As I write this letter I hear sirens in the background, Nixle alerts of new nearby fires, and coverage about the mass shooting in San Jose. It’s all so much. Governor Newsom’s comments about how we are becoming numb to these types of tragedies speaks to how many of us (including myself) feel as we face a much earlier wildfire season while still feeling bombarded from the last one.
When IHAN started during the devastating 2017 Tubbs Fire, we didn’t realize that we were experiencing what would become a yearly reality for millions of Californians. Signs of climate change surround us - increasing heat waves coupled with high winds, dry winters leaving hills parched and bodies of water low, months of choking wildfire smoke – placing a heavy toll on our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Last season’s devastation and this season’s early onset means that our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health is especially fragile. A strong gust of wind on a hot day, the smell of smoke from a neighbor’s barbecue, or even an alert for precaution’s sake is triggering. Past disasters, the present pandemic and ongoing racial violence, and the uncertain future crowd into our consciousness without any breathing room. Sometimes it feels like the only option with all of this stimulus is to go numb.
So how do we move forward? How do we navigate out of this fight, flight, or freeze state of shock? These are completely normal reactions to stress but are only meant as an immediate defense mechanism. In the long term our mental and physical health, not to mention our day-to-day lives, suffer.
This is the state our clients are in. Our work helps guide them on the journey out of whatever traumatized state they are in.
IHAN’s mission is to help our clients reclaim resilience after trauma. Four years of free integrative health clinics, from my own neighborhood to Paradise and Ventura, have reinforced very important concepts that we hold for our clients: healing is rarely a linear process, progress can feel subtle or even frustrating, and being witnessed and supported is invaluable for a person who feels powerless. Take our client Carrie for example. Joining us at one of our first Camp Fire recovery clinics she “just felt better” during acupuncture, “had a good cry” during a massage, and she felt ready to talk when she got to her homeopathic consultation. Her words and her energy capture so much of what we aim to do at our clinics.
I hope Carrie's story can be a source of inspiration for you. As a community we can support powerful, transformative healing – even for those struggling to navigate the darkest hour of their lives. We believe strongly in the ripple effect at IHAN: if one client can feel safe enough to acknowledge their grief, learn trauma processing tools, and improve their resilience-building skills, then they are a more prepared and supportive presence for themselves, their families, and potentially their entire communities.
Just like a mycelium network living underneath a forest of trees, we humans are all interconnected. Together we can grow and learn to not just survive, but thrive during the most uncertain times.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join us in this healing journey. Please visit our volunteer registration page to learn more about how you can support communities in need during and after a major wildfire.
Jenny Harrow-Keeler, MA
Co-Founder & Executive Director