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Rain, Rain Go Away!

Rain, Rain Go Away!

What to do if the past year feels too present.

A year has passed since the Baton Rouge area was devastated by flooding. In many ways, it seems like a lifetime ago and in others it seems like last week. Now, with many in the area having connections to loved ones in Houston and watching that area go through what we are all familiar with, emotions are running high for some of us. And today…even though Pat Shingleton says we will only have 3-6 inches of rain between now and Saturday, some of us are still a little on edge. I know I am!

It’s all a little too familiar. A little too close to home. Area men are loading up their boats and heading over. We are gathering supplies. We are doling out mold remediation advice. This is not something we want to be pros at. And yet we are.

If you’re feeling anxious or depressed (or both) today, you are not alone. If your coping strategies have given out on you (again), you are not the only one. Recently the Advocate posted this article about the ongoing mental health crisis in Louisiana as a result of the flood. So many are still actively needing support. Whatever was hard in your life before the flood got even harder after. Whatever happened this year that would have been hard anyway felt about 100x harder just because of the ongoing stress of the flood. I get it. I’ve lived it, too.

I evacuated from a block on St. Charles in New Orleans for Katrina and relocated to Baton Rouge (sorry for being part of the traffic problem in 2005!). Our home in Denham had 4.5 feet of water in it last year. My parents home in Walker flooded. And my brother’s house flooded last night in Houston. I know we’re not handing out prizes…but I get it, y’all.

The rules for staying stable remain in effect.

  • Deal with your own stuff first, then move on to “other” care.
    • This goes for physical issues as well as emotional.
    • If you’re not in a solid enough place, helping with others can be risky. Airplane rules apply here: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others put on theirs, or else no one will have what they need to keep going.
    • Engage in self-care. This doesn’t just mean getting a pedicure, although I’m sure no one will complain about that! Find some quiet space for yourself. Turn your phone off. Unplug. Do what fills your soul.
    • Mind your self-medicating choices (drinking, shopping, over-eating, binge watching TV, etc. etc.). These could get really dysfunctional, really quickly.
  • Be patient with those around you.
    • Tensions are still high (especially when it’s raining…rain is a trigger).
    • People are doing their best. We need the most connection and support when we are behave the worst.
    • Lead with empathy. Make molehills out of mountains instead of vice versa.
  • Stay connected with those who care about you.
    • People who are involved in the same mess you are and those on the outside. Sometimes it’s just good to talk about the Real Housewives of Dallas.
    • This includes God. Even when you’re mad and questioning why this keeps happening…he can take it.
    • Don’t isolate, even if you want to. If you already have, start back in with the person who you think will be happiest to see you and fix you supper.
  • Get outside support if necessary.
    • If you’re thinking, “wow…that was a tough year…I wonder if I should talk about it with someone?” Or, “I just feel like I should be doing better by now.” Or, “I do better for a while but every time it rains hard I get anxious.” Or something else along those lines…YES. Come in.
    • If you feel forgotten, worn out, over extended, pushed aside, in over your head…come in. We can’t make the flood go away, but we an redistribute some of the weight. There are no trophies for agonizingly slowly pulling yourself up by your water-logged boot straps.
    • The best thing I personally did this year to help me process our family’s flood experience was that I received some therapy called EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s really perfect for PTSD type issues, which this flood totally was for so many of us. I went from getting that sense of dread washing over me every time I thought about what we had endured to the automatic thought of “wow…I’ve really overcome some tough stuff!” and feeling proud of myself when I think about our flood story.
    • Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about EMDR. I completed my basic training in EMDR and my clients have been loving the process. It is very effective on a myriad of issues and I’ll write more about it on a later (dryer) date. But if you research it a bit and feel like it could be helpful to you, give me a call. I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker and I’d be glad to talk with you!

I am praying for our community today and for what’s happening in Houston. Being a human is hard! We are fragile creatures and we need each other so much. May God be merciful.

The Ongoing Gifts of the Flood of 2016

The flood gave and the flood took away.

Are you currently rebuilding your house? So many of us in the greater Baton Rouge area (my family included) are still waist deep in the process of rebuilding our flooded homes. We’re now six months post-flood…which in some ways seems like a lifetime ago but some aspects will always seem like they happened yesterday.

The Flood Gave.

At Spring Life Counseling, LLC I am still seeing a big influx of clients for whom the flood was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The flood waters either exacerbated pre-existing issues beyond people’s ability to cope, or it exposed issues that were hiding in the dark. People aren’t necessarily coming in to talk about the trauma of wading through the waters as much as how the flood has taxed them beyond their abilities to keep their marriages, their families or their own selves afloat.

Substance abuse, sexual addictions, anxiety, depression, debt, angry teens, codependency, memories of past traumas, intense marital arguments over the color of the paint (that are really about how one of you never really feels heard or respected)…you name it…the flood has exposed it. That is one of the gifts of the flood. For issues coming to the surface so that they can be addressed, I suppose we ought to be thankful, but while you’re in the midst of the muck, it’s really hard to see the silver lining.

The Flood Took Away.

Along with bringing some things to light, it also took away some things from us. It took away convenience. Security. Coping strategies. Jobs. Normalcy. A sense of home. The list goes on.

When things come to the light, it’s an immediate step towards health. It doesn’t feel good, but you’re better off for it. The next steps are crucial. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can be crucial in getting you from exposure of an issue or wound to walking through the healing process.

When things are taken away from us, we need to grieve them and seek to find a new sense of normalcy. It’s 6 months after but for many the process of dealing with the unexpected and unwanted gifts of the flood is still in the beginning stages.

The best thing you can do after a tragedy is to connect with others. Connection is the antidote for a lot of the wounds of trauma. There is no reason you have to walk through this season alone.

If you think you may need some help talking through some of the issues mentioned in this post, please contact me. I have offices in Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge.

For those who are interested, here is a post I wrote about how I’m praying for those of us affected by the flood.

The Great Flood of 2016: How We Get Through This

meadowlark

In the last few weeks, so much of what makes our lives “normal” in the greater Baton Rouge area has been smashed to a million tiny pieces. Everything…and I mean everything…has changed. Everything is hard. Nothing is right. It has stretched us beyond what most of us thought we could endure. This entire region has experienced a trauma the likes of which few have ever lived through.

Yet here we are. Here you sit using your phone, tablet or computer, reading this blog. Many of us have survived a reality that made our worst nightmares seem like a walk in the park. Yet here we are.

I began my therapy career in 2006 with a counseling practice called Counseling Services of New Orleans, Inc. My first clients to ever counsel were in the throes of “post-Katrina syndrome.” I, myself, had evacuated the rent house I shared with fellow graduate students off of Carondelet in the beautiful Garden District in NOLA. It was over a month before I was able to return home to see what few possessions I still had to my name. The next few years I spent burning up I-10, driving back and forth from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, finishing my masters program and seeing clients. Walking with people through the same trauma I experienced.

And here I am again.

Flooded. Broken. Mending. Seeking to offer empathy and to be a support for a painful situation that I feel oddly equipped to handle.

Since experience is the best teacher, here are some things I’ve learned from losing everything (twice) and through helping others walk through this process.

Time markers and clarity. For those of us who were around for Katrina, we have this simple way of categorizing our lives: before and after Katrina. There are very few events in life that drop such a big time marker down in the middle of your life like that. People may use that type of language after the death of an extremely close loved one, like a child or spouse, or if they came to faith late in life.  Now, we all will have this new time marker: pre and post flood.  The thing about these time markers is that they bring a lot of clarity. Not only does it order our lives chronologically, it also tends to clarify our priorities. Let this flood help you see your life through a simpler, clearer lens than ever before. Take it for the clean slate that it is meant to be.

Same problems, different day. If you were having difficulties in your marriage prior to the flood, you may have experienced a brief cooling of the tensions but that’s probably worn off by now and you’re arguing at levels that are bigger and worse than before. Whatever limits you’d run into with your parenting abilities before the flood, those are heightened now. Substance abuse problem that you were trying to “handle” before? The cat’s out of the bag now. Were you easily angered before? Angry at God before all this went down? Money management issues? Watch out, friend! Everything that was an issue before…let’s just say that the flood waters were flammable and the stress of this situation will light your issues on fire. You might have been “getting by” with some of these issues for a while, but by this point you’ve exceeded your capacity to handle it on your own. Come get some help. Let the flood be used to bring health and freedom into your life. Contact me because I’d love to walk with you through what is holding you back from the life you’ve always wanted.

New trauma brings up old trauma. When you experience a new trauma (for instance, having to be rescued by the Cajun Navy and taken to a make-shift shelter), you are often able to access other trauma memories that you typically attempt to not think about much. If your memories all live in the same building, trauma all lives on the same hallway. Once you’re in the hallway, you can typically access the other rooms as well, even if it’s difficult to do so on a regular day. So after Katrina, I’d meet with people who had experienced the hurricane and then remembered old sexual abuse from childhood. If you’re experiencing something like this, it’s totally normal and how your brain is designed to work, but you shouldn’t have to walk through that alone. I’d love to help.

Self-care. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” In a sprint, you just put your head down and do the thing. A marathon requires more strategy and refueling along the way. If you haven’t experienced this reality already, you will soon: you can’t just rebuild 24/7. There are set-backs, waiting periods, back orders, yes. But even if those frustrations weren’t in play, the process of rebuilding your home is so emotionally taxing that you must focus on self-care intermittently, or you will lose it. Lose your pleasant personality. Lose your cool. Lose your grip on what’s most important. Everything. We have to force ourselves to take time off from rebuilding every so often or else you won’t have what it takes to finish strong…in whatever way you’d define that. Even if your home didn’t flood, you need to take breaks in helping others, too. We all need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our kids, our spouses, our parents, our neighbors. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else for very long. A few months ago I wrote blogs on grieving well here and here. We are all grieving right now. Make sure you’re doing your best to process it well instead of numb the pain or suppress it. Also, if you just need a reminder of why and how to fight for joy, check out this old post as well.

Connection. Listen up because this is very important. The research indicates that the best way to battle the despair of a tragedy and to combat traumatic stress (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) is to refuse to go through the aftermath alone. Share your stories of how you got out of your house. Share the logistics and the emotions. Share your frustrations. Share your fears. Share the stuff that makes you wonder if you’re “crazy” to think. Share what’s keeping you up at night. Find someone you trust and force yourself to share. It is a safeguard to you emotionally and it is a safeguard to them as well. People need to know that they aren’t alone. People need to know that they are needed. If your home didn’t flood, don’t be afraid to ask questions and follow up when you’re able. Become awesome at listening with empathy. By sharing our stories, we connect in a real and tangible way, and do ourselves and each other a world of good for our bodies, minds and souls.

If you’re having a difficult time feeling like you’re managing your life following the flood, I’d really love to meet with you. I’ve been “here” before and I want to help see you through to the other side of this crisis. My Walker and Denham Springs offices have both flooded, but I have a new office on Old Hammond and I still have my mid-city office off Government Street. I’m offering a discount to those who have been directly impacted by the flooding, and I am still in-network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. In terms of reaching out for help, the sooner you do, the better. Don’t wait to get the support you need. Lots of people are having reactions that would be considered “abnormal” in our pre-flood world. But we’re all just responding the best we can to a totally abnormal situation. It’s ok not to be ok, but you don’t have to be there alone.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kimberly Meadowlark, Meadowlark Artistry: Faces of the Floodwater Collection.