As someone with generalized anxiety disorder, it doesn't take a natural disaster to cause my heart to race or my head to become overcrowded with thoughts and worries — it can happen when I simply wake up in the middle of the night or I have to make a phone call. But when a natural disaster does happen (especially a record-breaking, historical one), yeah, my anxiety spirals out of control.
I live in Texas, and the week after Valentine's Day, we had an unprecedented winter storm that left millions of people without power and water. Some even died. Parents were separated from their children, people were without food, and I lost contact with some friends and family members for several days because they had no electricity. People are now protesting the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for its part in not protecting Texans against this brutal storm.
I fared better than many other Texans, but the uncertainty surrounding my friends and family combined with having to work and take care of my kids and house was . . . a lot. I felt totally drained and burned out, and my anxiety skyrocketed. Even now that it has warmed up (it was almost 70 degrees last weekend), I'm still waiting for the anxiety to ease.
Remembering the winter storm is hard. At first, it was fun. It started snowing on Valentine's Day, filling my husband, my two kids, and me with delight. We played in the flurries, drank hot chocolate, and went sledding on cardboard box lids in the driveway. (We don't have real sleds, as it almost never snows in Texas.) By that afternoon, news stations were calling it a "once in a generation winter weather event," with every county in Texas being under a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service. But it wasn't until the next day that we really saw how bad it could get.
My parents' house was without power for several days off and on, meaning they couldn't cook anything or get heat. We didn't hear from my brother's family very often — or my elderly grandmother, whom they live with — as they had no cell service. We experienced rolling power outages and had our water faucets dripping to try to keep our pipes from freezing. My mom had to navigate snowy roads to get to the hospital for a surgery to remove a breast cancer tumor. If that wasn't enough to deal with, my husband and I both had to work throughout this time.
I worked until I collapsed, going to bed in multiple layers, hoping the power would stay on all night so my two toddlers wouldn't wake up freezing.
After checking in on me, one of my Texas-based editors told me with compassion, "Deadlines don't stop." I knew I couldn't complain — I was lucky to still be able to eat hot food most of the time and earn a paycheck, although we lost hot water and couldn't shower for several days. Yet it was hard to focus on work. As the snow fell outside and the power went off and on, I was connecting my computer to my phone's hotspot to continue working in the dark. We charged our electronics with portable chargers and car chargers, as I worked by candlelight. It was an experience that definitely made me feel closer to writers who had to work before electricity! But it was exhausting. I worked until I collapsed, going to bed in multiple layers, hoping the power would stay on all night so my two toddlers wouldn't wake up freezing. Panic attacks happened regularly, as did trouble sleeping, stress acne, and overall feelings of despair.
We got through it, the snow melted, the hot water kicked back in, the outages stopped for good — and we even found time to have a little fun in all that snow. But I was left a little broken and worn out, especially because I didn't have a way to relieve stress or care for my mental health during the storm (taking a long, hot bath or binge-watching Gilmore Girls wasn't happening). Right now, I'm still trying to make my mental health a priority. I'm doing my best to read more, go to bed early, take some time off, go outside and enjoy nature for a while, and check on my family and community who had it worse than I did to see how I can help others — and myself — heal from this trying time.
After the snow and ice came a few days of beautiful weather, followed by several days of severe thunderstorms that left us scared of losing power once again. (We didn't, but it still felt like the nightmare of the past sneaking up on us again.) As we head into spring, I'm trying to show myself grace when everything feels like too much to handle. But unfortunately, my mental health is more delicate than the plants outside, which have already bounced back after spending a week buried in snow — and I'm still trying to figure out how to recover and relax once again. All I can do is take it one day at a time.