Key tips for maintaining your sanity directly after a disaster, specific ways you can help loved ones and how to back off gracefully when help isn’t needed.
This particular post has been a hard one to write. I in no way want to appear ungrateful for the help I received after the fire. Friends, family and complete strangers immediately mobilized and came to our rescue. Thanks to the immediacy of the Internet, people around the world knew what we were going through and wanted to help. Unfortunately, attempts to help were not always helpful and I was too shellshocked to know what it was that we needed when people asked. If only I had had dirty laundry for them to do.
Limit Your Digital Exposure
For a week after the disaster, I spent approximately 12 hours a day on my phone, fielding phone calls, getting news, answering Facebook messages and texting people. This was exhausting, unproductive and in retrospect, actually made things way worse than they would have been otherwise. Once it was established that we were all alive and had evacuated safely, responding to texts such as “How are you holding up?” from people I hadn’t spoken to in six years needed to stop. Some people sent me pictures from the news of my house burning to the ground, which sent me into an incredible spiral of grief. Others seemed to get angry if I didn’t respond directly and immediately, not knowing that I was at the Disaster Relief Center dealing with not only my insurance adjuster, but FEMA, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Regional Center, the Small Business Administration, the electric company, AT&T and various other agencies—all while using the five whole hours of respite care I had been able to line up so someone could stay with the children. I needed to take the time immediately after the fire to make sure the base of our pyramid was stable: our basic human physiological need for shelter, food, water and some semblance of stability. Instead, I spent it looking for a way to charge my phone. I estimate this sojourn into digital oblivion added three months to the time it took me to heal from the initial shock of the fire.
Rebuild a Solid Foundation
When helping others, or dealing with a disaster yourself, it’s important to really take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into consideration. When choosing donations, or ways to help, be realistic about what stage the person is in at the moment. Someone who does not have their immediate physiological needs met will not be able to appreciate attempts to fulfill their esteem or self-actualization needs. The needs at the bottom of the pyramid must be met first.
By day three or four, donations from all over the world started to pour in. Unfortunately, the opportunistic thieves came out to play, too. Someone friended me on Facebook, set up a GoFundMe account in my name and proceeded to try and steal our donations by requesting the money from GoFundMe by check. It was only because of the gut-feeling and quick reaction of one of my Facebook friends that we managed to recover the money at all. I spent approximately 25 hours on this problem while my son was recovering from emergency surgery and we were sleeping on the floor. GoFundMe immediately deleted the account, which meant that to this day, I still have no idea who donated and I have no way to thank them. Which leads me to the next Survival Tip:
Survival Tip #4
Appoint someone you trust in another geographical location to be your wingman.
With any luck, this is the same person you sent copies of your important documents to. If it isn’t, make sure they have what they need to act as your “administrative assistant” in case of an emergency—and make sure they’re up to the job. Reach out to that person right now and say the following:
“I have appointed you as my Facebook Legacy person. If anything ever happens to me, you can log into my account and tell people what’s going on. If anything ever happens to warrant setting up an emergency GoFundMe account, I would like for you to be the one to do it. Here is my bank account information. I would like for you to help me disseminate information to people that care about me so that I can rest, heal and try to recover.”
Think of it as a digital, living next-of-kin. If you have appointed a wingman, you will only need to give them updates. They can let others know how you’re doing and tell them what it is you need. If they’re in a separate geographical location, chances are the same disaster has not physically affected them. Choose someone reliable, level-headed, trustworthy and computer-savvy enough to set up new accounts.
It’s Not About You
If someone you know has recently been through a disaster, natural or otherwise, and you know for certain that they are conscious and alive, please consider changing what you expect from them in terms of communication. If it has been more than six months since you have seen them in person and/or you are not immediate family, please do not take it personally or get angry if they don’t get back to you right away. Yes, we know you’re worried and yes, we know they most definitely need help. Instead of trying to coordinate efforts with the victim directly, you can try to get in touch with their wingman. If you do text (and I am in no way telling you not to) starting the message with the words, “I don’t expect a response” lets them know that someone is thinking of them but doesn’t make them feel pressured. If you have physical things to donate, please take into consideration that someone may not want or need your donation right away, or that it may actually complicate their experience when all you’re trying to do is help. If someone cannot honestly answer you when you ask what they need, then they need cash and a good night’s rest. Many of my friends coordinated efforts on Facebook, got the basic news and waited for contact from me. Since they weren’t able to be there in person, this was the best thing they could have done. Besides donating money. Which they also did. And I’m still waiting to be able to thank them.
Your homework for tonight is to appoint a wingman. Have an honest conversation with them about what you might need and make sure they’re up to the task. Offer to act as their wingman, should the need arise. The sense of security you’ll get from knowing that someone you trust has your back—and your passwords—is huge.
I no longer have a GoFundMe account (or a job) and this blog is expensive to maintain. If you would like to contribute to my recovery fund, please consider making a $4 donation. In exchange you’ll get a copy of the recipe for Magical and Multipurpose Paleo and Primal Dough. Thank you for your support.
Connect With Me On Instagram