Thailand Memories: The Tsunami Part 3 – How the tsunami changed my life

I’m not an expert, but I’m now quite sure that I suffered from some form of post traumatic stress disorder in the weeks immediately following the tsunami. I did not seek nor receive any form of counselling, but I was able to discuss what I went through with many people, especially family and friends who were concerned about me. I thought about and relived the events of that day over and over and came to the conclusion that if there must be something that I could take away from my survival of the tsunami, to perhaps learn from or use in the future. I never really questioned why I had managed to survive when so many others had not but my sudden change of mind that ultimately saved my life did bother me. Why did I make that decision and what had influenced it? Was it destiny? What would have happened if the car had not passed and given me time to change my mind? Did some ‘unseen factor’ make the decision for me?

Over the years I came to the conclusion that any effort to answer these questions was a waste of time. The fact is that I changed my mind and it saved my life. So what could I learn from that? Now, whenever I suddenly decide that I don’t wish to do something that I have already planned, I don’t beat myself up about it. If something doesn’t feel right, I won’t do it and it sits easily with me.

Conversely, if something doesn’t work out or go the way I wanted, I have a much more positive attitude about it and conclude that it wasn’t meant to be in the first place. In the past I took rejections from job applications very badly but my feeling now is that any potential employer who doesn’t give me a job is probably not worth worrying about and a much better job is waiting for me. I found this to actually be the case in the years following the tsunami when I worked in Oman and Bahrain.

Another way that the tsunami changed me was in the way it taught me about death and dying. Before the tsunami, I’d only ever been to four funerals: both my grandparents on my mother’s side, a kid from my school who got electrocuted, and the grandmother of a friend of mine in Thailand. So I hadn’t been exposed very much to the idea of death and grieving. I felt a terrible sadness for all the innocent people who were killed, much more so than those who perished in New York on September 11, 2001, for example. For the first time in my life, however, I really came to understand how fragile life is and how easily and quickly it can be taken away. I found how easy it is to take for granted that life is not forever and there is no guarantee that any of us will live to be a ripe old age and die from natural causes. There are so many ways to die, so many accidents waiting to happen and I nearly died simply while lying on a beach. In truth, I could have also been killed whilst riding my motorcycle to Nai Harn beach, I could have drowned, I could have been attacked by a shark (highly unlikely), I could have been kidnapped, the list is endless. The point is that there’s no point worrying about dying but that doesn’t mean I will live my life recklessly from now on. I am just much more aware that death is so close and can happen at any time.

I’ve found that I don’t think as much about the future as I once did and spend much more of my time and effort thinking about the present and what I want to be doing now. Obviously I can’t do that all of the time, but I don’t feel so bad anymore when I put something off to be done at a later time. I’d always been made to feel guilty if I did not ‘get things out of the way now’ so that I could relax later, and this applied to my work as well as to my life. My thoughts now are that if I am dead then they won’t be done anyway, so why bother worrying about them? Most people see this as procrastination, but I don’t have a problem with leaving things to the last minute.

The tsunami also helped me to wake up to the fact that death is the absolute worst thing that can ever happen to someone, therefore anything less than death is not really worth all the effort of worry or disappointment. I lost my wallet and passport when I was living in Bahrain and some people asked me why I wasn’t more upset about it than I was showing. Sure, it was an inconvenience and an expense to apply for a new passport and ATM cards and driving license, etc, but so what? Similarly, I have become much more blasé about sporting results, especially when my football team is concerned. It’s nice to have success, but sports losses are surely the least of a person’s worries or concerns.

I have a superannuation fund that I can access in six years time. I know that I am expected to use this to help me live for the remainder of my life, especially when I become too old to work. Before the tsunami I would have made every attempt to ensure that the amount I end up with will do just that, but I know now that I will be spending a fair portion of it (assuming I am still alive in 6 years, of course) and doing something that I enjoy. I seriously doubt that I will purchase anything major that I may not have a chance to enjoy fully, such as a property or a car, but I can see myself travelling quite a lot. I plan to be able to do things that I can while I am still alive and ‘young’ enough to appreciate them.

In the years after the tsunami, I found myself concerned with having to take something positive from it in order to give some understanding to why I had managed to survive it. I felt that if I had simply carried on as normal, then I was being dismissive about what I went through, as if it was nothing. What the tsunami taught me was that nothing lasts forever and my life should be lived to the fullest as much as possible now, because there’s no way of knowing when it will end.

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