Getting Back to Normal after a Disaster The Trauma after the Trauma by Ash Hodge

By anguillian November 27, 2017 12:16 Updated




Anguilla is a land of a million stories. Each person who was here for Irma has a few choice tales for anyone willing to listen. The renditions of what it was like depend on a number of things including where you were on the island at the time. I have heard of persons not boarding up and sustaining the great loss of a single pane of glass. On the other hand, the vast majority of us experienced the stuff of legends! We have stories so fantastic that I do suspect they will become unbelievable within a year or two.
What everyone would agree on is that Irma was a monster, a superstorm the likes of which the world had never seen before – that we took on the fiercest storm ever. I suggest a category 6 (and maybe 7) be introduced to describe mega gales like Irma.

What we also would agree on is that the obvious actions of opportunists caused more trauma after the trauma. Breaking into and looting homes and businesses, price gouging at stores, sudden increases in the prices of builders and contractors, rip offs disguised as relief, taking advantage of relief lines, other forms of extortion, and the abrupt mass termination of employment all contributed to, and extended, the crisis.
What some of us may not notice, however, is the trauma caused by the human factor in not-so-noticeable ways. We may not notice the effect that our words and actions may have on each other. How much do we really know about what the person next to us is going through? Often persons working in the same office, or even living in the same household, may not know what the other person is going through. The inner workings and responses of individuals are seldom seen by others, even those close to them. So the rule of thumb as we get back to normal: If it does not uplift don’t say or do it.

Picture these two scenarios:
1. Employee walks up to his boss the Tuesday following the storm and asks, “Good Morning, how did you manage with Irma?” The boss replied, “Can’t you see that I am blessed where ever I go? Where were you, we have been fully operational since Monday!”
2. In another organisation the employee walks up to his boss the Tuesday following the storm and asks the same question. His boss replied, “We got a little water in our house but not too much damage. We were lucky. I am glad to see you are ok. How did you manage during the storm?”
Both of these situations actually occurred. With a choice and without any other information, which would you prefer to have been in? The first boss either assumed that the employee was ok or could not care less if he was. In either case, there was no sign of concern or empathy for the employee. Needless to say, that conversation ended as quickly as it started (on the word ‘Monday!’). On the other hand, the second boss responded to the question then quickly opened up the dialogue to allow the employee to share his experiences. This boss offered a listening ear. He showed empathy and concern while he was listening which, I am sure, helped the employee’s morale.
Notwithstanding that the day after Irma everyone’s response to “how are you” was “I’m ok,” we must still all remember that we are going through a lot to get back to normal. And what’s normal for one may not be so for another. Trying to repair or replace lost property alone may be a road many can’t see the end of. And how do you place a value on sentiment? And what do you say to loved ones, especially children, when plans for that birthday, Christmas or other-important-event have to change? When the conveniences you once took for granted isn’t there and, in some cases, there is no guarantee will return in the near future? This list of questions is much longer. People are not ok! Don’t take people’s appearance for granted as they try to get back to normal. Many of us will have to adapt to a new normal.
Look for the signs of trauma that may linger for a long time. Experts agree that these would include Shock and disbelief – having a hard time accepting the reality of what happened; Fear – that the same thing will happen again, or that you’ll lose control or break down; Sadness; Helplessness and feeling vulnerable; Guilt – that you could have done more (do you know someone who is suddenly overspending?); Anger – you may be angry at God or others response after Irma; Shame or embarrassment – over feelings or fears you can’t control and especially when there is no support. This can relate to the situation persons find themselves in after the storm, especially regarding property; and Relief and hopefulness.

Specialists lists a number of physical symptoms of traumatic stress. They include the inability to sleep, feeling very tired, dreaming a lot and having nightmares, trembling or shaking, pounding heart, rapid breathing, feeling choked up, stomach tightening or churning, feeling dizzy or faint, cold sweats, and racing thoughts. People may also experience poor concentration, memory problems, difficulty thinking clearly, headaches, changes in appetite, and aches and pains. These are all normal responses that usually don’t go away if you don’t fight them. If they continue for a prolonged period of time, it may be a sign of something worse and the need for professional help.
So what can we do to assist the people around us at work (as employers or fellow employees), at home, or in our social circles? Here are a few tips that may be helpful:
• Give people time – it can take weeks or months for people to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it. They may need to grieve for whatever they have lost.
• Encourage them to come to terms with what happened – it is better to face the reality of what happened rather than wondering about what might have happened if…
• Be involved and show empathy – this may also help you to come to terms with what has happened.
• Show support – it can be a relief for the person to talk about what happened. They may need to ask supervisors, friends and family for the time to do this – at first they will probably not know what to say or do. Allow them to take things at a pace that they feel comfortable with. Support and understand if they get emotional, It’s natural and usually helpful.
• Allow people alone time – at times they may need to be alone or just with those close to them.
Now for a few things that you should not do:
• Don’t shut people up – strong feelings are natural. People should not feel embarrassed about them. Bottling them up can make them feel worse and can damage health. Let them talk about what has happened and how they feel.
• Don’t let them take on too much – being active can take our minds off what has happened, but people need time to think; to go over what happened so they can come to terms with it. Getting back to old routines will take some time.
• Don’t encourage drinking or drug use – alcohol or drugs can blot out painful memories for a while, but they will stop us from coming to terms with what has happened. They can also cause depression and other health problems.
• Don’t encourage the making of any major life changes – suggest that they try to put off any big decisions. Our judgement may not be at its best and we may make choices we later regret. Instead, encourage them to take advice only from ‘trusted people.’
• On the other hand, be slow to make judgements on the actions of others based upon the ‘narrow lens’ of our own life and experiences – remember, persons, even young people, had goals and aspirations before the disaster. Irma may have been the catalyst for them to act upon those aspirations (in spite of the above). If we cannot facilitate we should not obstruct. People have every right to decide their own destiny.

It has been well over two months since Irma visited us, maybe closer to three. In spite of the fantastic job by ANGLEC some of us remain without electricity. It is not cheap to run a generator – if you have a generator to run. And electricity alone may not be enough; getting back to normal will not be easy for many. To make it less unpleasant let us be more considerate, more empathetic, and more compassionate with our fellowmen and women. And don’t be surprised if a year from now a friend sucks his teeth just for saying hello. Don’t hold it against them; you may not know what they are going through.

Ash Hodge is currently Human Resources Manager at Social Security. He holds a Bachelors in Psychology and a Masters in Human Resources.

By anguillian November 27, 2017 12:16 Updated


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