The remarkable thing about ordinary life is just how easily we can take it for granted.
It’s been five weeks since the big Christchurch earthquake. Long enough - for those of us less affected - to slide back into the routines of daily living. We forget to be grateful that the tap water is drinkable, the toilet flushes and the ground under our feet stays put.
Television showed us the wreckage, the stories of terrible fear and shock. We were riveted by the desperate searching, people hunting for partners, for children, for friends. The extreme tension of people waiting to hear held us gripped. We witnessed the relief and the grief. Our relationships felt suddenly more precious and more vulnerable. It reminded us just how much we love our nearest and dearest.
Five weeks on, we still love them, but, like the clean water and solid ground, we have stopped dwelling on it. Ordinary life has taken over.
It’s a whole different story for the people more closely affected. Whether they’ve stayed in Christchurch, or chosen to go, ordinary life just isn’t the same.
Many people are knee deep in practical Limbo. They have homes they can’t easily live in and can’t sell. They have jobs and businesses with uncertain prospects. And they have a lot of waiting to do before their options become clear.
There are emotional concerns as well. Just as real, just as uncomfortable to live with, just as good at keeping ordinary life out of reach.
It’s this emotional wear and tear that has people calling Relationships Aotearoa Whakawhanaungatanga telephone service as well as seeking face to face counselling in our offices around New Zealand. The telephone counselling phones were up and busy the day after the earthquake.
The requests for support are from people who have stayed in Christchurch and people who have left. People who were in the thick of it and people who’ve opened their homes and offered all they can in support.
The number of people seeking support is increasing as people grapple with an uncertain life after the quake. Some callers find the repetitive aftershocks are wearing them down. Some are losing sleep; some have fretful kids waking with nightmares.
Some are finding fear getting in the way of things they need to do. Walking into high rise buildings or busy shopping centres feels daunting, unnerving, risky - like holding a bitten hand out to a fierce dog.
Some are full of grief. They’ve lost people, places, a way of life, a feeling of security, and the future they expected.
Lots of people headed to makeshift homes with family or friends. Now too many people on top of each other for way too long is taking a toll. Others are feeling lonely and isolated as friends, neighbours and family are scattered across the city and around the country.
Those seeking support are ordinary people living in fraught circumstances. Quite naturally, they are feeling assorted shades of awful. Things they usually depend on are unreliable. They’re surrounded by situations and forces outside of their control. There is no quick fix, and for some losses – there is no fix at all.
It all leads to people feeling worried, nervy or outright scared. They get exhausted, and that makes them irritable and grumpy. It gets harder to concentrate and to make decisions.
It’s tough on relationships. Stressed people find it harder than usual to be considerate of each other. That’s one reason why using the phone counselling can be useful, you can talk without feeling you’re heaping more stress on your family and friends.
People get someone to listen. They get strategies to help them live more comfortably with whatever they’re feeling. It might be ways to calm down when worried or frightened, or taking time out to avoid flying off the handle. Others want ways to help their kids feel safe and settled in an unpredictable world.
For most it’s about finding a way to think about their specific situation so that it feels bearable. The old ordinary life is gone. This is the new normal for as long as it lasts – it might not be very likable, but talking to a counsellor may help it feel a bit more liveable.