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How Chronic Illness Makes Me Feel Guilty in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

I am safe and dry. I have access to the supplies I need. My family made it through Hurricane Harvey with minimal discomfort.

I feel guilty. I feel relieved. I feel insufficient.

When I first realized Hurricane Harvey was an imminent threat, my first thought was, “I hope I can still have my surgery next Friday.” I have been planning and waiting for a minor procedure but one that certainly needs to be done as soon as possible. Scheduled for September 1, I am still unsure if weather and road conditions will allow for my doctor and I to make it to the hospital for my procedure. I then think to myself, “Who looks forward to surgery?” and “Am I ridiculous for being afraid a hurricane might ruin those plans?”


My brother’s main concern was that I have all necessary medications on hand to make it through the storm. Thankfully, I wasn’t near the end-of-month panic when it is too early to refill, but I may not have access to my pharmacy when I run out.

To prepare for my first hurricane experience, I spent Thursday researching and asking questions of my coworkers who have experienced this a few times. After work, I ran to get supplies like water, food, flashlights and a camping stove. Most items were purchased in preparation for not having clean water or electricity for a few days. Since I couldn’t find all the items I needed on Thursday, I ran out on Friday morning in a last attempt. I then slept through my weekend. The fatigue of running from store to store, carrying items heavier than I should be lifting and dealing with the chaos of a whole community doing the same thing at the same time was intense.

Since Friday evening, I have been mostly cooped up in my two-bedroom apartment. Hubby and I have been waiting for the storm to pass, continuously evaluating the situation, reassuring family and friends we are safe and watching as others lose everything. The emotional and mental exhaustion is a lot for me to handle but I remind myself this is nothing considering what could be.

While I was stuck at home due to conditions outside, I saw hundreds of volunteers helping those who needed rescue on my TV. I watched while others acted. I hate this. I was once a professional lifeguard and have the skills to help people in water emergencies but I no longer have the strength, energy or stamina to put those skills to use. I watched helplessly as my neighbors evacuated by boat, pleaded for someone to rescue families from their rooftops and gathered in shelters to love and support each other. Emotional stress began to weigh heavily on me. I watched from my clean, dry home. I watched and it ate me up inside.

Now, Hurricane Harvey has left the Houston area and my city has mobilized to start the recovery process. I would love to spend my time working in a shelter or helping others clean up after the mess Mr. Harvey made. But I can’t. I have learned time and time again that pushing myself to do more than the bare minimum I need to survive will push me into more fatigue, pain and frustration. Even if adrenaline pushes me through a few days or weeks (if I’m lucky), the aftermath would mean I can’t properly fulfill the duties of my job as a professional educator. It would mean several months of pain. It would mean I have another flare-up of chronic fatigue.

Even as I write this, I feel like a fraud. I question whether it is really that bad; maybe I’m making excuses. I constantly have to remind myself of what happened the last time I pushed my limits…and the time before that… I feel insufficient because I constantly question myself.

At this point, we are all doing what we can. I hope to coordinate resources for those returning to clean up their waterlogged homes – if I can. I send messages of comfort. I will support my students as they digest the impact of this event. I must accept that physically helping is no longer an ability I have; my new mission is love.

Hurricane Harvey, you have physically destroyed my city. You have proven that nature will have its way and humans can only prepare, help one another and rebuild. Hurricane Harvey, you can’t take our heart. You have only made our heart stronger. Houston is a place of love. Some will whole-heartedly rebuild structures. Some will serve those in need of food and shelter. I will use my tools of love and encouragement.

I am not insufficient because my city and nation have proven we will all work together, regardless of any individual’s situation. I just need to repeat this to myself about a million times and perhaps, just once, I will believe it.

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Thinkstock photo via Harvepino.

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