Ask the Advocates: Mental Health (Part 2)
Describe a time you handled a high-stress situation well
In late October 2012, the weather reports regarding New York, New Jersey, and the surrounding states became more and more ominous as the day went on. High-wind warnings flourished as we watched Hurricane Sandy make its way up the US Eastern Shoreline.
“Sandy” came ashore in northern New Jersey on October 29th. That morning, authorities in Bergen County, New Jersey where we live, began evacuations as several communities were flooded. Water was not the problem we had – our problem was the wind. Sustained winds peaked at 40 mph (64 km/h) with gusts up to 80 mph.
We listened to the radio and watched television reports as long as the electricity held out. My wife, 3 children, and I hunkered down in the living room. But I became extremely stressed that this was not going to be a safe place to be. Our home was surrounded by 90-foot oak trees and I could see them bending in half with the 80 mph winds. They were also groaning.
I didn’t know what to do and the stress started my head throbbing.
I prayed – literally - and then it dawned on me. Our part of town was older than other parts. Friends of ours lived in a new development where the only trees in the area were mere saplings. I called my buddy Frank up and asked if it would be OK if I sent them over. He said, “Of course.” They left for the safe house and I drove up the hill on the edge of town to watch what was happening. Almost immediately I got a call on my cell phone from my neighbor across the street. He asked me:
“Are you home?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Thank God.”
I asked, “Why?”
He said, “Because one of those 90-foot oak trees just fell on your roof.”
I drove home as I watched other trees collapsing on homes. Surprisingly, there was not much damage to ours and we still had electricity. We all returned home that evening.
I’m not a particularly religious person but I do find prayer or meditation or just a moment’s silence can be extremely helpful in transcending bouts of stress that might prove harmful, especially when confronted with them more than once.
My highest-stress situation was after I had my first major exacerbation. I woke from a 5-day coma and faced my family. I was scared, embarrassed and I wanted desperately to go home. My daughter explained the seriousness of the situation to me and that I was not going home anytime soon. At this point I knew that things could go one of two ways, I could make a huge fuss and scream and yell my wants and needs and be a general pain or I could accept the reality of the situation like an adult.
I chose to calm myself and accepted the situation for what it was. I did a lot of talking to myself to keep my thoughts positive and to keep from going down that dark hole of depression. I learned about a tool called mindfulness and once I began using that tool, I learned how to find the gratitude that took me from one day to another.
I was hospitalized six years ago with a respiratory infection. I spent one month in an induced coma and one month at a rehab hospital. When I was brought out of the coma, I had already been moved to the rehab center. I couldn’t speak because of a tracheotomy. I had no memory of how I got there or what happened over the past month. I was terrified because I could not communicate. My hands were very swollen with fluids so I couldn't write either. I was on a feeding tube as well.
Once my medical condition was explained to me, even though I still felt pretty traumatized at my inability to communicate, the terror of what I had gone through was replaced with determination to get home as fast as possible. Every few days, I seemed to be faced with a new ordeal. I couldn’t walk due to the loss of muscle. The reversal of the tracheotomy had to be done in stages.
I am a person normally panicked by most medical procedures. Somehow I remained calm through all of them and the rehabilitation. The medical staff was constantly surprised at the recovery I was making. What I did in the one month stay at rehab usually took 2-3 months. I am very proud of how I handled a situation that truly was life-changing.
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