Flooding teaches Fargo psychologist new lessons about resilienceJackie Crawford and her husband, Don Smith, were forced out of their Fargo, N.D., home by Red River flooding in 1997. Crawford, a psychologist who is also a disaster mental health volunteer for the American Red Cross, shared her perspective on recovering from a flood in an e-mail to the News Tribune.
Jackie Crawford and her husband, Don Smith, were forced out of their Fargo, N.D., home by Red River flooding in 1997. Crawford, a psychologist who is also a disaster mental health volunteer for the American Red Cross, shared her perspective on recovering from a flood in an e-mail to the News Tribune.
What follows are excerpts from her e-mail:
It was 4 in the morning when we finally faced up to the hard fact that we had lost this battle. In the weeks after we boated away from our home, we lived in a motel along with several other flood survivors.
After you survive the flood you find ways to celebrate, joining with your friends and neighbors. For us, this began in the lobby of the Motel 6, sitting with others who had been flooded out of their homes, sharing our stories, no longer feeling alone. In my kitchen cabinet still sit two brown Motel 6 coffee mugs given to us by the motel staff when we finally moved home, four weeks later.
Because of this experience, I think disaster responders need to sit with people when they sit, work with people when they work and remind them that they are not superhuman. People will even forget they need to drink water, that they need to sleep.
After the flood and as time passes, some disillusionment may set in — things never work out as you think they are supposed to. When we boated away from our flooded house, it was in the wee hours of tax day, April 15. We had no extra clothes, much less tax records. It was frustrating to try to figure out the endless paperwork, decide where to even keep records when you had no idea how long you might have to live in temporary housing.
I don’t think we had it as hard as some, but I do know that my husband retired that year, 15 years early. I believe that the flood played a huge role in this and in other events for him.
As time moves on so do you, and you begin to come to terms with your losses. Over the months and years that followed this flood there are trigger events — things that happened that recall for me, sometimes quite vividly, my disaster experience.
When I was finally able to go back to work, some unfortunate and endlessly kind soul asked me how I was doing. I am not a chatty person, but it was 30 minutes later that I glanced at the clock behind this person and realized I had been talking with hardly a breath for the whole time. I was appalled but they were comforting.
In the next spring I grieved as the sun sparkled off the spring runoff in the ditches. I used to love seeing the crystal-clear water making its way, but now I only saw flooding. I was grateful at the same time that I knew this would pass and someday I would again be able to enjoy the sparkly water. I can tell you now, some 15 years later, that I do, but I also always remember the anxiety of flood. Anniversaries will trigger memories; for us tax time is a trigger.
Some people manage their recovery better than others, but we all find a way to survive. The question, then, seems to be not only how does a disaster (such as a flood) affect someone, but also what helps them to not just survive but to adapt to their new reality. I can tell you that I was mounds more effective at managing my own flood memories after I learned about resilience. I learned what to do to constructively adapt.
In subsequent times of flood I had to remind myself to put both hands on the steering wheel and watch the road and not let myself be freaked out by lines of dump trucks piling miles of dirt being piled up next to the road. I told my stories to those that knew what it was like to live through a flood. I talked to my family. I talked a great deal to lots of people, and this connected me to them and them to me. I was remembered and supported. I learned that I should not make major decisions if I was hungry or tired. Not taking care of my own basic needs meant my brain didn’t really work that all that well.
Finally, and most important, I had to answer my own questions of spirituality. Why had this happened? It was about two years before I could look at the new spot where our house sat and think it was a good thing it was there. At some point I knew that I had not only survived the flood but that I was stronger because of it.