Deliverance - Sort of

John McManamy Health Guide
  • "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." Genesis 8:22


    There are no winds. Firefighting air tankers are no longer grounded. They can make their drops. Nearly ten thousand firefighters are finally taking the offensive A fire north of us has been contained. A fire south of us is ten percent contained.


    Still, the news images are distressing. Moonscapes, leveled buildings, people in shock.


    I slept in my bed last night. Earlier in the day, we had a false evacuation alarm. I packed one bag and rounded up the one cat I could find. But first we double-checked by stopping in at a nearby ranger station. Our area, it turned out, was safe. My housemate and I coped with the stress by taking a long drive in the country, away from the fire areas, and grabbing a bite to eat.

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    The gratitude of having a home to return to, plus finding our second cat, was obliterated by a sudden and total energy drain. Whatever had been keeping me going these last several days wasn't there any more. My mood disorder was catching up to me, and I dealt with it by crawling under the covers. It's just a short depression, I kept telling myself, knowing I would soon cycle out of it.


    It's difficult to recall when you're not depressed what depression is like. Now I remember, I thought. Moreover, I now had a strong sense of how a good many people in Southern California must be feeling right now. The physical toll tells only half the story. The fires will go, rebuilding will start, the earth will regenerate, but the region where I live will be a psychological disaster area for some time to come. People who always thought they were normal will begin experiencing severe psychiatric symptoms for the first time. Depression, anxiety, trauma, mania, substance use, antisocial behavior. And on and on.


    A lot of us are resilient and will be okay. Others will go to pieces right away. A good many others may not feel the effects for another six months. This has been the pattern of other natural disasters. People fall apart, social and psychiatric services get overwhelmed. Ironically, they had been talking about these very things at a conference in San Diego just a month or two ago.


    Thank goodness, as a result of efficient evacuation, the death toll from these fires has been far less than the ones of four years ago. But no one has come up with a way to handle the immense psychological fall-out. People are still reeling from the fires of four years ago. Now this.


    I've been managing my illness now for nearly nine years. I've gotten pretty good at it, as have a lot of us. Ironically, we may be the least at-risk group from this disaster, psychologically speaking. Those unsuspecting others, though, won't know what hit them. They'll never see it coming. Those who have experienced mental illness first hand - people like us - may be in the best position to help. In the meantime, please spare a thought and a prayer.

Published On: October 25, 2007