On an island, far far away from any mountains that remind me of anything to do with the awful forest fires that consumed our state and turned my life upside down, I received an email from a kindred spirit. She wrote, “I stumbled upon your blog when I was researching PTSD and forest fires. I was looking for anything that would tell me I was somewhat normal in what I was experiencing.” She goes on to tell me she lost her home in the Waldo Canyon fire and thanked me for letting me know she wasn’t alone in her devastation.

This many miles away, I was compelled to write and tell you – I needed to hear this. I send my words into the stratosphere and wonder whose hearts I might be reaching. I keep writing anyway as it is my therapy and expression. I risk writing the same things over and over and boring my readers. I risk my heart and soul as I bare both. I feel my feelings and question if I am “normal”. I still have some (not many, but some) people in my life who think I should be moving on by now and that the depth of my emotions are concerning. I internalize their judgment (and, yes I know, it is born out of love and concern) and judge myself. Not that I needed any more judgmental voices to model as I have plenty of my own. I should be… I shouldn’t be… should should should. Here I am in paradise and I shouldn’t shed a tear. Being in paradise I should always, every moment of every second, be grateful. I should realize that this too is my life and I should marvel at the wonder of it all. Always.

I do marvel at many wonders. And, I still grieve. Even in paradise. We take us with us wherever we go. My grief came with me on the trip. She isn’t so blazingly loud here but she has her moments. And, after years of practice, she morphs into other things that show up as self-criticism and I make my list beginning with the physical: nose to big, lips too small, legs too hairy (I knew I should have waxed one more time before I left…). I continue to who I am as a person and go down a long tunnel. Sometimes I turn the judgment to the world and could spend hours. Yadda yadda yadda – and more yadda. I watch myself do this, then often gently remind myself to stop, and sometimes just as often berate myself further for doing this. That’s a good trap: beat yourself up for beating yourself up.

So this readers words come from afar and speak to me anear (yes, I am making that word up). “Yes”, I reach back and say, “yes, I get it. I know. You are ok. You are normal. It is normal.” We are experiencing grief and the grief can be pure and then it can have times where it coats everything like the ash that coats our trees and it affects our ability to see. We can’t see us, we can’t see the beauty in the world, we can’t see hope. And, then we have glimpses of beauty – which is how we stay sane – but those glimpses don’t mean we are through. I am only 4 1/2 months in and not through. Waldo Canyon is more recent and far from time to be “through”.

Back to the voices. So much of our society – and even the culture of self-help – wants things wrapped up in neat little packages that sum up everything in some profound life lesson that we can put on a magnet and stick on our refrigerators (if we had a refrigerator, that is). Live by the magnet then life will be ok. Only, there are way too many magnets out there and some seem to contradict each other. I tend towards the magnets that leave something up for grabs. Don’t give me too neat and tidy. Don’t give me the one-liner that will fix all. Don’t give me the top 5 lessons from the fire. Don’t give me platitudes. Blick.

I want to read the writers who leave at least a little string hanging out that might just unravel. These generous souls leave us guessing. Are they ok? Will they be ok? Will we be ok? Is it ok not to know if we are ok? I want to learn from the teachers who still share their darkness and messes. I want to continue to remember it’s ok to have mine. Many people don’t like messes or darkness. We want to bleach everything to get it as sparkly and clean as possible. Bleach our thinking, bleach our words, bleach our lives. Remove all the stank and grime and germs and dirt. Remove it all.

Sorry, but forest fires are messy. And dirty. And grimy. And awful. And, they will unravel for a long long time. Losing a home you loved and all your possessions may take ages. We were told that things would continue to pop into consciousness – and they do. They are usually the priceless mementos or the irreplaceable items. My favorite, perfectly broken in charcoal grey, bell sleeve sweatshirt popped in yesterday. Probably a whopping $35 on the inventory list, the money clearly wasn’t the issue. I loved that sweatshirt. I loved it so much that I bought two when I found it – ended up losing one (which at the time broke my heart), hired a tailor to make me another one which was never the same and confirmed the treasure status even more. Now it, and so many other things like it, are gone. Yes, it’s just a sweatshirt but it was more than that to me.

The thing about unraveling is most of the time I know I won’t stay unravelled forever. I may unwrap a bit. I may pick at threads and pull them until there gone, never to be replaced. I may end up in a pile of colors that don’t even look like they go together. Or I may stay in the same form of a too tight turtle neck made with itchy wool or an outdated cashmere rainbow pullover. I keep checking in to see if I am still the same. Do I react the same? Do I feel the same? It’s funny. Not funny ha ha but funny. Funny interesting, funny weird, funny bizarre. To be in the middle (or not quite middle) of a journey and not know the outcome or even the final destination. Even though I rebel against neat packages of wisdom, I still find myself searching for the lessons. In this way the unravelling is like a hunt where I follow a thread to the very end and hope that I will find a sparkly button that I forgot about or that somehow looks differently and contains all I need to know.

Is there a sparkly button waiting out there for me? For us? Is there that perfect sunset where all falls into place and stays that way forever? Is there the perfect wind that fills the sails just right and we are carried merrily to our destination never to doubt again? Are there the right words from the right prophet at the right time that pings us in the head and we are never the same? Does any of this crazy thing called life make sense? Will I follow the little threads to their endings or will I step back, one day, and see the giant cosmic sweater in the sky?

Until I know the answer to that, I will continue to grieve as I have been. I will pick and pull at threads. I will doubt and question. I will stop and marvel. And, I will write.


  • Sandy Golnick
    Posted at 18:17h, 14 August

    Thank you for your gift today, Kristen….unexpected and so very appropriate to how I’m viewing life right now.

    Love to you and David. Sandy

  • Nettie M Spiwack
    Posted at 20:44h, 14 August

    As people who have lost a close loved one to death might reply, there is a sparkly button—eventually. But eventually can be a long time away. Someday, in some distant future, you may invent a powerful interpretation of just why you have been put through a crash course in letting go; and you will be able to help many others, even as you are doing now. And it won’t have to be related to fire losses. I say this as I have buried four friends this year and watch my other friends sell their homes and move to distant places. Love to you

  • Brigette
    Posted at 01:54h, 15 August

    Seems we are supposed to find the silver lining in everything and sometimes it plain isn’t there. As long as your words are posted survivors will continue to find them and realize they aren’t alone and they aren’t crazy. Thinking your losing it is a horrible feeling and its so nice to know that in this situation the feelings and such are “normal” and others have not only felt it but survived as well.

  • Victoria
    Posted at 16:02h, 23 August

    Read my first of your blogs today – I often hear myself say ‘shouldn’t I be alright, shouldn’t I be over it by now’ and blimey anyone who reads my blog must roll their eyes at the same-ness. It was refreshing to read that I’m not alone in that, but writing as therapy works – and I don’t have a deadline to adhere too. Thanks

  • Joan Courtney
    Posted at 17:24h, 13 July

    I was struck by the pain and anguish of your Unraveling blog. What a difficult and heartrending time. My heart goes out to you. I am a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner, specializing in PTSD. I live in a very small town located at 7000-7500′ in the White Mountain of Arizona. Yes, I too am surrounded by forests. In 2001, we experienced a 450 acre fire. Many lost their homes and the town was nearly destroyed.
    Fast forward to June of this year. A fire began nearby. As it progressed, the local authorities notified us of a pre-evacuation order. Panic ensured, with long lines at gas stations and groceries being pulled from shelves.

    Many simply left town. Some were responding to memories of the prior fire. Others were caught up in the story of loss and anxiety of the future.

    I have been well able to help those with symptoms of PTSD as you describe (hyper vigilance, response to smells, anxiety/depression, grief, anger, insomnia). Clients are able to return to their lives with a new perspective, one of hope and promise.

    I would recommend seeking support and assistance from a qualified hypnotherapist and /or NLP practitioner to help you through this dark time. My best to all.