“What has happened down here is the wind have changed
clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
rained real hard and rained for a real long time
six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline”
Most of the people we know here in Louisiana have heard those words… …but very few of us ever imagined seeing those words brought real. We innately recognize trauma as one of the emotional responses to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. There are all kinds of traumatic events, and one of the most significant types of trauma results from natural disasters like the floods we all have experienced recently in South Louisiana. These experiences are particularly treacherous because they traumatize large populations of people at once, and can result in epidemics of ‘Survivor Guilt’ and other PTSD symptoms.
Traumas from natural disasters are sudden and overwhelming. The most immediate, distinctive and understandable reaction to such a calamity is simply shock, which at first presents as numbness or denial. Quickly—or eventually—shock gives way to an overemotional state that often includes high levels of anxiety, guilt or depression. Which one of us spared water in our homes doesn’t feel just a little guilty…a little undeservedly fortunate?
Face it, we all know people lost their homes and/or loved ones. Survivors feel helpless; many previously prosperous families find themselves in shelters with little support from relatives or friends. This can go on for an extended period of time too. However, contact with other survivors offers a time to reconnect, talk about the event with others, and help to reframe the event. Being able to help another survivor reduces helplessness, and can start the healing process.
Natural disasters in particular can bring victims a feeling of being betrayed by “their God,” resulting in a temporary loss of faith. Making peace with “the Divine” is another step toward healing and regaining faith (which can be crucial to health). Simply expressing gratitude for your very survival and that of your loved ones is another way of beginning again.
Most coaches and psychologists agree the following are common symptoms of trauma:
- Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and depression are coming manifestations of this.
- Flashbacks: repeated and vivid memories of the event that lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating
- Confusion or difficulty making decisions
- Sleep or eating issues
- Fear that the emotional event will be repeated
- A change in interpersonal relationships skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and chest pain
It’s hard to predict which, if any, of these feeling will present with a survivor of an event like our flood. Some victims seem at first perfectly (or even abnormally) fine, only to be beset with symptoms later on. Acknowledge and validate their experiences… and listen…just listen.
Keep in mind, your friends and neighbors do not need to have experienced the disaster firsthand in order to be psychologically affected. For example, someone living in Baton Rouge, with relatives in Denham Springs, at the time of the flooding was surely subjected to countless hours of television coverage, coupled with an inability to get information about, or help to their own family. This type of situation can take a heavy emotional toll on someone even from across the country. How many of you have received calls or emails from friends in other states?
It’s very important with natural disaster trauma that the victims of the flooding give themselves time to heal and pass through an appropriate mourning process.
Only by processing the experience over a period of time appropriate for the individual is healing possible.