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Living Through Hurricane Maria With Depression and Anxiety

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First, you get ready. You battle your way through supermarkets and stores trying to find the provisions you think you’ll need. Next, you stay informed. You might watch the news reports more often than you usually would. Third, you wait. You try to get ready for what’s to come your way. Because I live in Puerto Rico, this isn’t my first storm. My little island is very active during storm season, so we get the occasional tropical storm or the more daring hurricane. Every season, we get the watches or warnings and we wait to see if we get hit. The weather is a fickle thing. But even though we get ready for every storm or hurricane, nothing could’ve prepared us for the direct hit of a category five hurricane.

Hurricane Maria came about a week after Hurricane Irma, which had done moderate damage to some areas of the island. We were fragile and thoroughly unprepared for a hurricane that caused such devastating damages.

I remember the night of the storm — the power went out around 2 a.m. and I got ready for one of the longest nights of my life. Throughout the night, the wind howled louder than I had ever heard before. It truly sounded like a beast was roaming the streets in the cover of the night.  While I felt relatively safe in my apartment, I feared for the safety of others. Sleep was impossible with such a force of nature going over us.

Living with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety made the days prior to the storm difficult because it was really anyone’s guess at how bad the storm would be. Uncertainty is a big trigger for my anxiety and while I did my best to get ready, I was still very worried. I was hoping that like with Hurricane Irma, I would be back to work the next weekend and my life would be back to normal in a couple of days since I didn’t experience any damages. But I had no such luck this time — the storm was devastating as it crossed the island from one end to the other.

As most people on the island, I experienced some damages. I woke up from a nap to find that my apartment had completely flooded. My heart was beating hard as I looked around me and saw the floor covered with water and mud. I was surprised I had been hit with a flash flood since I don’t live in a flood prone area at all. However, when the unexpected happened, my anxiety got the better of me and I just stood there and cried.

I knew then like I know now that the important thing is I was alive and healthy, as were my pets, but I couldn’t help to mourn the things I lost. It was disheartening and I could see a long road ahead of me to get back to normal. For days on end, the future looked bleak. There was no communication, cellphone service, internet, news, etc. There was only one radio station that managed to stay on the air after the storm and every night, we huddled around a battery operated radio and listened to whatever news we could get.

The lack of information was about the worst things about the aftermath of the storm. Nobody knew how their family members, friends, etc, had fared. There was no way to communicate with anybody. The atmosphere was filled with worry and desperation. The anxiety was overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to be very lucky. I had made it past that horrible storm practically unscathed while many people lost their lives, their livelihoods and their homes.

A couple of days after the storm, I braved the elements and traveled a couple of towns over to check up on my mother and sister. Even though my mom and I don’t always get along, I was sick with worry. The drive over was very dangerous as there were trees and debris blocking most of the roads. Trees torn out from their roots lay on the middle of the interstate. 40 minutes and many obstacles later, I arrived at my mom’s house.

When she saw me she started crying.  She hugged me while I tried to keep my own tears at bay. There is really no way I can explain seeing somebody you love after an event like the one we all lived through. You feel raw and grateful and you can finally breathe easier knowing that person is alive and healthy. She cried because she was finally sure I was safe. She also cried because she lost most of her belongings in the storm. I think the point of this story is to explain how truly heart-wrenching, depressing and triggering a crisis can be. The depression I carry with me has worsened considerably. My mood is very low, I feel fatigued most of the time and even as I write this, I can feel my chest tightening and my anxiety getting the better of me. Living through the aftermath is exhausting at best.

Now that I can see the news, I see the devastation throughout my island, my home, my people and it hurts. It hurts to see them hurting too. It hurts to know that more than three weeks after the storm there are people that are still waiting for help. They are still waiting for water, food and supplies because they lost everything they had. Three weeks later and we’re still just getting back on our feet. Communications and cellphones are still mostly out. Most people don’t have electricity or running water. Food is scarce. People are getting sick. And the worst part is that I don’t know how long it will take for this to get better. This is unprecedented for us. And every day we keep hoping for progress, we keep waiting for good things, while walking into the great unknown.

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Originally published: October 17, 2017
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