By Joy Hinman
Late last month, rain and heavy snow melt in the mountains caused the rivers and creeks in southern Alberta to cut a wide swath of devastation along low lying areas in villages and cities. Floods washed out bridges, ruined roads and rail tracks; turned streets into rivers, flooded homes and businesses, left behind a heavy deposit of mud and debris. They cut a wider path – even for those not in the river valleys – by disrupting electricity, phone, internet, gas lines, water, and sewage services. For their own safety, thousands of people were evacuated – to find temporary shelter in community centers, school gyms, and homes of friends, family or strangers elsewhere.
The move was urgent and sudden. People left behind irreplaceable valuables, such as family photos, important papers and documents, and sometimes family pets. Once they were evacuated there was the stress of uncertainty and the long wait – When can I go home again? What will I find when I get back there? Will we be able to live in our house again? The wait for some folks has been over two weeks, before it was safe even to go back and assess the damages.
What is not so evident in the photos of the physical damage is what happens inside the human spirit. Many authorities call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) –similar to the effects on people in war zones. It is considered today as an assault on mental health.
Different flood victims reacted differently to the destruction.
Some were in shock, helpless or frustrated to the extreme. Others came through the worst of situations with a hopeful attitude, and even a sense of humor intact. The community came together to help! And, in coming together, everyone experienced not only relief but also improved well being.
A grocery store in the next town was flooded – waters reaching higher than they ever had before. The manager had sandbagged outside his store, as well as within. That action prevented his whole store from being flooded. The next day he and his wife said with conviction: “We’ll be open for business by next Monday.” And that’s how it was! Their business had given much to the community, and now when the flood waters receded, volunteers from the community worked long hours to clear mud inside and outside.
Volunteers in all communities sprang into action – motivated to help flood victims as shown in this inspiring article from canada.com.
While organizations like the Red Cross, civic and provincial governments organized much help, social media was also a powerful tool for people finding individuals or communities to help. Some came from a long distance to help people they did not know. What a boost to the mental wellbeing of those in the floods.
The Government of Alberta Health Services is reaching out to the community. It has put its mental health professional team out into the affected areas to help people with flood-related mental health issues.
Among helpful recommendations for recovery it suggests: Connect with family, friends, community. Accept what has changed. Look for the positive – including taking part in spiritual activities, socializing, or spending time in nature. Positive experiences can help you recover. When you feel appreciation or gratitude, your body responds and it is good for you.
They also remind people to remember that they are not alone.
PTSD is not inevitable. Some people stay “up“ in spite of it all.
A flooded neighbor lady said “It is not the flood waters that overwhelmed me. It is all the kindness and generosity of volunteers who are helping us. … Some brought heavy equipment to move mud, and some brought meals.” She has stayed calm. Her husband showed a remarkable spirit of humor. He said with a grin, “When this whole thing has settled down, I think I’ll call all the kids to have a scavenger hunt to see what we’ll find. Maybe we’ll find our antique table that got washed away with our shed. There’s all kinds of stuff down there in the woods now.”
These individuals are not under the flood. They’re on top of it! And the volunteers have helped keep them up. Once again it is proof of the “Golden Rule” in the Bible (also found in other sacred texts), where Jesus said to do unto others as you would have them do to you. A comment by Dr. Barry Wiser – a clinical psychologist in Nova Scotia — confirms what studies are finding out about the impact giving and doing good has on people “Humans evolved as compassionate creatures. Today, the tendency to be kind to others is wired into us. We’re all programmed to have the ability to be empathetic.” Wiser also said, “So we feel good when we do something for someone else, and our experiences will continue to shape that.” You can read the rest of his comments HERE
The volunteer motivation and action is good for the people caught in the floods, and it’s good for the health of the volunteers too.
Joy is a Christian Science practitioner of spiritual healing, & lives in Turner Valley, Alberta. You can find her on the “Contact Us” page.