Tired of managing a disaster?

by | May 29, 2020 | Help for Couples | 1 comment

After writing yesterday’s blog about intensity and isolation, I needed a break. I was worn out from working this new way, fatigued by online meetings. While I don’t advocate my choice as the best strategy for relieving fatigue, I did go home and I watched a movie on HBO. It was an active choice to unplug, but here is the twist…

The movie that seemed appealing to me was “Out of Africa” with Meryl Streep. It is a story about a woman who moves to Africa and has an intense and isolating experience in her search for a different life than she anticipated had she stayed in Denmark in 1913. I watch the film for the gorgeous cinematography, the sublime musical score and the elegant story.

The film matches the intensity and isolation of how we are now living in the time of a pandemic. Streep’s character, Karen Blixen, endures hardship, danger, financial ruin and grief. From this experience, she invents a coping strategy. In one scene, 18 years after she arrived in Africa, she is sitting on a box in her empty house the night before she leaves to go back to Denmark. Her shoulders are slumped in failure after the entire investment in her farm has been lost, burned to the ground in a barn fire housing her crop and equipment. She relates her coping strategy in this statement; “When I think I can’t stand it, I go one moment more. And then I realize I can withstand anything”.

So, perhaps this strategy is workable today. The pandemic, while novel in its application worldwide, even so, is falling into the 4 predictable phases of disaster management:

  1. Mitigation
    • Phase 1 – Mitigation was going on in government and scientific communities decades before this virus exploded as a world wide pandemic. This virus has been predicted for years. Check out the Ted Talk from Bill Gates on YouTube from April 2015. Read The End of October, the medical thriller novel by Lawrence Wright, to see how the “fantasy” spin in a fiction novel has become our reality.
  2. Preparedness
    • For most of us, the Preparedness phase occurred during the few weeks while Public Health and Government officials tried to devise a strategy to deal with the virus. We stockpiled toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and groceries. We made plans to work from home. Our IT departments pulled a rabbit out of their hat getting employees set up at home so quickly! The inventors of the Zoom platform went into overdrive getting ready for an explosion of traffic using their product. Hospitals rearranged their business model to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. Businesses shut their doors, restaurants bought take out containers, teachers reinvented their classrooms to online learning. Treatment centers converted therapy groups to online experiences. This list goes on, and on, and on. The domino effect of things that stopped happening was rapid and stunning.
  3. Response
    • In Phase 3, we waited at home. We did not know how to protect ourselves beyond washing our hands and not going anywhere. As we learned more about the virus, we made new adaptations to how we could live with this threat to our health. We responded with flexibility, creativity, worry and being upset. We are still in Phase 3 – Response. Until a vaccine can give assurance that we have a level of protection, we will be living with the COVID-19 threat. It seems like we are adapting and perhaps even inventing the “new normal”.
  4. Recovery
    • It is difficult to imagine what the Phase 4 – Recovery looks like just yet. When will the lead story on the news be about something other than how many people died today? When will we stop worrying about wearing a mask, touching your face, hugging someone or going to the work without a hazmat suit and jugs of hand sanitizer? You can expect it to be longer than anticipated. Think of your last home remodel project. Didn’t that project take twice as long as you thought it should? Disaster recovery is no different.
    • We know our recovery timeline from a Red River Valley flood has a 10 year recovery time attached. Financial recovery, emotional recovery, spiritual recovery, physical recovery and social recovery are examples of what we need to focus on to regain wellness and health in its many forms.

So, while we are certainly tired of managing this disaster, we can learn from Karen Blixen in “Out of Africa” and borrow her line in the script…

“When I think I can’t stand it, I go one moment more. And then I realize I can withstand anything”.

Karen Blixen, a character in the movie “Out of Africaportrayed by Meryl Streep .