Houston, I Understand

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While this site is not really about current events1, I feel the need to talk about Hurricane Harvey in relation to personal events and mental health and illness. From my experience only. There’s plenty of coverage of the entirety of this horrid event elsewhere.

About five years ago I was living in a place hit by a hurricane. It was not of the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey, but it has some of the same characteristics- and those characteristics gave me an eerie and uncomfortable re-living of that situation. Essentially, both hurricanes stayed put over the spot they landed, circled back a bit and hit again. For the one I was hit by, it was mostly a tropical storm by the time it got to my house at the time. But categories of storms and types of storms don’t tell the whole picture.

My roof was ripped to shreds, and there were literal waterfalls coming in from the top through the upstairs, into the downstairs. “Waterfalls” is not hyperbole. Actual flooding outside was not an issue, but electricity was out for days.

Best of all, my anxiety medication (one which I will never use again- Xanax) ran out just then and my plans to refill were pushed back. Five days. If anyone knows benzodiazepines, they are not to be cut off cold turkey at all. I was on a small dosage, but daily for years. The withdrawals are hell. (Medication is something I will touch on much more in other articles, they are a Big Thing that needs to be discussed aside from this here situation. But I am setting a scene, in hopes of understanding some things that are not talked about too much in the hyper-gaudy newsflash coverage of storms like Harvey)

I have OCD (that’s obvious). I had it at its worst back then, as it was untreated. I was only being treated for Generalized Anxiety Disorder2 by throwing a benzodiazepine at me and letting me ride.

My OCD (to me), and mental illness in general (for everyone), was not a sexy topic- even in the space of the 24-hour, multi-channel media coverage of the events. And so it was never touched on.

Everyone hit hard by an event like a hurricane, tornado, earthquake can be considered to be equal in terms of effects. I am not about to say anyone has it worse or better, that is not the point here.

(Yes, I am aware this is a lengthy set-up)

It is important to note those with mental illness are often sent into a tailspin that is unlike anything I could put into words. The horrors involved are magnified in our heads. For my OCD, the extreme lack of control was enough (for the time being) to kill my ideas of any sort of higher power or good in this world. No matter how much people helped out, it was clear that this world is hell and a terrible place to live. I never considered anything in the realm of suicide- by now you should know my brain does not go there. But I felt that none of it- life- was worth it if this sort of thing could happen.

My house was turned into something worthless. I knew technically the roof could be fixed (I actually did not have the money at the time for the deductible.) But in my mind, the roof could not be fixed. Nothing could be “fixed” because “fixing” to someone with OCD is a permanent thing, or it is a worthless thing. We think in black and white.

If this hell could happen once, the fear will last a lifetime that it could happen again.

Add on top of that the hell of not having power. My life it set up a very specific way, and not having power disturbs that to no end. It still does, even during routine power outages. And now add on top of that the memories of the hurricane from five years ago, power outages now are even more hellish for me.

I have panic attacks when the power goes out. Both because of the memories, and because my thinking involves every possible negative eventuality. Did this power spike ruin my computer, which I need for work? Will I be able to go through my daily rituals and routines (the answer there is a clear “no.”)

And these disturbances are more than, well, disturbances. They are a layer of thought on top of an already horrendous situation- and I think they are not mentioned enough in the media and the wall-to-wall coverage of events like Harvey.

The hurricane I went through was, now that I look back on it, the trigger to a years-long downward spiral to rock bottom on many mental health issues I had. I eventually lost the house (the roof never did get fixed, and any rain was a waterfall for the remaining three years I was able to keep the house.) I gave up on the energy my OCD gave me and let everything go to shit. And while I would not solely blame this single hurricane, I would absolutely say it was a catalyst.

I can still smell the wet wood frame of the house. I still flinch when I hear the breaking news jingle on the radio. I remember hell. And I remember its long-term effects.

I don’t want to just make this about me3. But I do want people to realize that after the water clears in Houston and the surrounding areas, there are people who have most likely been triggered this week into a epic, life-altering falls that will last years- and only be downhill well into 2018, 2019, 2020, and maybe beyond. Because of what is happening today.

Those who are helping with immediate needs are golden. Some heroes (and I don’t use that term lightly.) Covering the event in the media is not a bad thing. The media sucks, but… let’s leave that out of this article.

But please think and note- understanding there may be nothing much you can do4– that those either with mental illness now or those with a propensity toward it, who are going through Hurricane Harvey, could be starting into something really bad. And years long. And they are not being heard from, because their issues are going to be long-term. And immediate sells in terms of “Bad.”

Unfortunately long-term, in the end, is worse. And it is beginning for some right as you read this.


1 Yet. I could find you all bored and change direction, ya know.

2 Ugh! Screw you all, psychiatry world! Generic diagnoses- again, for another article

3 As someone with OCD, I get enough of those complaints.

4 But you could try, and I have ideas on how.