(The original version of this blog was written after Superstorm Sandy. It was a narrative of the events of the storm and the many feelings that were going on. The original was “written’ in my head at 5AM one day as I was hoping and praying to go back to sleep. Making a decision to not get up and write this at 5am in a house void of power and heat would have made a long day, longer. For people in new york, Hoboken, South Jersey and theJersey Shore, Sandy has been nothing but longer days. Although it makes me feel guilty for writing about my lost power and lost heat, these are my reflections and recollections of the “lost week”)
As everyone knows the date of October 29, 2012 will always be with us as the date that Superstorm Sandy (SSS)decimated much o fNJ, created havoc, chaos and unforeseen damage. Sss for people in northern NJ was a long drawn out process creating anticipation and anxiety. The beginnings of the stages of grief started that Monday,–there was denial—“they don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re always wrong”. As the storm progressed there was bargaining “ok the people in NY and in the shore, they’re getting it bad, maybe we’ll just have some rain and a little wind.” There was more denial, more bargaining and then darkness.
The darkness was the onset of many of the feelings we began to feel. Here are some of them;
1)anxiety, boredom, isolation
The darkness brought anticipatory anxiety– When will the power come back? How long will this last? Is there some place to go? The anxiety gave us ultimate powerlessness. We lacked control. Most people are used to structure, control, and predictability in their lives. When the rug gets pulled on these, you get lots of anxiety. This anxiety for many had physiological symptoms which made the anxiety worse. The worsening anxiety led to a decrease in functioning which made for a very bad time. In addition to anxiety, there was an increase in isolation. In the state of emergency that we were in, staying in was the only safe option. However, staying home in cold and dark homes increased the isolation, anxiety, and boredom. Once the state of emergency lifted, the gas crisis hit. The anxiety and isolation were multiplied because people were afraid to go far, fearful of having to be either without gas, or waiting on monster gas lines. So the alternative was to stay home. Staying in the dark and cold also increased our boredom. The boredom increased once 5pm happened since it was darker. The draining of energy due to anxiety, isolation and boredom became a new stressor due to the monotony of life.
2) anger, depression
As the days went on, people’s anger and frustration increased. JCP&L became an easy target. they were the bad guys, they messed up, how could they have dropped the ball again-after Hurricane Irene just one year earlier? Some of us vented this anger at JCP&L customer service reps(sorry) who were overmatched and underinformed.
People began to run out of gas for their generators and cars and searched for gas. People lined up for hours, at times based on only a rumor that a particular station would open. Other people started their search in the early morning trying to avoid the lines. Others sojourned to Pennsylvania where there was less impact by sss. Gas lines brought out the worst in people. There were fist fights, arguments, and more expressions of people’s total lack of control and ultimate panic.
Our lack of electrical power, left our electronic devices as a nice pieces of plastic with little value beyond that. Charging stations opened in all communities and although this should have increased hope, and decreased isolation, it actually increased frustration, anger and depression.
In addition, people spent a good amount of time at home avoiding gas lines, and seemingly increasing their safety and security. However, As the week went on, family members spent way too much time together. This caused frustration and tension and many conflicts within couples and families.
As bad as the anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, and isolation were, oddly, there were also positive things that happened as a result of the storm.
3) increased family connections
Family members talked and talked and talked. There were no technological distractions. People could share stories, events, and history of things that were rarely talked about. Kids played board(bored) games and cards. Some turned the experience into a camping trip using fireplaces and having that “roughing it” experience of camping.
4) people were nicer
As much as some people were short tempered, there was also a sense of community—we were all in this together. Everyone was compassionate about other people’s struggles. We wanted to listen to their stories about lack of power, heat, and water. In one local bagel place, it sounded like group therapy, with everyone sharing their particular issue. In addition, I heard many stories of neighbors helping neighbors with food, gas, tree cutting, running electrical extensions to generators. In the nicest and weirdest story, absolute strangers joining the cause to help others
5) people utilized skills that they typically wouldn’t
Many people used all of their “handy man skills”, especially when typically they don’t use them. Trees got cut, people rigged up ways to continue to survive. For me, I did the unthinkable, I waited on lines. I have a well know “line allergy”. I do not stand on checkout lines. In fact, I hardly go to stores. However in sss, I gratefully sat on a gas line, stood on line at dunkin donuts, waited for a table at a restaurant. I think this metamorphosis of my personality was in part due to a lack of things to do. Since I was unable to work due to the lack of power, these tasks became my new work. My goal for the day—get gas-check. Need warm beverages and food-check. Necessity and survival allow people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
The stages of grief—(denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) were all the stages we went through with sss. It was strange when acceptance occurred—all the energy used to fight the difficult feelings went away. It just was a situation that would eventually have an end, And it did. One month later we are all changed in some way by this storm. As 2012 comes to an end for us northern NJ people, we will think about our pain and hopefully be grateful that it’s over. In the other local areas, it will be a long time until their nightmare ends.
I usually associate many memories with music. Many of these songs are storm related, so it will take a while before people hear the following songs in quite the same way:
This one, however, captures my exact feelings and is the one I’ll hold onto for a long time:
Hope all of you have recovered from the storm. Please share your storm experiences.