Memories of past floods stirred by prolonged rains
Last week’s weather may not have caused the flood damage of previous years, but for those who lived through the 2013 floods in southern Alberta, the psychological effects linger.
This week’s weather may not have caused the damage caused by previous years’ floods, but for those who lived through the 2013 floods in southern Alberta, the psychological effects linger.
The effects of flooding on mental health manifest themselves in many ways, and sometimes all it takes is prolonged rains or even simple weather warnings to trigger anxiety and even PTSD.
The elderly, children, people living alone or those already dealing with stressful life events remain particularly vulnerable, according to a study in Scotland of the long-term effects of major floods.
When long periods of rain arrive at this time of year, anxiety can rise as relentlessly as the water table.
In Redwood Meadows, Bruce Docherty got up in the middle of the night amid the weather warning calling for the heaviest rains of the past week to find his 14-year-old son in the hallway, asking him if he was going to get out. .
“He was just kind of standing there. The rain was falling very hard and he was freaking out,” Docherty said. “He knows what problems we went through with the previous flood and he is very worried.”
Docherty said he tried to reassure his son that they were fine.
The prolonged heavy rains affected Docherty himself. He was already awake due to stress from his own memories of 2013, when the basement he had just finished remodeling was swept away by the rising water table.
“It definitely triggers anxiety and you lose sleep over it,” he said.
He works from home as an engineer and now has his office in the basement, but has not pursued other planned renovations there.
Although his cesspool was dry the day after the heaviest bout of recent rains, he said he couldn’t fully relax due to memories of 2013.
“In 2013 when the sun came up, that’s when the water rose higher, and that’s what I had planned this time – I thought it was too weird that we’re dry,” he said. “Something is going to happen here.
“It escapes you,” he added.
He said children don’t get their news like their parents and the scare propaganda on social media doesn’t help.
Alison Mazur, Cochrane Mental Health Therapist, explains that one of the things parents can do to help children deal with stress in situations like this is to limit their access to media – social or otherwise.
“Limiting their exposure to the media would of course be a good thing,” she said, adding that reassurance was essential.
During the 2013 flood, she had a client in Bragg Creek who was afraid of rising water. Mazur’s advice involved a lot of positive reinforcement.
“You have to say, ‘No matter what’s going on, I can understand this, I can handle it,'” she said.
Mazur advises people struggling with memories of past trauma to talk to others about how they feel and focus on other things.
“Relaxation methods too, whether it’s exercising, having a cup of tea, talking with friends,” she said.
Cochrane psychotherapist Sheena Shilton practices trauma therapy. When dealing with what she calls anticipatory anxiety related to past events, the best thing to do is to be honest with children and learn from the past.
“Put in things that didn’t exist before. So do we have the things we need to be able to go out, and also everyone knows what the plan is,” she said.
“The most important thing is to validate their concerns. This is an opportunity for an open conversation. Tell them we’re just being careful right now — and choose your words carefully.
Having a little backpack full of trinkets can go a long way for kids, and coping skills create calm.
“You can say, ‘Hey son, if we have to leave, wouldn’t it be better to pack your suitcase just in case? Take your most prized possessions, put them in a bag,” Shilton said.
For people without children who may experience anxiety, the advice is a little different.
The fear of the unknown will always be there, but there are mechanisms to minimize this.
“We can alleviate some anxiety in any demographic. Things like, we’ve been through this before, we kind of know what to expect. If I have to leave, what do I take? If we have to go, how long do we have to prepare to go? ” she says.
Just having those ideas orchestrated helps, according to Shilton.
In 2013, Docherty’s wife Shawna and their two young boys were evacuated and ended up staying in a trailer with relatives until they were allowed to return home.
What they found upon their return was traumatic. Docherty had just finished installing new flooring and walls on the ground floor, all of which had to be ripped out after rising groundwater overwhelmed the sump pump.
Their neighbors suffered similar property damage, and in the days that followed, impromptu work crews of families, neighbors and friends went house to house in their cul-de-sac, carrying carpet wet, ripping out swollen hardwood and throwing boxes of spoiled memories.
The family opposite moved in stride.
For Docherty, memories are hard. The flood of 2013, it seems, has become the flood of memories.