How to decompress after providing relief for victims

I spent a total 39 days in Nepal, and only five days were prior to the Great Earthquake, and I was even interviewed by Flipboard for my relief efforts. The experience bred a number of emotions and challenges that, at the time, I was unable to process. I was in “go” mode. It was like an out of body experience. How can one decompress after providing relief for victims? (TL;DR click here to get to the list.)

Villagers helping to clean debris in Kathmandu
Villagers helping to clean debris in Kathmandu

In my mind, it was normal to be woken up at 5:00 am by an aftershock, pray for two hours, and then go straight to the market to buy 150 buckets, tents, and blankets. It was normal to see people terrified to sleep indoors, telling us that another huge earthquake was going to happen tomorrow. And when it didn’t, they were still sure it was coming.

It was normal to see debris and broken buildings next to playgrounds, schools, office buildings, homes. It was normal to see people walking in the streets wearing face masks. It was normal to see nothing happening or changing. It was normal to see some businesses capitalizing on the disaster. It was normal for people to go to work in silence and leave early for fear that they wouldn’t see their families if another earthquake happened. It was all normal.

Lumbini Shanti Stupa Rescue Team tractor
Lumbini Shanti Stupa Rescue Team tractor

Nepal is one of the poorest economies on the planet and is now faced with a true problem of mass scale with several sectors of society completely and utterly shut down. The days tick onward, and the monsoon rains are nearing. This means landslides, even more precarious housing, disease, and even weaker infrastructure. How does a country this messed up prevent a third natural disaster?

It doesn’t. It can’t. At least not for a long while.

That’s the truth.

Woman and child in Kathmandu
Woman and child in Kathmandu

Nevertheless people don’t give up. They’re cleaning debris and rebuilding their houses, brick by brick. They live in the present. “What can we do today?” There is an infinite amount of work to be done in Nepal, and it became apparent that at some point, we’d have to leave.

But where? Could we really just go to another country and snap a few smiling photos in front of temples and sunsets on beaches? Yes and no.

We needed a break and a chance to decompress after providing relief for victims. I, for one, didn’t know how. So we decided to live in the present.

The next thing we knew, we were on a plane to Hong Kong for five days before heading to Bali.

Double Decker Bus Hong Kong
Double Decker Bus Hong Kong

Hong Kong is amazing. Almost too amazing for people who have spent two and a half months backpacking through India and Nepal and in disaster zones. We spent our days walking everywhere trying to find a balance between the immense natural beauty of the islands and the industrious city. We were constantly bombarded with advertisements, tall buildings, millions of people, and thick, heavy humidity. Hong Kong felt like life stuck on Fast Forward.

At times, I thought I was still in Nepal, a Chinese, industrial, and untouched part of it. Obviously, this was a ridiculous notion.

The one aspect I noticed most about Hong Kong was an absence of tension. People were not afraid. They were happy and ready to consume!

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Then it hit me. Where the heck am I, and what can I do to move on? How can I decompress?

There are many ways to do this. You’ll find in some articles: “take a walk,” “have sex,” “treat yourself to something nice.” I read these with blank, dumfounded stares as if someone were, well, speaking Chinese.

As silly as these sounded, it’s true. You decompress by slowly integrating normal things back into your life. It starts with deep breathing:

  1. Buddha Tian Tan on Lantau Island
    Buddha Tian Tan on Lantau Island

    Breathing – Our breathe is the most unique part of our body that we can actively control even though we don’t have to control it. As long as we are alive, breathe will move freely in and out of our bodies without any sort of conscious awareness. But we can control it if we choose. And the more we play with our breathing patterns the more we can understand how our physical and energetic body reacts to almost every single situation. So take a moment and breathe deeply, consciously, and with full awareness.

  2. Walking – Understanding that I can take myself anywhere without relying on anything was truly important for me. No surprises, just walking. I can walk anywhere and everywhere, and nothing is in my way. Walking slows things down and forces you to slow down with it. Thoughts come in and out; and it’s ok, because I’m walking. Extra credit if you can breathe in sync with your movement.
  3. Harbor view Avenue of the Stars
    Harbor view Avenue of the Stars

    Take it off – Take off your shoes. Heck, take off your clothes. Be free. Go back to the terrible twos when you believed that clothes were some sort of prison forced on you by parents who couldn’t understand your need for liberation, and possibly attention. Of course, don’t walk outside naked, but you can hang out naked or simply find a park and take off your shoes. The act of touching the soles of your feet to the earth sends a deep, energetic force from the earth through the pulsing lines in your body. It reminds us that we are both observers of our surroundings as well as a connected part of them.

  4. Mongkok markets
    Mongkok markets

    Look at the stars – Big, bold, and beautiful. The stars, for the most part, are always there, every single night. It’s true, stars die, but their light reaches us much later, and collectively, stars will always be in the sky – at least in our lifetime. So look up and see the expanse of the universe. You are one shining speck among a series of other specks. Be amazed at what you are apart of.

  5. Find gratitude – Recognize and appreciate how much you do for others, for your job, for the environment, for yourself. Find one, two, three, ten, or more things that you are grateful for today, last week, last month, last year, the past five years. You’ve come a long way. You’ve grown, learned, loved, lived. Be grateful. If you remove the “only” from “there’s only so much you can do,” the statement becomes quite positive. There is so much you can do and have done already.
  6. Goldfish market in Hong Kong
    Goldfish market in Hong Kong

    Love – Remember that you’re never alone. There’s love. Even if you were completely alone in this world, you can always love yourself. Go ahead, say it to someone, send it to someone, maybe even to yourself or spend time with those people or things that bring you love. During my last break up, I would look myself in the mirror and say, “Good morning, Alyse. I love you.” I felt like such a fool and was grateful no one was there to see or hear me say it. But damnit, it worked and everything else but saying that in the morning during those rough days seemed silly. So go ahead spread love in the way that’s positive for you.

  7. Utkatasana, awkward pose
    Utkatasana, awkward pose

    Stretch – Yes, the yoga teacher is recommending yoga. For me, after a lot of time without stretching, it became me vs. the mat. I’d couldn’t roll out that mat and practice. I made a whole lot of excuses though! I started stretching in bed, while walking, while waiting. I stretched in the little in-between moments here and there until I was ready to let fear go and get back on that mat. When I did, I was terrible. I moved so poorly; it was ridiculous. And you know what, I couldn’t’ve been happier. I wanted to remember what it was like for people who don’t do yoga so that I could be a more compassionate teacher. Found it! And guess what, the next day, I moved way better.

So that’s how to decompress after providing relief for victims. I continue to every day. And every day, I think of Nepal. I do what I can to communicate with the engineers and monks on the ground still spending the money that was graciously donated. The Kathmandu villages are almost done cleaning, and Master Sato managed to donate our extra mosquito nets, masks, and ropes to a refugee camp.

Although I’m not as active as I was, I recognize that there is so much I can do and have done already. There’s so much more to my journey and to yours. Come what may. Bali, I’m ready for you.

Sanur Beach in Bali
Sanur Beach in Bali


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