Monthly Archives: September 2017

Hurricane Irma – The Emotional Aftermath

When I wrote my last post, the words spilled out naturally. It was easy to write because I desperately needed some sort of release. This post has been much harder. I have had several different drafts, but it’s been hard to find the words to describe my experience. I don’t think it helps that the last 10 days or so has completely drained me. But regardless, I wanted to share an update about my thoughts after experiencing, or maybe not experiencing, my first hurricane.

A week ago, I mentioned that we were planning to hunker down as Irma made her appearance. But that plan quickly changed when the news scared us with storm surge estimates and, of course, a mandatory evacuation. I suppose I’ll enter lesson one here: know your evacuation zones prior to making your plans. Evacuation zones are completely new to these Iowans, but looking back,  it’s pretty common sense that we should have expected to be in a mandatory evacuation zone. I’m sure most of you reading this are rolling your eyes and calling us idiots, but when we learned the hurricane was a legitimate threat, we went straight into survival mode, meaning rational thoughts weren’t always present. We made a very last-minute decision to evacuate with my future in-laws. A vehicle was loaded full of the clothes we could grab, the snacks we’d bought, and off we went with no plans except that we would drive north. Luckily, we were able to get a hotel room for a couple of nights.

The trees in Tallahassee, where we evacuated for Hurricane Irma, were beautiful

So, what have I learned now that my first hurricane has come and gone? Well, like I’ve already mentioned, it is absolutely exhausting. I think I shared this in my last post, but the models are constantly changing. Constantly. And they are changing until the very last minute, so it’s difficult to know what’s really going to happen until it’s there. So one minute, you feel like you’re going to be spared, and the next you feel like you’re going to lose everything. Every time the predictions changed, so did our plans. When things looked ok, we’d plan to hunker down; we got supplies “just in case”, and we talked about how fun it would be to play Monopoly by candlelight. But then when the predictions didn’t look so good, we looked for hotels in several different states only to be discouraged by the high prices and lack of availability. My dad described it as an emotional rollercoaster, and honestly, that’s a good way of summing it up. Every time we promised each other we would commit to a decision, we broke that promise.

Waiting is the worst part. It is so weird and creepy to just sit around and wait for something awful to happen. It’s at the back of your mind constantly, and the reminders are everywhere. Your phone constantly gives you notifications, it’s the only thing on TV, the lines at gas stations spill out onto the road, and Target is a madhouse. I constantly felt like I should be seeking shelter, even when the storm was days away – I kept wanting to scream at people, “Go home! Don’t know you know there’s a storm coming?!” Friday night, we tried to enjoy my future in-law’s pool and hot tub, but it felt odd. I felt like I should be hunkered down waiting. How could we possibly enjoy ourselves knowing what was to come?

After the storm, bouncing back from the evacuation is so much harder than I thought. When you prepare for the storm, everyone can tell you exactly what to do: you go grocery shopping, you get plywood or put up your hurricane shutters, you fill sandbags, take out cash, fill up on gas, and buy candles, flashlights, and candles. But once the storm is gone, everyone just tries to get back to normal even though things aren’t normal right now. After the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on for the past couple of weeks, I’m still a little dizzy.

This was at one of the gas stations we stopped at while evacuating. “Be nice, we’ll be ok.”

After 10 or so days of preparing, watching the news, and waiting, I still check my weather app constantly, forgetting the storm is gone and I’m safe now. I get a little antsy when my gas goes under 3/4 a tank, as though there still isn’t gas here. I’m not really sure what day it is, and my routine is completely off whack; although, admittedly, it doesn’t help that I have a lot of leave scheduled at work for the rest of September!

Overall, regardless of whether this post reflects it, I am just feeling incredibly thankful. It was supposed to be so much worse than it was. I still have a job, I still have shelter, and my cats are ok. We even have electricity! I so look forward to life returning to normal, and I hope that I don’t experience another hurricane anytime soon. I have learned so much about what goes into preparing for a hurricane, especially emotionally. I feel so humbled by salt life residents who have experienced this so many times, and simply got up with a smile ready to re-build.

“Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Daryn Kagan

 

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Hurricane Irma

I know that I have largely let this blog go, and my intention was actually to shut it down. I still don’t know what my intention will be moving forward with this blog, but for today, I felt compelled to write a few words. I have a lot of anxious energy with the upcoming hurricane and I feel compelled to write about it.

When we moved to Florida 7 months ago, we were not naïve enough to think that a hurricane wouldn’t happen to us. We of course knew that this was not only a possibility, but something likely to happen. But I think it’s safe to say that we did not expect a category 5 within our first year!

I have a few thoughts that I want to share with you all as I prepare for my first hurricane because there are a lot of emotions that come with it! The first thing is that everything I have ever known, or thought, about preparing for a hurricane has been completely wrong. Let me tell you – it is SO EASY to sit on your couch in the Midwest judging all of the people who chose to stay in light of an approaching hurricane; and I promise I’m not picking on the Midwest, that’s just what I used to do. You know the thoughts – “they knew it was coming!” “what were they thinking?!” “How foolish could they be?” as you are watching people be rescued roofs of houses. I have had every single one of those thoughts (again, from my safe, warm couch in the Midwest).

With that being said, we have decided to be those idiots that hunker down with my future in-laws. Our apartment is not safe as it is on the ground floor and tends to collect water even in Florida’s daily afternoon storms. Many of you probably think we are insane, but let me explain. Remember when I said that everything I’ve ever thought about preparing for a hurricane is wrong? When you’re not the one doing it, evacuation seems easy. Especially when it seems like such a logical solution. But evacuating, and even choosing to evacuate, is not easy. It is easy to say that victims of a hurricane knew that the storm was coming, but the truth is that information changes by the second.

The hurricane can change strength and direction very quickly; honestly, until it hits, you don’t truly know exactly what to expect. So all you can do is consider what you do know, weigh the odds, pros, and cons. Even though leaving has always seemed like a logical answer to me (you know, from 1,500 miles away), leaving also comes with risk; believe it or not, work is not always supportive. Of course, your life is more important than a job, but it can cause pressure to try to stay through the storm. On top of that, hotels are expensive, traffic is a nightmare, gas stations run out of gas, and people act erratically. Ultimately, it’s unknown whether evacuation is completely necessary (unless, of course, there’s a mandatory evacuation), and it can be hard to justify thousands of dollars to evacuate if you feel like you could be safe staying put. The message we received from our local news was just to have a plan. I know this goes without saying, but their message was – if you are staying, that’s fine, but make sure it’s safe. If you’re leaving, do it as soon as possible.

Wednesday night (still around 4 days before the hurricane was expected), we considered leaving, and we quickly found that hotels in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina were booked. In four states, there was not a single reasonably-priced hotel. This resulted in a certain amount of panic; where would we stay? What would we do? If one state’s evacuation filled hotels in four states, it has to be bad. Were we foolish for considering staying? Is it too late to leave now? Would we get out? Ultimately, we made a choice, that choice was to stay, and now we have to trust in our choice. My point in saying all of this is just to illustrate that it’s not as easy as it seems, there are so many factors that come into play.

It’s impossible to look away. Everywhere I turn, I’m reminded of the impending storm. It’s all the news can talk about, it’s everyone’s go-to small talk discussion, and my Facebook is flooded with shared articles (no pun intended). It honestly increases the anxiety for me more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be aware and updated for my safety, but every time I turn around, there’s a new article with a catchy headline telling me that I’m doomed. And, ironically, most people sharing these pleasant articles are people who are not in harm’s way. And I would like to add that I have made the mistake way too many times of reading the Facebook comments – everyone has an opinion, and it’s never reassuring or positive – it always feeds my panic.

I’ve been surprised by the number of people who have reached out to me. People I haven’t spoken to in years have sent messages and texts wishing us well, letting us know we are in their prayers, and hoping for our safety. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated these thoughts, and genuinely loved hearing them. At times, the texts were overwhelming. Remember what I just mentioned about not being able to look away? Every text is a reminder of what is to come; and knowing that they are texting because they are seeing your home on the news 1,500 miles away is scary. One night, I was flooded with so many messages that I felt I had to respond to that it was hard to prepare anything in the house. I feel so loved and supported, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, but sometimes the texts made the panic set in a little more. There were times I felt confident in our plan of action only to receive a text from someone 1,500 miles away begging us to leave the state.

Preparing for a hurricane is very surreal. You go to bed at night knowing that your bed might not be there in a number of days. Your whole house could be gone, and there’s nothing you can do except sit and wait. I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough – like I should be busy trying to get the F out of dodge. I should be scooping sandbags until my back breaks. I should be moving everything out of my apartment. And who knows – maybe I should be. But realistically, you do what you can, and then you kind of just wait, knowing something bad is coming. You still have to go to work, you still have responsibilities. It’s weird going on with your life as though everything is normal while you know something bad is going to happen just around the corner.

Everything is an emotional rollercoaster. This has probably been the biggest lesson of it all. One minute the models are in your favor – you think maybe you won’t have to evacuate, maybe you won’t even lose power. And the next second, it looks like shit is going to hit the fan and everyone is doomed. It’s hard because hurricanes change so much, and if you are paying attention to the news (and again, it’s hard to avoid!) your emotions follow the ups and the downs.

It is crazy to think about how crazy my life is compared to a week ago today. It’s a reminder of how fast life can change. Every day I’m learning and growing, and if this isn’t one heck of a Floridian initiation, then I don’t know what is!

“If a hurricane doesn’t leave you dead, it will make you strong. Don’t try to explain it, just nod your head. Breathe in, breathe out, move on.” – Jimmy Buffett

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