Along with the rest of the country, I've been heartsick looking at the damage in Texas from Harvey. Right now, people are in shock, but in the days and weeks to come, the reality that they've lost their homes, their belongings, and their communities will start to sink in.
I know at least a little of what that feels like.
In December of 2010, we were woken by the smoke detectors in our home screaming their alert. We fled a burning house at 5:30 am, in our pajamas and bare feet.
Standing in the cold New England morning, watching our house burn, watching the firefighters smash windows and knock the fire down, I was numb. At that moment, all I could think of was how close I came to losing my family and that's what sent me into a spiral of anxiety and depression that lasted over a year.
In that first week or so, I didn't have the time to fall apart. My husband had to go to work. Our sons had to go to school. I was consumed with the details of just surviving: finding a temporary apartment, getting us all a few days worth of clothing, finding winter coats and boots, dealing with the insurance company and getting the house boarded up so the winter weather wouldn't make the damage worse.
Everyone remarked about how calm and in control I was. How amazing a job I was doing keeping it all together.
Which was true as far as people could see.
Whenever I was alone, I would start to cry. It took me about 15 minutes in the car before any errand just to put myself back together.
And we had only lost our home - not our neighborhood or our support network. Our losses were covered by insurance and we knew we'd rebuild and move back. Our children had the structure of school and their friends. People around us were able to help.
We were lucky.
We were incredibly lucky.
And I still struggled to get through every day.
If I heard a siren or smelled smoke, I would have a full blown panic attack. It was almost a full year before that became manageable.
The people displaced by Hurricane Harvey are not only dealing with enormous personal loss, but the loss of their communities, networks, and structure. Schools won't open soon. Or houses of worship. or local government services. Even if they have the financial resources, they can't just go shopping to replace clothes because all the stores are flooded and closed. If they had a car, it's now drowned. Hell, just getting food is going to be difficult for some time to come. Need medicine? Out of luck. Pharmacies are closed and their computer systems likely down.
If you've never experienced a personal loss like this, it's hard to imagine the scope of the devastation and emotional gut-punch of it. I'm not sure how I would have gotten through our fire and its aftermath without the support of our community.
It took almost 10 months, but we got back in our rebuilt home. For most of the people in the hurricane, even if they have homeowners insurance, it doesn't cover flood damage. Whatever disaster relief funds there are, they won't cover everything and many of the displaced won't be able to afford the loans available. Or will fall prey to scammers once the rebuilding starts.
In the decade since Katrina, there are neighborhoods in Louisiana that have still not recovered.
So if you can donate to the recovery, please do so. And know that what we're seeing now is nowhere near the worst of what's to come. The destruction of the flood waters is a very visible reminder of the disaster, but what is more devastating is the emotional cost of these losses and that cost will continue to be paid by the people in Texas for years to come.