It’s a gloomy morning in Central Florida. I struggled to wake up as the thick clouds blocked the rising sun, filtering it into weak, pale light. It’s a little breezy and spitty out as Hurricane Dorian whirls away from the Floridian coast in a counterclockwise, northwesterly motion.
The eye of the storm has remained about 90 to 100 miles offshore, with sustained winds of 105 mph, a Category 2 storm. It’s parallel to Daytona Beach which is north of me. This storm will probably wreak havoc on the southern tip of Georgia and the Carolinas, just like Hurricane Matthew did three years ago. By tonight, Hurricane Dorian will have left the state of Florida, and all the hurricane and tropical warnings and watches will cease.
We have spent a long time waiting, and as Central Floridian Tom Petty (God rest his soul) used to sing, “the waiting is the hardest part.”
It’s been a surreal past few days for me, and this small article from Reuters reminded me of the psychic toll that just preparing for a hurricane can take. My fellow Floridians and I have been on an “emotional roller coaster” for sure. Sometimes that involved hurricane cakes and parties, and sometimes it involved boarding up our windows and leaving town.
And for the rest of us, it involved sheltering in place, preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.
Last week around this time was when I was pretty sure our state was going to get walloped with a hurricane. And this was my first time actually sticking around for it. I decided to stay because this storm was happening over Labor Day weekend — a major holiday where many people go out of town. It seemed smarter and more economical to stay put.
I left for Birmingham, Alabama (my hometown) before Hurricane Matthew arrived here. It was mainly to avoid the inevitable power outage. My home lost power for over a day. For Hurricane Irma, I left for Chicago (where I lived before moving to Orlando) to stay with a friend. My home lost power here for almost two weeks.
And unlike with those other storms, Dorian took about a week to get here because it decimated part of the Bahamas, where it hovered as a Cat 5 hurricane. Looking at the pictures reminded me of the destruction left in the wake of last year’s Cat 5 Hurricane Michael which pummeled the Floridian panhandle.
Florida was (and is) lucky with Dorian. Three years ago, Hurricane Matthew eroded part of the coastline and roads. I’m not sure if those areas have fully recovered. People are still recovering from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael. It’s been an intense three years here for hurricane season.
For this being my first hurricane, there has been something so surreal about looking at the radar knowing that what I see outside is being affected by a large hurricane, whose outer bands reached miles and miles west of me. That’s also part of the emotional roller coaster ride. It’s also remembering all the storms that have recently come through here in the past few years.
It all adds up.
Yet by this time tomorrow, the skies will have cleared and the temps will be in the mid-90s again. We’ll start to dry out and bake from the drier air pushing from the west.
So how does one do “business as usual” when there’s a large storm forecasted to hit your state?
Well, you don’t.
I’m not in the mental health care biz anymore, but I do know that trying to “rise above” the existential anxiety of an impending natural disaster just to get some sales is frankly a bit absurd — and ultimately, exhausting.
A reality I had to grapple with pretty quickly was this: the anxiety is real and coming from a real place — a massive storm that caused death and destruction.
I noticed that my thoughts became scattered after Dorian became a hurricane.
How do I prepare? How much should I do before I most likely will lose power? Does it make sense to reach out to people who are also feeling the same sort of anxiety and stress? What else should I be doing to prepare?
Still, as my mind split into a million different directions, I did the best I could. I got supplies including my first emergency radio/flashlight/beacon/phone charger, non-perishable food, and not enough water. Apparently, you need a gallon of bottled water per day per person for seven days, and I only got two gallons.
I informed potential clients and current clients of the storm and received their well wishes. I contacted my mother who told me she was praying for me (as she always is). I watched the National Hurricane Center’s twitter feed and the feeds of the tireless local meteorologists. I kept up networking as much as I could.
I took advantage of the three-day weekend and forced myself to rest. I caught up on my favorite TV shows and read.
Monday, I cleaned up this property (which isn’t well-maintained, adding to my anxiety) and put junk away to make sure they didn’t become projectiles that could harm people and property.
Yesterday, in anticipation of a power outage, I recorded three videos on Facebook Live, which wore me out. But after that, I reached out to about 25 new potential clients. I was even more tired after that!
I thought I could do more, such as start on a couple of writing projects. But my mind couldn’t focus and my body felt restless. If we’re talking about the hierarchy of needs, writing and working seemed closer to the top of the pyramid while the hurricane was threatening to hit the base.
So it’s a little breezy now and the threat of any sort of damage to property or power outage is gone. You honestly could not tell that a hurricane was here. It looks like a typical rainy season day.
So all is well, and thank goodness! But it takes time for the body and the mind to recognize that the coast is clear. All the adrenaline and cortisol that was running through in a chronic stress response needs time to peter out and recede. I can’t turn my days-long hypervigilance on and off like a switch.
And that’s part of the psychic toll. The coast will soon be clear, literally, as Dorian churns northward. But that doesn’t mean I can just go back to how things were before.
So I’m giving myself today to catch up. And part of that involves trust that things will work out when they’re meant to work out.
Of course, there’s this nagging voice in my head saying, You’re slacking. You could be connecting to more people. You should be doing more work. I don’t want to go as far to say that the last few days were traumatic. But I can say that there was a cumulative impact on my psyche and my body that doesn’t just away once the storm leaves.
What I should be doing is more rest.
To be good at this business stuff (and, honestly, this life stuff) — it involves realizing and respecting your human limits. If after a trying time, you’re not in a good headspace, don’t push yourself. Listen to your body. Listen to your gut. Rest. Do some less strenuous work. Take a day off. Find activities that nourish you. It’s better than going full-tilt and exhausting yourself, sometimes to the point of illness, later.
And then there’s recovering from the effort to prepare for a hurricane that came and went like a typical summer storm…
When I pushed myself to do videos yesterday, it was in anticipation of not working for maybe the rest of the week. Now that’s not happening, I have to compromise a bit. I don’t have the same energy levels for a normal workday, but I still have some tasks I wanted to accomplish. I still wanted to write this blog post and continue to commit to writing here weekly. And there are still other things I can do today that aren’t as mentally taxing yet still productive — including resting.
Our society extols the hustle and grind in business, but it rarely talks about the toll that can take on a person. A hurricane can remind you of what your priorities are really quickly. It will turn that hierarchy of needs pyramid right side up in a snap.
So as I look out on this bleak day while I listen to the wind whooshing through the trees, I feel grateful but tired. It’s been a fraught-filled past few days.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, for sure. I don’t regret all the prep I did for my home and my business. But, if you’re like me, and you’re trying to get back into your normal work groove today, I hope you take some time out for you.
As you check in with your customers and colleagues, check in with yourself. This storm may have not caused you any physical harm, but it may have frayed your nerves more than you realize. Even I’m surprised at how wiped I feel right now.
So have a cup of your favorite hot beverage. Get some bodywork done. Meditate for 10 minutes. Take a nap. Read a passage from your favorite book. Cuddle up with your loved ones — human and/or furry. Take a deep breath, and then take another. If you can safely, go for a little walk.
Even as I write this, I feel a lot calmer and more grounded. So consider journaling or writing about your Hurricane Dorian experience in your newsletter or blog. Maybe you learned some things about yourself and/or about your business. I sure did.
It may take a few more days for me to get back to my normal work speed, but that’s OK. I had been focusing on a massive storm for the past week. Life will get back to normal for me, and for you, soon enough.
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