“I’m not sure I can keep living here,” I said to Kyle. I was in tears for the umpteenth time in September, my nerves completely frazzled after 2 earthquakes over 7.1 on the Richter scale, and multiple aftershocks, including one that came in at 6.2. For those of you playing at home, that’s three quakes/aftershocks bigger than 6.0 in just over a two week period – and thousands of smaller aftershocks (most of which we didn’t feel, but which earthquake apps made us very aware of). To say our world has been shaken lately is kind of an understatement.
Each big quake was different and shook our apartment and us in different ways. The 8.2 was a big side to side motion that went on for about 2 minutes. The 7.1 just 11 days later was more up and down, & left us both feeling dizzy for a few days. The 6.2 only 4 days after that was a strong shimmy – and the only one we heard the siren before. Kyle and I were lucky enough to be at home and together for all three of these quakes, and our building, neighborhood, and town bore them all with minimal to no damage.
But the earthquakes weren’t what was really stressing me out. After the second quake, I realized that I was feeling motion from aftershocks that simply weren’t happening. Somewhere along the way (most likely with the 7.1 quake that shook everything up and down and left us feeling dazed and dizzy) my equilibrium got thrown out of whack and I started feeling phantom quakes that just weren’t there. To make things worse, half of these phantom quakes were also causing an adrenaline reaction – making me physically reactive – I swear I could feel the electrical nerve response in my fingers and toes as I physically reacted as if I just missed the last step on a flight of stairs – or jumped in the air like a startled cat. To my body, it felt as if the motion was actually happening, and my lizard brain responded accordingly. I’d turn to Kyle to ask him if he felt anything. I’d make note of the time and then check on the earthquake app. But Kyle would feel nothing and the app would show nothing near that time within 800 miles of us (all the way down to quakes as little as 1.0). It was all in my head – or my nervous system – something they call earthquake hangover. I feel like I spent the majority of September walking around in a daze. Right now, it is slowly improving, but I think it will keep feeling this way for a while. The earth is falsely shaking as I type this.
I’m someone who has always trusted what my body tells me. My father is a huge proponent of the body-mind connection, and I grew up learning biofeedback and how to listen to what my body is telling me. I’m a gut instinct person. To be in a situation where my body is lying to me and can’t be trusted has created a whole new level of stress and anxiety that has less to do with the quakes and phantom motion than it does with not feeling grounded in my own personal physical space.
As you can imagine, anxiety is running high around here and people’s nerves are feeling pretty delicate. A lot of friends in the area are feeling phantom motion as well as anxiety about their safety. It’s a completely normal response to what we’ve all been through, and we’re the lucky ones. Southern Oaxaca state and Chiapas are some of the poorest parts of Mexico, and those people have lost everything and are sleeping in flooded streets – worried about how they’ll rebuild their lives. So many have lost their homes in Mexico City and the states of Puebla and Guerrero as well. And many more buildings will probably have to come down in those areas. The death toll will continue to rise. We’re the lucky ones here in Oaxaca City. We live on solid ground and have weathered all the quakes with minimal to no damage. But the quakes and all the news coverage surrounding them has left me feeling stressed and sad.
So the truth is that we’re trying to decide if we should stay in Oaxaca. And if we do consider leaving, how do we know it’s time? Is one more big quake what does it? Is it a series of smaller but regular quakes? You know I’m not one to be anxious, but this low grade stress (& the fact that my nervous system is jacked) has made us start thinking about how to figure out when enough is enough. While my earthquake hangover will most likely diminish over time, and eventually go away, there is no guarantee that it won’t come back again if there is another big quake.
And I hate that all of this is making us reconsider our life here! Because I love it here. Because I don’t want to feel like I’m running away. Because I’m wealthy enough and privileged enough to have the resources to leave if I want to, while so many others don’t have that option – and that makes me feel guilty.
But I’m also stressed out and tired of feeling like I’m walking on eggshells waiting for the next big whatever – or thinking that I feel it and having it all be in my head. I’m not normally an anxious person – the joke in my family is that I’m the only one who didn’t get the worry gene – but I confess that I have been a total shit show the past month. I’ve been anxious. I’ve been snappy and snarky and overreactive. I’ve resented the fact that I feel like I have to reassure everyone we love that we are fine – when what I really need is for someone to reassure me that I’m fine. I’ve yelled at friends who were just trying to help, or told them to stop stressing me out. I’ve yelled at Kyle. I’ve sat in my bedroom and silently punished myself for behaving in such a manner towards people who love me and are just trying to help. I’ve felt every sort of guilt and shame, because at the end of the day we still have each other and our home and a wonderful life. We’re so so lucky, while so many others who are more deserving are suffering – all over the world, not just here in Mexico. We have the choice to leave or stay. We’re not trying to figure out how to survive.
I feel like I’ve been having a crisis of faith – lack of faith in my body, lack of faith in my choices, and lack of faith in myself. During all of this, the earth has continued to move unexpectedly without actually moving (most of the time), making it harder to feel grounded.
So what are we doing?
We’re talking. We’re walking. We’re moving and stretching. We’re reaching out to hold more hands and hug more people. We’re spending time away from the internet and all it’s awful imagery and hatred. We’re volunteering our time and money to help those around us who need help the most. We’re eating well and taking supplements. I’m meditating and turning to the things I always turn to when things feel chaotic and my mind is stressed. Things like reaching out to loved ones, and looking for gratitude and happiness in those moments that feel the darkest. I’ve started working on a happiness and gratitude project again, and you’re about to see 100 Happy Days start up again as well, because my favorite thing to do when I’m stressed is to redirect my brain to focus on the good stuff – and there is always good stuff to be found.
We’re also considering plan B’s. Friends have suggested a trip away from the area might help, but I kinda feel like that is running away from the problem rather than dealing with it, and I don’t want to do things that are motivated by fear. We’ve done a lot of talking lately about what frightens us about being here right now. It’s not dying (I dealt with my own mortality years ago when I was very ill), and we don’t have negative memories about the big quakes. And I would rather die doing something I love than run somewhere else to live in fear. I do have a fear of falling – and of falling in a building that is going down – but we live in on the second floor of a very solid two story building, and as a friend pointed out recently – “if the building does go down you won’t fall very far” (and she’s right – but old fears die hard, I guess). The biggest fear for me right now is that I can’t trust my body and my instincts, and I don’t know if I want to live in a place that could cause that to happen again in the future.
So we have started to consider the possibility that maybe Oaxaca isn’t the only home base for us. Maybe we want to shake up the routine and try somewhere else out next year – while still keeping our place here in Oaxaca in case we change our minds. We’re considering the possibility that maybe a place that doesn’t regularly experience earthquakes is a better long term spot for us – especially since we don’t know if my earthquake hangover might recur if there is another big quake in the future. And we’re trying to figure out where that place might be. We have some ideas, but this isn’t a quick process and it won’t be a quick decision. We’re not interested in making a big decision like this from a place of fear or anxiety. We’ve put down roots here too, so it’s not like we can just pack a bag tomorrow and walk away. Maybe the ground will finally stop shaking and we’ll realize this is where we’re supposed to be. Maybe not. We do like the idea of new possibilities and new adventures – and we’re keeping our hearts open to whatever the future holds for us.
For now, we’re taking care of each other, and of those around us, and waiting to see where our path leads us once the ground stops moving.