When Panic Attacks by Chris

I thought I was done with panic attacks. It really has been months since I last had one. If I think on them hard enough I can still feel the remnants of the feelings, they linger in my mind and in my heart.

After a very full day of volunteering I received the following email.

“Dear Parents,”

I don’t know what the first paragraph said because I really just whizzed by it. Then there was a few more sentences.

“The school sustained extensive damage and will be under repair over the next few months. Worse case it could be December or January before we are able to reopen the center.”

Then the ringing in my ears started.

The only person left in the sanctuary was my new friend’s husband.

The tears started streaming down my face. My cheeks got hot. I put my hands on my knees and started doing my breathing exercises.

“Are you ok?”

“I should not have read this now, I have to go.”

I got in the car and my hands were shaking. Issa was with my mom and Bill was at work and the hyperventilation started. I called my good friend Thea.

“Issa’s school is going to be closed until December or January. I’m freaking out.”

“Come over now.”

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward their house. I was still hyperventilating and my face was soaked with warm, salty, tears. In retrospect I probably should have pulled over, but I felt like if I got to Thea’s, I would be ok.

I called Bill. He could hear the panic in my voice and immediately went into the super hero mode he goes to when this happens, he was ready to come home. I knew he had three trucks of hurricane relief supplies to unload and only 6 of his 27 person team showed up, because that’s what it’s like here now, so I told him no.

He stayed on the phone with me.

Through tears, and sobs and rapid breath I told him about the email, I had gotten through three or four stop lights and the tunnel vision started.

I really probably should have pulled over.

Instead I focused on Bill’s voice. He has a magic touch with his voice that helps me pull out of these things.

“That was the one stable thing. How do we tell Issa she’s lost another major part of her life? How do we do that to our child?”

I don’t really know what Bill said, but whatever it was, over the course of that 15 minute drive, he was able to pull me out of it.

The thing is, Issa going back to school was the lynch pin in my path to feeling better. I’ve been sad a lot lately. I’ve been just exhausted and overwhelmed. I’ve felt like I’m spinning my wheels with the house rebuild and with my work. I’ve often wanted to just check out, and that makes being mom hard, and often I don’t want to be mom and then I feel guilt about that. It’s vicious.

I’d spoken over and over with my therapist about her going back to school. We’d both agreed that having that structure and regular work schedule would be good for my and my brain. I’d already scheduled out work out days so I could get my body feeling better, which would also make me feel better mentally. I’d put new systems in place for meals and scheduling. It was all based on her going back to school.

One day a few weeks ago Issa’s therapist called me in after their session.

“That girl needs to go to school. You spend entirely too much time together.”

I completely and wholeheartedly agreed and we both decided that Issa going back to school would be exceptionally good for us both.

And now she won’t go back until December or January.

Cue panic attack.

Cue me realizing that not only did we loose our house and our dog and everything in February, but we also probably lost our original rebuilding schedule because contractors will be tied up. Insert me thinking about the high demand for drywall and that the price will probably go up with means all the totally out of our budget bids we’ve received will be even further out of our budget.

Cue me having to tell my kid that she has not only lost her house, her dog, her toys, every piece of clothing she’s ever owned, our home, her best friend, but now also her school.

Insert me with my eyes closed just slowly shanking my head.

I went to Thea’s house and calmed down. We talked about what we had all been doing since Harvey and all of their animals came up and loved on me. Then we started to talk about the mental stress this would have on the kids they teach.

This has been in my head since the start of it all. Every time I load a truck with supplies I wish I could load a certified therapist on the truck too, because mental health is just as important as physical health. And these area families, kids, moms, dads, grandmothers, who have lost everything, I know exactly where they are at, and it’s a long road both physically and mentally.

But this doesn’t only affect the people who’s houses flooded. It affects people’s businesses (both in the physical if they took on water and financial, because really all anyone is buying is cleaning supplies and food right now). It affects their neighborhood, their schools, everything.

Our house did not flood. This is great, but our doctors office is gutted and closed, our library “closed for the foreseeable future”, our therapists office took on water, Issa’s favorite restaurant is gone, the grocery store I shop at is gutted, my bank is gutted, countless friend and family have their ruined belongings and piles of their homes sitting by the curb. I’ve had people say, “thank God the waters didn’t get to you.” And yes, they didn’t reach my home, but they destroyed our every day life here. They got to us. We’re hurting right along side the folks who’s homes got flooded, we just have a somewhat familiar place to rest our head when we cry.

The effect is everywhere, the natural disasters you see in third world countries and everyone always says, “OH my how sad.” This is HERE, in our city. They’re calling it the largest natural disaster American has ever seen.

Clear skies, a county wide curfew, hearing chinooks overhead on the regular, loading supplies in army vehicles, restaurants and stores having odd shortened hours because of employee shortage, no school for who knows how long, restaurants being out of weird things like straws and ketchup, seeing insanely huge plies of debris and water logged personal belongings at curbs and flowing over into lawns, not certain if you will or will not have mail, amazon having no idea when 2-day delivery items will actually arrive, the overwhelming smell of rot and mold that flows through the air, checking in with family and friends to see if they’re ok/where they are living/who’s house they demoed today and if they had to take a boat to reach it, recognizing the look of exhaustion on everyone’s faces, morning our losses together (even with the stranger across the booth at IHOP), long lines at gas stations, the first question you ask someone when you meet them is “did you flood”, having to check routes because streets and highways are still flooded, seeing no one on the road at 1am, staying up to speed on where the mandatory evacuations are happening, water conservation efforts, chemical plant explosions, hugging and crying with strangers, knowing people are still being rescued by boat, having three different county commissioners personal cell phone numbers, husbands and wives working extended and non stop hours trying to repair and rebuild, being uncertain if we should really drain our bathtubs, holding our breath before the next rain, loving each other as a whole huge community, not knowing what day it is; for now this is our normal.

This is a disaster. This isn’t something you just bounce back from. It’s going to take time for us to get back to normal, and it won’t be the same normal but it will eventually be close. In the mean time lets continue to love each other, support each other and stand strong as a state. Even if the flood waters didn’t touch our home, we still mourn the loss for our city.

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