By Cathy Killian, Clinical Director, North Carolina Lawyers Assistance Program
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
~ Viktor E. Frankl
School is out, summer is in full swing, and vacation time is here. For many people that means heading to the beach. Days are filled with sun, sand, and swimming in the ocean. Maybe a few bikes rides, sea shell hunts, lots of ice cream, and buying tacky souvenirs usually forgotten before they even get back home. Little kids build sandcastles and run from the waves, bigger kids ride the waves on boogie boards, and teenagers try to look cool surfing. The adults try to get a few moments of relaxation in while the beach provides its version of “babysitting.” Nights include overpriced food, lots of aloe, and gallons of bug spray.
Above and beyond the fact that we are away from work and the stressors of everyday life, there is actual science behind why we love the beach so much. In fact, many doctors in the 18th century sent their ailing patients to the beach as a form of treatment. The ultraviolet rays in sunshine stimulate the production of vitamin D, which in turn boosts the production of serotonin. This brain chemical improves our sense of physical and emotional wellbeing, has a positive effect on stress, sleep and appetite, and helps to keep us feeling up-beat and happy.
The repetitive sound of the waves alters the wave patterns in our brain, which can dispel stress and help us feel more calm and relaxed. Many people read while at the beach, and research shows that reading for pleasure reduces stress by 68%. Even more amazing is that this calming effect can be seen in just 6 minutes. Another built in stress reliever is our association with the color blue and feelings of calmness and serenity. When we are at the beach, the sky is blue, the ocean is blue, and even the beach umbrellas are blue.
The ocean water itself is also a natural soothing agent, in that it contains enough magnesium to have a significant effect on calming our nerves. The water also opens the pores of our skin and helps removes toxins from our body, thus allowing it to operate more moderately and efficiently. The ocean has numerous anti-aging minerals within it (such as salt) that act like a natural exfoliant, tightening as well as softening our skin, making us look a bit younger. The iodine in seawater is healthy for our hair follicles, and the sunlight helps our hair grow faster. All of that combines to make us look better, which ultimately makes us feel better.
Walking barefoot in the sand stimulates the multitude of nerve endings in our feet (more than any other part of our body), giving us a natural foot massage. The combination of the sand and salt from the water is ultimately like a free pedicure, taking off the dead skin cells. Medical Daily suggests that we are more connected to the earth when we walk barefooted, which results in “mood-boosting benefits” such as increased antioxidants, reduced inflammation, improved sleep, and reduced stress.
For kids, the beach is just plain fun. Twelve year old Kiersten Yow and 16 year old Hunter Treschi were no exceptions. They were both vacationing on Oak Island, and without warning both became victims of shark attacks. Kiersten was riding on her boogie board when she was attacked. About 90 minutes later and 2 miles away, Hunter was playing in waist deep water when he felt something brush against his leg. He saw the shark for the first time when it was all the way up his arm…and then he saw nothing. The shark was gone, and so was his arm.
Kiersten lost her left arm from the elbow down, and has extensive damage to her left leg. She has had several surgeries thus far, and will face several more in the weeks to come as the doctors continue to do reconstruction and skin grafts. She will also have to endure lots of physical rehabilitation as she lost most of her calf muscle. Hunter lost his left arm from just below the shoulder, and will be fitted with a prosthetic in the next several weeks.
It is amazing and horrifying how quickly a fun day at the beach can become a bizarre and life changing event. But the most amazing thing of all has been the attitude and outlook of these two young people. At an age when a pimple on picture day brings about suicidal ideation, these two have shown nothing but optimism, compassion, and resiliency. They have maintained an incredibly positive attitude, and have shown concern and support for others.
“Kiersten continues to amaze her entire care team with her upbeat, can-do attitude, which is truly extraordinary for a girl her age given the trauma she experienced. There’s been no, why me or sulking, just a dogged determination to reestablish her independence and return to a normal life.”
Even in the midst of multiple surgeries, she expresses concern and compassion for others. From her hospital bed she posted the following on Facebook, “We just read about another survivor today. Fifth one this month of NC coast! My heart goes out to these families. They are all in our thoughts and prayers.”
Hunter said that he would tell Kiersten to “Just stay strong. It’s not a life-changing thing to lose an arm. As time goes on, prosthetics technology is going to be just unreal compared to what we imagine today and it’s always improving. So, who knows, 30 years, it might be like having a second arm.” This is coming from a teenager who was left-handed, a string bass violin player, a competitive swimmer, and an avid gamer.
Hunter says he is simply adjusting to a new way of life. In terms of his gaming he said, “I played on PC so there’s lots of stuff I can do to play with one arm. It’s not that difficult.” He told his hometown Colorado Springs newspaper that, “You don’t realize how difficult everyday tasks are, like opening a bag of chips. It kind of makes you feel for those who don’t have that same ability and I want to help them however I can. It’s a very eye-opening experience.”
With a wisdom and acceptance far beyond his years (and those of most adults) he remarked, “There’s nothing I can really do except focus on the future. I have no power over a shark biting me but I do have power over, like, what I do about it. I’ve lost my arm obviously, so I have two options: I can try to live my life the way I was and make an effort to do that even though I don’t have an arm, or I can just let this be completely debilitating and bring my life down and ruin it. Out of those two, there’s really only one that I would actually choose, and that’s to try to fight and live a normal life with the cards I’ve been dealt.”
What is an example of how adults are reacting to these tragic events? Selling shirts that say “Oak Island Shark Attack!” with a scary picture of a shark. The store manager on Oak Island where the attacks occurred was adamant that the shirts were ordered prior to the incidences, but having sold 12 shirts in the first week following the attacks, has made no attempt to take them down.
The odds of being bitten by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million. The odds of a young person having the kind of attitude displayed by these two would have seemed far greater. In a day when we are inundated with stories of the degradation of our youth, it is wonderful to be reminded that there are those with the strength, compassion and wisdom that many adults don’t exhibit. It appears that, “It is children who seem to understand the higher value of essential non-material virtues—love, care, truth, courage, honesty,” far better than adults. Hunter and Kiersten are an inspiration to us all. Their optimistic and positive attitudes are amazing and admirable. Hunter’s mother recently said, “What an honor for me to be his mom. I can learn something from him.” And so can we.
“There is no need to be perfect to inspire others.
Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.”
~ Robert Tew
Cathy Killian, LPC, LCAS, CCS, CCH
Clinical Director, Western Clinical Coordinator