I help people for a living. I’ve made mention of it before, but I’m a social worker and I’m about to get real social work-y on you and talk about self-care. But never fear, I’ll be back with your regularly scheduled programming later this week. For now, please join me for a very special episode of into Hou.
This city and our neighbors utterly amazed me as it leaped right into action without hesitation in response to Harvey’s onslaught of destruction. It’s hard to believe landfall was over a week ago, and it stopped raining 6 days ago. Despite being incredibly lucky and not having suffered any damage to person or property, it feels like it’s still raining to me. This past weekend did not feel like Labor Day weekend. But now it’s time for things to return to “normal”. It’s time to go back to work, though you may pass mountains of debris on your neighbors’ lawns. When you arrive to work, the chair next to you sits empty as your dear coworker is still trying to pick up the pieces. Though the storm has passed, Harvey, unfortunately, is still with us.
Survivor’s guilt is real
If I walked out my front door during or after the storm, peered down the street, even took a stroll around the block, it appeared as though it had been raining for a long time, but nothing was amiss. I had power and food and water and cable and internet. All the usual comforts of the first world. But the local news station that broadcasts from less than one mile from my house (8/10 of a mile, to be exact) was knocked off the air because their studio filled with water. The path of Buffalo Bayou, where I routinely take nightly walks (when it’s not oppressively hot) became the bayou.
It’s hard not to think, why [insert name of awesome person you know that was affected] and not me? And then there were those mind-blowing, incredible people who traveled from neighboring states (I’m looking at you, Cajun Navy) that make me question my skepticism of true altruism, putting their lives at risk to save a stranger and her cat. All you can think is, I need to do something. I know this is true because they were literally turning away volunteers at the George R. Brown shortly after I showed up on Tuesday. There were more volunteers than the organizers knew what to do with. The mountains of donations on the back side of the GRB was enormous. Every request for items was met with an overwhelming response. They asked for feminine products and I noticed while shopping at Target that there were only 4 boxes of tampons left on the shelf.
Harvey might make you feel like everyone is a hero and you must be doing something for the good of the community at all times. But let me share a secret with you. Just because you’re safe and your house is dry, doesn’t mean you didn’t suffer a loss or trauma.
A loss is a loss
You anxiously watched as the water rose in your front yard, or lapped at your back door. And you were glued to the TV watching cars being swept away on your usual route to take your kids to school. You didn’t sleep because the incessant alarm warning you of tornadoes in the area kept you up. And you tried to keep up with the loving texts and calls from friends and family in other places wondering if you’re alright. Your usual happy place was/is under water. You lost a week’s worth of wages. Your best friend lost everything. Your childhood home was destroyed. The place that used to feel safe doesn’t feel that way anymore.
Though these things are not the same as losing nearly everything you own, this is still real. You’re allowed to feel lucky and grateful and positive and upbeat. But you’re also allowed to feel sad or mad or any which way about it. Sure, Coldplay wrote a song for us, but it’s ok to think it sucks and to be mad you didn’t get to see the concert. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about that.
We’re in this for the long haul
Which brings me back to feeling the need to be all things to all people. You saw that the response was immediate and fierce, but those who suffered losses greater than mine will be needing help in the weeks, months, even years to come. Right now, Harvey is top of mind, but things will slowly go back to the new normal and people will start cutting each other off on 610 and leaning on their horns when you don’t go the second after the light turns green. The Harvey relief happy hours will go back to being regular ol’ happy hours. But those most affected will still need us. So don’t burn yourself out.
The importance of self-care
Yes, we are #HOUSTONSTRONG. But we’re also a lot of other things that don’t make pretty hashtags like #HOUSTONTIRED. There’s a lot of beauty the comes after a tragedy. But there’s also a lot of other things that are tempting to sweep under the rug. Resist that urge. It’s much easier to deal with the bad and the ugly now before Waste Management hauls away the wreckage. If you let it pile up, it’ll be much harder to deal with. There is no pickup day for emotional baggage. You can’t help your neighbor if you don’t help yourself. And if you find you’re not able to deal with it on your own, there’s no shame in asking for a little help.