I have recently spent more than two years working on releasing feelings of sadness and fear by learning how to cry and be vulnerable. It has not been easy and I’m still not great at it. I am supposed to be a strong woman who doesn’t need anyone to “take care of me.” I have slowly begun to realize that it is okay to ask for help and to let any sadness or fear wash over me and cry. Really cry. I never really allowed myself to do that. I saw it as a sign of weakness. And I certainly wouldn’t cry in front of anyone else. I did not let myself acknowledge that what I was “going through” was okay, no matter how trivial it seemed compared to others’ lives. I was always comparing my feelings and situation with others and would say to myself, “I should be happy. I should be thankful that I have what I have and I should stop complaining. I have it better than a lot of people going through much more than me.” For the most part that was true and I was and am grateful for what I do have. I’m finally realizing that I still have the right to experience sadness because it’s mine. But today, it’s no longer just about me.


These devastating fires have put a huge exclamation mark on being more vulnerable. What our community just experienced with this very distressing event, is something that will bind us together. Everyone in our area has a very powerful story of how this has affected them, their friends and families. Those of us who managed to have a house that survived are grateful. And many of us are feeling a bit of “Survivor’s Guilt.” We ask ourselves, “Why was my house saved, and theirs wasn’t?” and “I feel bad that I am happy my home wasn’t burned.”  Or, “The story of my experience doesn’t matter because I didn’t lose my home.” This is where we get tripped up. Everyone’s story is important, no matter what they personally lost. We ALL lost something in this horrific event. We all need to be allowed to cry about it, no matter what happened to each of us individually. We cry for those who lost everything. We cry for those who lost their lives. We cry for lost pets. We cry for our community that will never be the same. And it all hasn’t fully sunken in yet.


The stress and fear seems unbearable right now. There is an ongoing fear of what else might happen while we are trying to pick up the pieces. Will the fire come back? Are we ever really safe? I think many of us will continue to carry a bit of fear with us, always wondering, ‘what if.’ The fear of the unknown is looming for those who have lost their homes. What will happen? Where will we go? How will we go on? Many businesses were also destroyed. How will they revive their business? And for their employees wondering, where will I work? There has been an unsettled feeling in my chest for five days. It won’t go away. Sometimes my heart starts pounding as if out of no where. It is the familiar (to me) feeling of anxiety. It can be crippling and frightening and many people are experiencing it right now.


Many of us are angry. Why did this happen? How could this have happened? Who is responsible? It’s a slow boil of rage inside of us masked as frustration. There are looters coming in from out of the area to steal what is left of our possessions. We are pissed and ready to shoot on site. We have a right to be angry. Know that it is just one of the many steps of the grieving process. And we are all grieving right now, in our own ways and for our own reasons.


We are experiencing regret. If I had just done xyz… I should have gotten that fire safe box. I should have put my important papers in the safe deposit box. I should have taken photos of all of my stuff. If I had just backed up all my computer files and photos. I should have had an emergency kit ready. I should have had better insurance, or I should have had renter’s insurance. We are beating ourselves up over the regret and it creates more anxiety.


And damn it, we are frustrated! Why isn’t the fire out yet? Why weren’t the firefighters there when we needed them? Why can’t I sign up for FEMA online because they are not recognizing our area as an emergency state yet? I told Dish TV that I cannot return their equipment! Why? Because my f*ing house burned down! Why are these people still flying drones that are stopping our air attack? Thank you to everyone who wants to donate stuffed animals and clothes, but we don’t need them anymore! We need money! We have been stripped of our belongings, our regular routines and our control.


It sounds so dismal with so many negative emotions that we cannot seem to control. We are sad, fearful, stressed, angry, regretful and frustrated. And we are right and justified to have these feelings. All of us. But human nature thankfully allows us healing feelings too.


We have gratitude. We are grateful for what we didn’t lose, restaurants who have donated, volunteers at shelters, firefighters putting their lives on the line and coming from all over California and beyond, the local police and Sheriff, our National Guard, our ambulances and we are thankful for a 747 filled with fire retardant! We are thankful for friends taking us in, including our confused children and pets. We are grateful for the donations of so many nameless people from all over. We are thankful for those offering a hot shower, a cup of coffee and somewhere to wash the one set of clothes that we have. We are thankful for encouraging words from others and we are thankful that the winds have cooperated somewhat and there is at least some containment of the fires. Even the smallest bit of gratitude can be a healing light in this black tunnel.


Gratitude goes hand in hand with respect. We recognize our emergency personnel and we have respect for the job they are doing. Many of them have lost everything, yet go out and do a job that has to be the scariest thing in the world in a situation like this, literally risking their lives. Their families sacrifice time with those heroes out there helping us. And we respect their families for that. We respect those who have taken us in during our time of need. We respect the volunteers doing everything they can to help us.


We are empathetic toward everyone in our community who has lost. We actually feel their pain and sadness. We wish we could take it away. It is so hard to see our loved ones in distress, scared and sad. We long to make it all better and wish this were all just a bad nightmare that we could wake up from in our own beds. Take time to hug your family and say your “I love you’s” more often than you normally do. Our community has vowed to “stay strong” and rebuild this wonderful place. We need community right now. We have collectively shared an experience that has rocked us to our core. We should continue to help where we can, even if it is just encouraging words or a simple, “God Bless.”


So, what else can we do to help heal our deep brokenness? I have suggestions, and I know that many may still be too angry, frustrated and raw to want to participate, and I respect that. Take it and use it how it may best serve you.


Let’s start with the basics for getting yourself in a better frame of mind amidst this devastation. We all need to hydrate and nourish ourselves with healthy food. We need strength to get through this and the basics of enough water, food and sleep is what will keep us going and able to cope. If we are dehydrated, hungry and sleep deprived, we cannot help ourselves recover and we certainly cannot help others, which is what we are all doing in some capacity. Drink lots of water, eat often and get some rest. Naps are most certainly allowed as our emotions drain us of our energy.


I have heard many of my friends affected say that they are not very good at accepting help, as they are usually the ones giving it out. Now it is your turn. Take the help when it is offered. It is being offered generously and the giver also needs it to feel good. It helps with the giver’s healing as well. It helps both sides – the giver and the receiver. There is no shame in receiving, especially any mental health care that is offered. Accept gratefully and without any guilt. For those who are able, be a giver. This doesn’t mean you have to give all of your money to charities for the fire. It can be volunteering, it can be lending a hand, or offering your services and knowledge when others need it. It could just mean a gentle smile and a hug. Follow your heart when you’re not sure what you have to offer. Your heart always knows the way.


With reference to no guilt, this is a time for self-care. We know that you are in crisis mode and that will do a number on your mind and body. You need time to yourself, to grieve, to find a smile and to continue to enjoy life. Do one thing today just because it makes you happy. I would normally say to get a pedicure or a massage, but this seems odd right now. I would also normally suggest ‘unplugging’ for an hour from social media, your phone and TV, but with the situation changing at a moment’s notice and more evacuations, this is just plain scary. If you are able to get a bit of exercise, that can be very helpful. If you are able to go for a walk outside (with a mask), or to just be in some kind of natural setting, this can be very healing! Try doing some light stretching. This will bring more energy to your muscles and help you to relax. Try some yoga. Even if you’ve never tried before. Yoga is great for quieting the mind as well as stretching out your muscles. If you can get your hands on an adult coloring book, this can be very calming. Do things that bring you even a tiny bit of happiness and do them with NO guilt! Take time for yourself as you feel you need it. And you do need it! You should not feel guilty for taking care of yourself, especially if you are taking care of other people. If you have nothing in your love cup to give, then everyone suffers.


Allow yourself to laugh. It may seem unfamiliar or wrong to laugh right now, but we NEED this release. Watch a funny video or spend time with people who make you laugh. Do not feel guilty for feeling any shred of joy that may come your way. Receive it for what it is and that is a gift to you at a very dark time. We are all in need of joy. Joy is what makes life worth living. It is still there, but it just may be a bit harder to see it through the smoke and ash.


Take some time to journal. Writing can be very cathartic and help you get out all of those negative feelings that are being bottled up inside because you have to “hold it together” for the family. Just let it all out – F bombs and all! Whatever you are feeling about anything or anyone…just let it out. It is not right or wrong and no one else will see it. We cannot go around with bottled up feelings, especially the negative ones and expect to be “healthy.” These feelings need to be released in order to recover from them.

You can also do a “verbal journal.” I do this in my car when no one can hear me. I speak out loud as if I am having a conversation with someone and I don’t hesitate to speak my mind – with no consequences for the words that spew out of my mouth. If I am really upset or angry, I’ll even allow myself to yell and scream. Believe me, it makes a world of difference to get it all out! If you see me in my car screaming, now you know why.

BREATHE AND MEDITATE (yes, I said Meditate!)

Here is another good one – BREATHE. We are running around confused and trying to do what we need to do, and we are truly forgetting to breathe. Pause for a moment and take three deep breaths. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath going in and out. This is the beginning of meditation. I know a lot of people say they cannot meditate because they can’t shut their brain off. Well, that’s not the point. If you shut your brain off, you’re likely dead! I highly suggest finding some guided meditations on YouTube. Guided meditation helps by allowing you to concentrate on someone’s voice instead of relying on yourself to just relax and put aside too many thoughts. Will your mind wander? YES! Especially now with so much to think about. Just keep going back to focusing on the voice that is guiding you. Try to find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed, which I know may be difficult if you are crammed into someone else’s house with 8 other people, 4 kids and 6 dogs. It’s something that should be practiced to get better at it, just like working out. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the more relaxation and calmness you will experience. Meditation has many health benefits especially at this very stressful time. It helps clear your mind so that you can focus on what is really important. Another great meditation/prayer is to just sit or lie down with your eyes closed and visualize in your mind all that you are thankful for. The big things, the little things, the silly things. Getting in a state of gratitude switches something in our brains, helping us to cope in difficult times and in everyday life. And again, even if you don’t want to meditate….just breathe! When things are getting stressful or frustrating, take just a moment to take a full breath. It can make a world of difference!


I know there are some who don’t necessarily have a religion or “pray” very often, so whatever you believe in, just asking the universe for help is moving energy – and it’s all made up of energy. Everything in the universe is just varying degrees of energy vibration. Try visualizing what you need. Stay in the positive. Don’t visualize what you don’t want. Try to avoid things like, “I don’t want to be scared.” Instead try to think, “I am content and confident.” I know that is extremely hard to do right now, but it helps the mind see things more positively, rather than negatively. When we concentrate on what we don’t want, that’s how we get more of it. When we concentrate on what we DO want, it’s more likely to come to us. It’s called the Law of Attraction, made popular in the book and movie, The Secret. There are tons of resources on this subject, and it’s all backed up by quantum physics – yes science.


We are all in the grieving process for what we have lost. Allow yourself to grieve. Let those feelings out and make efforts to begin the healing process by taking care of yourself. We still are not aware of the scope of the effect this will have on all of us. It is all still very surreal. I urge all of us to consider mental health options such as counseling. I anticipate the accounts of PTSD will rise dramatically and that shit is REAL! Remember that utilizing counseling or therapy does not mean you are weak or ‘crazy.’ It means you are strong enough to ask for help to heal these deep wounds. Healing will not only benefit you, it benefits your family as well as our whole community. We are in this together. Much love to you all.