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  • Writer's picturePatty McDuffey

The Perfect Storms of Life: When Our Human Nature Shines the Brightest

Greek flag in monastery gardens with mountains in background and storm clouds
Monastery Gardens in Meteora, Greece

Most people I know who've visited Greece went to Santorini or Athens with friends or family. My images of Greece were of amazing Mediterranean islands of idyllic white-washed villages, the clear, warm, Sea waters, and the Acropolis. Oh Condé Nast, how you tempt us! When I signed up to volunteer treating refugees, a little voice in the back of my mind cautioned me on these expectations. I was going to Thessaloniki, the 2nd largest city in Greece on the Thermaic Gulf in Macedonia. I figured there was something unique about Thessaloniki to be able to shelter refugees from some of the roughest places on earth. And realistically speaking, I can only begin to understand what makes this region unique within this short period of time. And I do believe that it is one of the most unique places I have ever visited. Unfortunately my volunteer work for the medical NGO did not work out. But don't worry. I was still aptly challenged...perhaps more so than ever.

Monastery perched on top of rock formation in Meteora, Greece
Meteora Monastery

We can live in the most idyllic places, have found our perfect love, have the children we always wanted to have, have time to ourselves to rest and contemplate, have plenty of money...the list goes on. We may have what appears to be the perfect Instagrammable life. You know...the grass is always greener deal. But no matter what, we are all still subjected to our basic human nature - to fear as well as bravery, sadness as well as joy, loneliness, and grief. We are all subjected to real life, no matter where we are or what we are doing. And often times, the rawest, most vulnerable moments pop up when we are in what could otherwise be perceived as the perfect flow. To us, however, it's the perfect storm! Most of us know that the best lessons are learned when we are in the perfect storms of life. Unfortunately, that fact is also hard to appreciate when we are uncomfortable.

Over the last month, I've been hot, alone, linguistically challenged and mobility impaired! Sometimes my sink-or-swim mentality can get the better of me. Last week, I nearly sunk. I think I had the beginning of a panic attack while walking down the street. Objectively, everything was fine. Subjectively, nothing was fine! I felt completely out-of-control. The words on the signs and buildings looked like...well, Greek! Since all I can say in Greek is hello, it all meant nothing to me. If the city was trying to convey information to me, I couldn't understand it. It was hot! I was hot. I had been hot for too many weeks. A few times, it was challenging to cool myself down before the queasiness of dehydration came on. I am accustomed to having a car in the US. I don't have a car here. At home, when it's hot, I move from one air conditioned building or vehicle to the next. I can't always do that here. That day on the street was my perfect storm. No one, but the US State Department, knew where I was. I was alone and really struggling to understand my environment. I had to wrangle myself as I started to have a visceral reaction to this feeling of being out-of-control. Thankfully it worked, along with a blood nourishing burger from - the Irish pub in one of the city's pedestrian zones. In the following days, I gave myself daily acupuncture treatments, took my Peace Pearls, and Valerian Root, meditated to turn inward so I could understand what was at the root of my panic, my fear.

Black cat looking up at the camera, waiting for handouts.
Rosie, a neighborhood stray cat

What I discovered is that my basic human need to feel safe, and be able to discern that my surroundings and those in them are safe, felt threatened. My nervous system was on high alert, desperate to find something familiar that would allow my brain to tell my body that it was safe to relax. As humans, we have the basic need to be in community. When we are in community and are able to communicate our needs to others, we feel safe. Not only was I struggling to understand my surroundings on many levels, I was struggling to understand how to facilitate what I wanted or needed. The more I realized my inability to comprehend the Greek language, the more I felt like I couldn't find the door to the soul and the people of the city. I felt claustrophobic in a way. The more I felt like the gateway to the city was invisible, the more I felt invisible to those around me. And of course, then all of the what-if's started to pop into my head. That's usually a dead-end. So what do we do when the old tried-and-true methods to find peace and calm don't work? Of course there is no one answer to this question. But what is always available to us in times like this is to go back to the basics, go inward (stillness, meditation), seek help in someway, to stay present and watch the feelings start to shift. I think we all know it's so much easier said than done!

Motorbike on a street of seemingly abandoned and graffitied store fronts in Thessaloniki.
Streets of Thessaloniki

I'd like to share with you what I did to help myself in this anxious scenario. Some of these suggestions may be suitable for you. But please don't mistake this blog post as medical advice. This is my personal experience. Please see your healthcare provider for custom advice that is appropriate for you and your condition.

1. Familiarity: I immediately sought out something that looked familiar - an Irish restaurant where the architecture and food was familiar, and the menu was in English.

2. Anchoring, blood-building food: red meat, for better or worse, is a fantastic blood builder. With the climactic heat of a Mediterranean summer in 2022, I felt depleted, as if I had sweated out my grounding, stabilizing energy. I knew that I needed food that was going to hit my gut and build some blood. Blood is a substantive component of our body - giving us root, weight. When we become deficient - heat and energy rises and it can get stuck over the heart. This can create a physiological, visceral sensation that creates more anxiety.

3. Breathe -I breathed a slow and controlled breath, a form of breath work that I have my patients do to help bring them into their bodies. It's simple - breathe in to a count of 3, out to a count of 6. As that becomes comfortable, you can increase. In to a count of 4, out to a count of 8, etc. It works!

Museum case of ancient needles and spatulas, Museum of Archaeology in Thessaloniki, Greece
Archaeological Museum: Thessaloniki - Needles used in Ancient Greece - Similar to ancient Chinese needles?

4. Peace Pearls - It's part of the Classical Pearls line of Chinese herbal formulas. It helps clear that energy I felt over my heart, rebalance the natural flow of energy in the body and nourish in a similar way as that burger. If I had the whole line available to me, I would have probably added Ease Pearls (Bupleurum is great to move stagnant liver qi) or a formula with Long Gu and Mu Li in them - heavy, sedating, bone/shell-based herbs in the Chinese Pharmacopeia.

5. Valerian Complex - a Standard Process supplement that contains valerian root, passionflower and jujube. It helps relax and nourish.

6. Melatonin - I took a low-dose of Melatonin for a few days to help reset my sleep.

7. Singing-bowl therapy: I incorporated sound therapy with singing blowls set to a low frequency to help root my energy. Since I don't travel with my singing bowl, I found some good recordings on Spotify.

8. Acupuncture: I gave myself daily treatments for 4 days to further anchor, nourish and reset.

Bags of medicinal herbs made by monks in Meteora
Medicinal bulk herbal formulas made by the monks in Meteora

I'm happy to say that I think I cleared a hurdle. Phew! I didn't visit the islands. I haven't been to Athens. I've spent most of my time in the city, living on Greece's equivalent of Main St. America. There are some beautiful parts to this city. There are many not so beautiful parts, images that would not wind up on an Instagram feed. But even though one aspect of my human nature tells me to go to the white-washed villages of the islands and to the beautiful beaches, another aspect tells me to just walk down the street and grab a coffee (decaf!). I will go to my little grocery store and hope that the credit card machines are working today and continue to learn to enjoy the moments when everyone in line tries to explain to the foreigner in her language that the banks are down and no credit cards will work today. Every place is a mix of yin and yang, good and bad, pretty and ugly, light and dark. And I am convinced that it is usually when it counts the most that, rather than having the ability to control which one we will get more of and when we get it, we are subjected to something much greater than our own free will. And if we allow it to guide is, if we can find it in our hearts, minds, and bodies to roll with the punches, the best part of our travels may just end up being a warm, hospitable welcome at the little local bakery down the street where the young girl working behind the counter recognizes you and is excited at the opportunity to practice her English. Maybe on my next visit in, I can learn my next word/phrase in Greek - Thank you.

Patty with rock formations and monastery of Meteora in the background
Meteora, Greece: a UNESCO World Heritage Site

At what times in your life have you felt overcome by fear or perhaps confusion over your struggle to understand what was happening right in front of you? What did you learn from these experiences? How did you handle them? Everyone has their own methods of handling the ups-and-downs of life. How can we become stronger, not only as individuals, but also as a community, a city, a country, a global community, by sharing with one another? How do we the transmute the energy from these life experience to create humility, health, and balance?

As always, please reach out to me if you are interested in setting up an appointment to discuss any health concerns you may have. I practice via telehealth in the state of Oregon and am best reached initially via email at I look forward to meeting you.


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