It seems appropriate to write about an aspect of recovering from disaster. We have been through an extraordinary period of natural and human caused disasters these past few months. And while every experience is different, one thing that successful recovery requires, is the capacity to reengage with the world as it is, and with a sense of the possibility of a better future.

This is a personal story about that process.

I have always loved what I now call the territorial sports: cross country skiing, running, hiking, bicycling, etc. These are sports that involve navigating through the outdoors and the goal of the sport is to cover a fair amount of territory in the process of getting exercise.

It wasn’t until the San Francisco earthquake of 1999 that I understood one of the very important functions that these activities can play.

One of the problems with disasters is that they can be extremely isolating. We are usually instructed to go home or find some safe place and, almost inevitably, we will turn on the radio or television or some other source of information and stay glued to this program, although we know that television often makes things worse. All of this tends to be very isolating and, especially, takes us away from the outdoors and the real world. In fact, it tends to make us afraid of the outdoors.

I remember watching and listening to stories about looting and the fire burning in the Marina District. We could look out our window and see the flickering ray of lights and that, combined with the stories of looting in downtown, made me wonder what would happen next. Would the mobs head this way?

All night, I had difficulty sleeping, as you will imagine. And of course there were also aftershocks to deal with.

The next morning, I decided, bravely I thought, to go on a longer run than usual. A run which took me to the top of Twin Peaks.

From there, I could see the entire city. And what a beautiful and reassuring sight it was. True, there were plenty of signs of disaster, but there were also many signs of life continuing, even of beauty.

That run is one that I will always remember. It transformed my experience. Before it, I was fearful and not sure whether I could trust anything or anyone. After it, as I ran through the familiar terrain and saw familiar people, I felt as if I had reclaimed my sense of being at home in my neighborhood.

The world was no longer a terrifying and uncertain place.

These are kinds of experiences remind us that we are animals, social animals, and animals that need to be active and engaged in the world, not isolated and fearful.

For More Information

PTSD Prediction

Media Makes PTSD Much Worse

National Center for PTSD: Help for Victims of Disaster