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Emails to my Therapist

Powerless! The Unsettling Effects of Power Outage

Dear Nicholas, The power came back on at my house 36 hours after the start of the weekend winter storm. Now I feel like a complete person again. It was only a day and a half– hardly a blip. ¬†But effects of power outage are a psychic shock, much more than simply a sudden inconvenience. It shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is.

In the mini-greenhouse doorway to our house.

Suddenly Robbed!

These few hours without heat, water, dishwasher, or properly frozen popsicles should not have felt undermining. For one thing, I recently weathered nine days without electricity during Hurricane Florence and several more days during Hurricane Michael a few weeks later. (Maybe outage fatigue is the problem.)

It’s ridiculous that continuous electricity should be so important. I feel rather entitled in feeling I have to have it.

However…

When the house goes dark, I feel suddenly struck by a batch of disabilities.

Suddenly Disabled!

I can’t do what I’m used to doing. The power outage feels like a physical insult. like suddenly needing to manage with one eye or one leg. And there’s no telling when power will return.

Because Bob and I live in the country and have well water, the pump ceases when the power goes off, so no bathing or flushing; instead piles of dirty dishes on the counter, etc. Also, we’re on a dirt road off a dirt road. These two-rut passages are winding and hilly and undriveable when there’s ice.

We have a fireplace and a lot of dry wood and we kept a hot fire going. We could view the experience as a cozy rustic mini-vacation, and forget about longing for electricity.

power outage, winter storm, fire

I did enjoy the fireside experience, but it was hard to stop thinking: WHEN WILL THE POWER COME BACK?!!!

When? When?

It’s not knowing how long the situation will go on that’s most aggravating, most unnerving. It’s a matter I have absolutely no control over. And without it I feel incomplete. I don’t know how the temporary household loss can have such a strong effect.

Can’t Do Some Things, So…

Bob and Carlo venture out

Won’t Do Anything

I could have done some chores by flashlight–like logging my business expenses for all of 2018. But no. I didn’t. Instead I let myself be paralyzed by darkness, unable to do anything but lie by the fire and read by flashlight and eat peanut butter out of the jar–and ask myself how long this situation was going to go on.

I could have done my physical therapy exercises just as easily in the dark. But I didn’t bother. After all, this was a special occasion, my excuse for any lapse.

Lapse of Familiar Disciplines

Obviously, when there’s no electricity, one should be free to eat any food in any quantity.

A box of melting popsicles? Must Eat Fast! And of course, the reward for dealing with any difficulty, a Cherry Coke.

 

When The Lights Go On, I’ll Be a Different Person

In the dark, I have so many good resolutions: clean up the kitchen, restore order. It’ll be fun.

That changes quickly.

Now the power’s back. The hunger I felt in the dark to straighten and clean–while it was safely impossible–has ebbed dramatically.

When Power Outages Are Routine

There were many many power outages in the three months I spent in India researching Sister India.  Breaks in the power in that time and place were normal, part of the deal. Typing on a manual typewriter at night by candlelight felt almost romantic, a bit adventurous, very Hemingway.

Sister India, Varanasi, fiction, novel

That’s not how I view the inconvenience at home, where I have routines and more responsibilities.

Tricks to Coping

What would help is:

*to put aside the sense of waiting

*to relish the fun parts

*maybe remember I still have some power to act, choose, and control even without overhead lighting

*think of the Puerto Ricans who went ten months without power after a storm

Our Carlo has no problems enjoying a power outage. I think I should follow his fine example.

Am I the only one who feels semi-dismantled by “powerlessness”? Perhaps less focus on “doing” would make the difference?

Peggy

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  • Judy Carrino
    December 11, 2018 at 4:53 pm Reply

    Our old home had a well and when we lost power, the toilets were not working, but I could pull buckets of water from the pool for flushing. That was back when I had the strength to carry full buckets of water into the house. Those days are long gone. We have been fortunate not to lose power lately, and I hope that continues. Sorry for your loss of power. I would share your lack of enthusiasm for chores needing to be done after the power is restored.

    • Peggy Payne
      December 11, 2018 at 7:13 pm Reply

      I do know about the buckets of water, Judy. There’s a pond down a hill from us. We’ve even had dinner guests carry buckets of water when the well stopped for no apparent reason. Glad you have lots of electricity!

  • Peggy Payne
    December 11, 2018 at 8:40 pm Reply

    Just read an antidote to impatience with powerlessness, impatience of any sort. It comes from Franciscan Richard Rohr’s newsletter. “Whenever your heart space, your mind space, and your body space are all present and accounted for at the same time, you can experience pure presence, a moment of deep inner connection with the pure, gratuitous Being of anything and everything. It will often be experienced as a quiet leap of joy in the heart.
    Contemplation is an exercise in openness, in keeping all three spaces open long enough for you to notice other hidden material. When you can do that, you are content with the present moment and can then wait upon futures you know will be given by grace.”

  • December 13, 2018 at 12:02 am Reply

    A day and a half was one of our shortest power losses, but still I felt more impatient this time than the many previous outages. Maybe ‘cza foot problems I couldn’t get out much/snowshoe, but the cold ate at me more than other season outages. Up north it was like this outdoors most of the winter, but I don’t remember any losses of power. Drivers here are really more dangerous than the storm conditions, cz they’re not experienced driving in snow and ice. I sure liked the fire and hangin’ out together longer than usual – don’t think I noticed your impatience at not knowing when we’d get heat and light again, tho we were both plenty glad when suddenly there was light.

    • Peggy Payne
      December 13, 2018 at 3:26 pm Reply

      I hadn’t realized that these outages don’t happen, or happen as much, up north. We need to find out how they’re keeping their trees from crashing down on power lines.

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