I have a one-year-old daughter that my mom watches a couple times a week. Without that support, I have no idea how my wife and I would manage to keep our sanity or careers going. Sometimes surprises like doctor visits, odd meetings, illness, and other factors prevent me from being able to drop her off with my mom. As a result, there’s often a text message check in with my mom the night before to make sure I’m really dropping off the baby. Last night we had that check-in and I confirmed that I would, indeed, be bringing my baby to her.

All that changed in the middle of the night when what started as a campfire turned into an all-consuming brush fire that jumped the freeway and threatened to consume my mother’s house. The news said that the evacuation for my mother’s area was still voluntary, but what the news failed to report was that all electricity was down for the city – which also meant that I had no way of contacting my mom. From the footage I was able to gather online it looked like my mom’s house was about to burn down and without the ability to call her or my father on any of their cell phones or landlines…I started to worry.

Pushing Down the Urge to Panic

The initial urge was to panic. I had gotten text messages from other friends who had already evacuated the area or had family in the area who also evacuated, and I had yet to hear from my parents. I tried making the calls to my brothers to see if any of them had heard from mom and dad but no such luck. They had gone radio silent.

The natural place for me to go is to assume the worst, and I did. Horrible thoughts ran through my brain and I wanted to run screaming with fear – but I’ve learned both in therapy and as a father that panic is rarely useful so I quickly thought about different ways to react. And then talked things over with my wife. I was able to figure out a way for my brother to watch my baby and I would drive as close as I could to the fire to see what was going on.

The streets were completely empty. It seemed as though everyone who needed to evacuate had already left. My heart started to sink. Maybe they didn’t make it out. Maybe there’s a traffic jam in their gated community and they’re stuck. Lots of terrible thoughts started to race but I just kept driving. As I drove by people who had clearly filled their car in a hurry with photo albums and other irreplaceable sentiments, I started to realize that I didn’t have a plan for my own wife and children if we found ourselves faced with a fire. The feelings of being an inadequate father started to loom down quickly.

Thankfully, my parents were okay. Their street was far enough away from the fire that they didn’t appear to be in any kind of imminent danger and they weren’t trembling in fear like I was on the drive over. The electricity powered back on just as I drove up to their house and the TV was quickly turned to the local news. It seemed as though the crisis was over for now but my nerves were still completely shot.

The Gratitude of Caring

While my parents were okay, it was interesting to see their gratitude that I came to check on them. How could I NOT check on them? They’re my parents. But still, being shown gratitude for my compassion was something that made me realize that most people actually don’t take kindness for granted.

Isn’t it amazing that even in life and death situations where there should be an expectation of help, people still express gratitude? It made me think that if people are grateful in situations where it should be expected, how much more grateful would people be when it’s unexpected and unwarranted?

Wouldn’t it be nice to take a part of your day and do something good for other people if for no other reason than to see that pleasant shock of gratitude? Ironically, there’s a little feature in our app that gives you a digital nudge to do such things on a daily basis called “Be The Change.”

In truth, I was one of the minds who contributed to creating that feature in the LARKR app but until the day of the fire, I didn’t fully realize the impact that it could have on someone.

Taking a Moment Before Going Back to Day to Day Life

Even though seeing that my family was ok was quite a relief, it’s hard to come down from that level of nervousness. The jittery feeling that comes over your whole body, the horrific thoughts that come racing through your mind, the adrenaline – it makes focusing on anything quite difficult.

I find it’s really important to take some time to wind down after traumatic events and really let yourself process what actually happened. It’s nowhere near as serious as being in combat, of course, but if you don’t take the time to really process what happened you can easily develop signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s important to remember in these dangerous situations that while taking care of your physical well-being is obviously your first priority, neglecting your mental health is a recipe for disaster in the future. When things get stressful it’s important to process them in any way that you feel is healthy. For some it’s meditating, for others, it’s having a conversation with a therapist. Either way, ignoring the stress is something I learned a long time ago is just something you really should not do.

Approximately 50 million Americans experience mental illness each year, but nearly 60% go untreated. Take a step to end the suffering by seeking help from the comfort of your own home.