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Live Life Fully: What happens to you when your routine is interrupted?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Here we go again -- more opportunities to see how we cope in a crisis. Don't you just love this living laboratory?

As I write this, I'm still without power at home (at least the electrical kind!), and I'll admit I'm definitely not much of a pioneer. I actually missed the first 24 hours of the outage because I was traveling home, and my flight was canceled.

I have vowed to myself, though, that I won't let the situation get to me, like it did with the derecho storm last summer. That was eight days without power -- I bailed out after three.

And "crisis" is relative (or maybe it's about your relatives). Anyway, when I see how much devastation has occurred all along the East Coast, it helps to put things into perspective. When newborn babies on respirators need to be transported from a hospital because its power has gone out and backup generators have failed, that's a crisis.

Hurricane Sandy took away homes, businesses and lives. There's really no comparison to the temporary inconvenience of being without our utilities and electronics, and I'm certainly not suggesting that it is.

Yet a power outage goes right to the heart of our routines and our behaviors. Heat, lights, water, phone and Internet are things we depend on. Not to mention refrigerators, ovens, televisions, hot showers and hair dryers.

Thanks goodness for our trusty Buck Stove at home -- and my husband John's long-term fascination with fire. Fortunately, we just had our annual allotment of firewood delivered a couple of weeks ago. I jokingly referred to it as "wood for life" at the time, and marveled at his gleefulness at splitting and stacking it into neat, multiple rows. Now I'm more grateful than glib about the giant pile.

Times like these bring out the best and the worst in us. When fear sets in, folks may feel threatened and start to hoard supplies. A type of guerrilla warfare can set in, accelerated by the jealousy that accompanies the spotting of lights across the ridge. A power outage is truly the great equalizer -- just like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

On the other hand, I've seen an outpouring of support and generosity from volunteers, neighbors and friends who have helped each other. Those who have had their power reinstated (or who never lost it) have issued offers of warm places to stay, hot showers to take, etc. Yummm ... I remember kissing my hot water tank after another lengthy power outage years ago.

Aside from safety concerns and overall inconveniences, though, I think another big factor in the general level of crankiness has to do with restlessness when our routines are interrupted. Evenings can be particularly long when it gets dark at 5 o'clock. It's hard to read for very long by candlelight or hurricane lamps, especially when you're all bundled up.

And without television or Internet, everything is so quiet. Which is not a bad thing. On the contrary. It's just that it's different, and that can put us out of sorts. There are also those pangs that we're missing out -- on news, sports, our favorite shows, etc. Again, it's that change in routine that gets magnified.

Why is it so hard for us to "go with the flow"? I'm certainly not the most spontaneous person in the world, but I'm not a control freak either. You may find it interesting to see where you rank on this continuum during these times of stress. My guess is we all lean more toward the control freak end of the scale when so many things are out of our control.

Then again, we often surprise ourselves with how resourceful we can be. Car chargers for cellphones have definitely come in handy. And I even washed and dried my hair at our office during the last power outage.

For those of you out there with small children to entertain when your regular "systems" are not in place, I imagine this can be extremely overwhelming. I've followed some of your stories on Facebook, and you've definitely been poster children for resourcefulness.

Gathering around a crackling fire certainly sounds idyllic -- and it is -- until the novelty wears off. As a general matter, adults tend to accept these challenges more gracefully (most of the time). Kids, not so much. So my hat's off to you parents and grandparents out there who have been doing double duty, coping with everything yourselves and then juggling, entertaining and occupying those little ones.

By the time this is published, things may be getting back to "normal." Let's hope so. Take a minute, though, to reflect on any lessons you may have learned during this timeout. Have you gained any insights? Did you discover anything about yourself, your family or your friends? How about your community? Did you develop any new interests?

Most of us will likely go back to our routines. And, rather than thinking of them as routine, maybe we'll be just a little more grateful. And not take as many things for granted.

As for me, I'm planning to keep up my tradition of kissing the hot water tank. And I'll sew another badge on my pioneer sash!

Linda Arnold, MA, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301 or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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