to learning a skill RIGHT NOW that can make you useful when “the storm” comes to your community. Learn first aid, figure out how to feed people, and stock emergency supplies. Do you know how to catch fresh water?
And Storm Person, if you want something else, just say so. Speak clearly and loudly. If you want your phone filled with updates so you feel seen and loved, tell the people. They can they can take it.
Note: Storm Person is a timely metaphor. Feel free to substitute Cancer Person, Car Accident Person, Death of a Child Person, as needed.