by Michele Maki, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
“It’s sinking in…what happened. I have no idea where we will live or what we will do, but I’m thankful my children are safe.”
Jocelyn Trotter of Garland, Texas shares the reality of what she and her family are facing following the disastrous tornado outbreak that hit her community and the surrounding area.
On Saturday evening, December 26, Trotter and her 13 year old daughter were at a local store when they heard the tornado warning. They immediately sought cover inside the store, knowing they could probably not get back home safely.
“I was so scared about what was happening, but I was also very worried about my son who was still at home. “
After the tornado passed, Trotter rushed home to find her home severely damaged. The doors and windows had been blown out and part of the roof was gone. “All I could think about was my son!” she said.
As she entered what was left of her home, she found her 15 year old son safe, but shaken. “He did the smart thing-he took shelter inside the bathroom. He’s safe, but I can’t imagine what he went through.”
“It’s important to take care of yourself following a trauma such as this,” explained Red Cross Mental Health Volunteer, Joyce Newsome. “But with children and teens, we need to be especially mindful. They may need additional reassurance.”
“I keep telling the kids, it’s going to be okay. We weren’t hurt and we’re together. That’s what’s important. I’m going to be watching them closely.” Trotter added, “The Red Cross has been wonderful in the help they’ve provided us. I know if I see my children struggling with this, they can help us through it.”
“We want folks who have been affected to know what we are here with trained, caring professionals who are ready to listen and help.” Newsome said.
Once the initial shock of a disaster has worn off, some may feel overwhelmed with the reality of what has happened. They may feel they have difficulties coping and may feel so distressed that it interferes with relationships and daily tasks. Some of these feelings are normal reactions to trauma. But, if they intensify or interfere with relationships or daily tasks, the Red Cross as a team of caring professionals who can help.
Thinking: A person may experience trouble concentrating, a preoccupation with the event, recurring dreams or nightmares. The event may bring back memories of past traumas and events or lead one to question their own spiritual beliefs. They may experience an inability to process the event, confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty problem solving.
Physical: One may experience headaches, fatigue, vague physical complaints with no apparent cause or their medical problems may seem to become worse.
Emotional: There may be intense feelings of sadness or depression, irritability, anger, resentfulness, feelings of hopelessness or despair and feelings of guilt. One may feel unsure about the future and feel fearful or experience anxiety.
Behavior: There may be changes in appetite, disturbances in sleep patterns, and withdraw from social activities or isolating themselves from friends or family. One may feel weepy and cry easily or become easily startled. Avoiding any reference to the tragedy or repeatedly talking about it-not being able to “turn if off” may happen. There may be increased conflict with family or friends.
Young children may experience all these reactions and need to be heard when expressing their fears. They too, may withdraw, or act out. Reassuring them that they are safe and are loved is important.
For teens, all these feelings may be more intense. They may feel self-conscious about their emotional reactions, and may appear indifferent to the event. Teens may want to be with their friends all the time or may withdraw from them and experience changes in their relationships. Performance in school may suffer, but this is usually only temporary. They may have difficulty sitting still-feeling they need to be moving and on the go more. Teens may feel more intense anger, become highly self-critical or reactive to “authority”.
All these feelings and reactions to traumatic events are normal. It takes time for these emotions and feelings to get better. But if they don’t or if they intensify ask for help. The American Red Cross has trained professionals on hand to help you through this. You aren’t alone. Things will get better, and we are here to help.