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Experts help residents cope with post traumatic ‘flood’ disorder

Kaila ContrerasMay 23, 2019

While the floods have receded and physical repairs are nearly complete, several residents are dealing with mental concerns in the aftermath of Harvey and subsequent storms.

Mental health experts held a “Rainxiety” meeting at the Kingwood Community Center on Tuesday to help those who were affected by rain storms in early May and others who may still be dealing with their mental health post-Hurricane Harvey.

Ranxiety came on the heels of an Humble ISD event titled “Are you worried when it rains?” that was held on Monday. Area officials are worried for Lake Houston area resident’s mental health in preperation for Hurricane Season, which begins June 1.

Dee Wall, a local hypnotist and life coach, and Marty Lerman, who serves as clinical director and licensed supervisor of Allied Mental Health held the Rainxiety event to give residents additional tools to help them cope with any mental stress.

“I don’t think anyone was ready for what Harvey did,” Lerman said. “At the time we are experiencing (trauma), we are going into the Twilight Zone. We don’t know what’s going on. We lose our sense of balance. We lose our sense of orientation. We get into a mode of survival, and we’re left with our own ability to make sense of what we’re experiencing. And our brain is telling us something that we can’t make sense of.”

Processing traumas

Lerman said it takes the brain three-fourths of a second to react to something. When one is presented with a traumatic situation, the three-fourths of a second the brain needs to process information gets diverted because stress doesn’t let the brain properly process, which causes people to panic.

“We’re talking about how we process normal day-to-day living and like that you can get into a panic situation,” Lerman. “When it happens twice with the flooding from Harvey and all of a sudden we’re getting high waters again in (May); for a lot of people that didn’t flood from Harvey but did flood from this last one the fear gets in there because you can’t control it.”

If left untreated, Lerman said stress can affect one’s physical health with ailments, such as headaches, fingernail biting, high blood pressure and ulcers.

Wall added to Lerman’s statement by saying everyone is going to experience trauma.

“What seems like a small thing to one kid will be a really big deal to another kid, and the same thing from person to person,” Wall said. “I’m not here to decide one trauma is worse than the other trauma, because to everyone their trauma is what matters.”

Wall shared a personal traumatic experience that involved her daughter who was in California when wildfires broke out across the state in November.

At the time Wall said all she could do was take a deep breath to calm herself down since her daughter was far away and the situation was outside of her control.

“It’s very easy to go back into those (traumas) and to have them take you over,” Wall said. “That was a horrible time (for me), and it wasn’t that long ago. Anytime we see trauma with another human being, we are in trauma as well. At subconscious level, we are reading microexpressions, we are feeling what they’re feeling.”

During Harvey, Lerman said he received between 300 and 400 calls from people who needed someone to talk with. Wall said her clientele also increased as some people simply wanted to forget the traumatic flood experience through hypnosis.

Residents relive Harvey

Several residents who were in attendance wanted to gain insight into how they can help their loved ones deal with their flood PTSD or how they can cope themselves. Several of the ones who attended Rainxiety found it to be useful because some people don’t know how to talk about their weather-related stress or have an event such as this for them to open up and let others know what they’re dealing with.

Resident Carol Nagel said she didn’t know about the Rainxiety meeting until she saw the announcement outside of the Kingwood Community Center just hours before.

She said she didn’t flood from Harvey but she lost her car during the recent recent rain storms in May. Nagel was trying to get to her home when the waters rose in Kingwood and she was stuck there for hours until someone came and helped her.

Nagel said that experience left such a big impression on her that she started reliving it in her dreams.

Continuing to rebuild

Resident Arianda Hicks said she has been flooded several times. At one point she had 13 feet of water in her Humble-area home. The stress of seeing the rising waters and having to continuously rebuild her home has caused her some mental stress. She said she attended Rainxiety to pick up on some additional methods she can use that can ease her stress on top of the other methods she has been using.

Hicks said her anxiety has gotten so bad that she sees things through the “lens” of determining if it can get easily flooded.

“When people just say (Harvey) happened almost two years ago, you can’t minimize it, not that impact,” Hicks said. … “It’s crazy how you think differently when you go through something like that.”

For those seeking mental help, call Allied Mental Health at 281-812-3322 or call Dee Wall at 281-723-7989.

kaila.contreras@chron.com

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