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ANNA KERSHAW describes living through the effects of Storm Arwen for ten days and nights and how she looks at life differently now.

Remember when you were little and you’d fall on the trampoline and everyone would keep jumping so you couldn’t get back up? That’s exactly how this whole year has felt. 

A friend posted this on social media late last week and my whole body responded with a resounding “Yes – this!” When our home first lost power during Storm Arwen on Friday 26th November there was a familiar lurch in my stomach, as if trying to find my feet when the ground is constantly moving. I went into crisis mode, as you do, sitting up through the night with my daughter watching the storm, using my reserves to keep her steady. Getting up pre-dawn and hastily applying some make up by candlelight, heart racing as I detoured to avoid the fallen trees blocking my usual route into Jesmond to run a PD group on that Saturday morning, as the snow came down. I thought I knew at that point that this was just a temporary blip; that I just needed to find the reserves to get through the morning and soon order would be restored. Ten days on and my reserves have taken quite a bashing.

Our power was finally restored last night after ten full days and nights off-grid. While politicians and power companies make grand announcements about lessons learned, today I am mulling over the more personal lessons I will take away from this strange period of time.

For the first few days, I did not sleep well – it’s difficult to rest at ease when there are unattended candles upstairs in your children’s bedrooms and the fabric of the building feels so very different to usual: the air colder, the usual sounds of pipes and artificial background light replaced by a greater awareness of the flickering flames of the wood burner reflecting off the corridor walls and the dripping gutter resounding and making my heart race. For the first few days I was determined to keep things in perspective: let’s face it, we are the lucky ones! We have a wood burning stove and an old Aga, which really came into its own, providing us with some hot water, cooking facilities and much appreciated warmth. In terms of practical things, we managed. We had the basics for survival: food, shelter, warmth. We knew we’d be alright.

But as time went on, I’ve reflected more and more on what we take for granted and how much a shift in circumstances can trigger original trauma. A sense of being forgotten; my needs are not important. No matter how much I shout, help is not coming. How difficult it is to ask for help, or to receive, when original trauma is alive and kicking. How reactive I become, flinching as my son’s coat brushed my arm, intolerant of the slightest sudden move. My Adult is struggling to stay in the executive as my Child is rubber-banded back to a scarier place.

For the first forty-eight hours we could not even log the fault with the power company; their phone lines and website were swamped and we had no way of knowing if they even knew about us. On the Monday night they came out and did a temporary fix which restored our neighbours’ power. We were on the wrong side of the fault. It was an entire week before we saw anyone from the power company again.

My husband is ever resourceful and as the workmen left on that Monday night he determined to find a way to harness the power from my electric car, and successfully got three lamps and his PC up and running – oh, the excitement! Once he could work and we could charge the children’s devices, surely the worst was past and I could relax a little? So many people had it so much worse…

I find it interesting to note the impact of the removal of my usual little routines – all the machines, devices and basic fabric of my life that I take for granted. How low my mood fell over the course of the ten days and how my brain started to struggle to function beyond basic fire-fighting. We pack our lives so full and forget that we can only go on doing what we do and maintaining a full diary of demands if all our usual systems are fully functioning. My husband and I have been very aware this week of how many other people are dependent on us to keep them steady, and just how hard this is when we are wobbling up and down on a trampoline that just won’t be still. At the beginning of the week I told people we needed to stay at home to keep my daughter who has autism in her usual routines. I realise now I was kidding myself – I need those routines as much as anyone. My routines keep me steady and grounded, when the world outside is feeling post-apocalyptical and terrifying.

As I write, the power has been back on for less than 24 hours. I am noticing and appreciating so many minor details today – not just the obvious ones like light and central heating, but my radio alarm clock waking me up, reminding me that a new day has dawned and the world is still turning as it should. The radiator and shower pump giving my morning ablutions an entirely more welcome backdrop. My fridge – knowing there is food at hand and I don’t have to keep thinking about where the next meal is coming from. The telly! Christmas ads, light, hope, familiar voices, distraction from the dark – just the thought of being able to curl up in front of the TV tonight brings a smile to my face!

I am reminded of the concept of headwinds and tailwinds. How we can’t even perceive all the little things that serve as a tailwind, keeping us moving along in life more easily – whether it’s reliable power sources, an education which enables us to access steady employment, or being born into a privileged majority group. It is all too easy for us to overlook the difficulties others face and to forget the many small things that add up to keep us steady and on track. It can be hard for us to spot the headwinds that hold our clients back and keep them in a reactive cycle that prevents them from seeing their choices clearly and achieving autonomy. So many people only hope to survive, not thrive.

I will no doubt forget the lessons I’ve learned from Storm Arwen as time passes. But one thing I do want to hold onto is the awareness that our resources are finite. My reserves need attention and nurture to keep them topped up. Another social media post I spotted this week hit home. If we are going to keep shining our lights to guide others as we move into uncertain times ahead, we have to find ways to keep our own lights shining. For me, that is music, books and friends and being part of a mutually supportive community. And of course, the telly!

12/12/21 Christine Lister-Ford