Finding Light After Woolsey’s Darkness

The burned remains of Dr. Noelle C. Nelson’s home following the Woolsey Fire in November 2018 

Longtime Malibu resident, psychologist and author Dr. Noelle C. Nelson shares a profoundly positive perspective on the aftermath of trauma and devastation in her latest published work, “Phoenix Rising—Surviving Catastrophic Loss: Fires, Floods, Hurricanes and Tornadoes.” 

“There are gifts, even miracles, that will emerge from the ruins of your catastrophe that can make your life richer, better, happier than ever before,” Nelson said on a recent call with The Malibu Times. “Yes, it takes patience. Yes, it takes time. And yes, it can be done. You can rise from your catastrophe, like the phoenix from the ashes, stronger and better than before.”

The book offers a rich narrative drawn from Nelson’s personal experience of working through the mental and emotional challenge of rebuilding her own life—both literally and figuratively—following the catastrophic Woolsey Fire that destroyed what she describes as her “dream home” of 18 years, which burned alongside hundreds of others in the Malibu community in November 2018. 

“The Woolsey Fire hit my area and my home was destroyed to just nothing. It was overnight, and it was a complete and total shock,” Nelson stated. Her home was among the 473 single-family residences that burned in Malibu during the 2018 Woolsey Fire, of which only 55 rebuilds have been completed as of Tuesday morning, Nov. 8, according to the city’s website.

“By definition, a natural catastrophe is sudden, unexpected and life-altering. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and—in my case—fires, usually erupt into our lives without warning,” Nelson explained. “The world—your world, my world—is turned upside-down from one minute to the next, and everything is shattered, demolished, destroyed. Somehow you have to rebuild, literally, from the ground up, your entire world. But how?”

Through the destruction and devastation, Nelson said she was able to find light in the darkness through the selfless actions of others whom she fondly refers to as “strangers who are perfect,” which she reflected on during a recent call with The Malibu Times. “People who didn’t even know me started just giving, and giving and giving. I’ve found that the help from strangers is often the most genuine.

“The overwhelming majority of people on this planet are caring and compassionate. If they know your situation, they want to help,” Nelson continued. “Allow yourself to grieve, but also leave room to appreciate and be grateful for the kind-hearted people around you—whether you know them or not. They will help you get through challenging times.”

Nelson considers appreciation to be an instinctual means for improving your life and is a firm believer that people can accomplish great things, whether in business, at work or at home, by connecting with the value in themselves and also in others. 

“Figure out whatever it is in your life that has purpose and meaning to you and cherish, develop and value it. Because that will be your community and when everything hits the fan, those are the people who will be there for you in spades” she said. “As long as you don’t stay in bed with the covers pulled over your head, you will make it through.”

When asked about any advice she would give for those days when you’re tempted to do nothing but stay in bed, she said without hesitation: “Hang tight, and you will make it through. I mean that with all of my heart.” 

“Phoenix Rising—Surviving Catastrophic Loss: Fires, Floods, Hurricanes and Tornadoes” by Dr. Noelle C. Nelson is now available on Amazon.