Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Feelings You're Feeling - part 2 to Sandy Survivors and all survivors of tragedy

The feelings you’re feeling

As people outside of the affected areas of Sandy move further and further away from the event, you are still reeling with emotion. I thought it was the beginning of the end of the world when Katrina hit. I had evacuated to my sister’s home. She lives in the country and has a lot of land. Most people would think I would have felt safe and peaceful. I felt alone and desperate. I remember a couple of days after the storm, a man came to my sister’s home and was talking about how the state of Alabama was going to experience a black out because something important that we needed to power the state had been damaged by the storm. I remember my sister kept looking at me. I know now that she was more worried about the fact that I was hearing this than if it might really happen. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to keep telling myself not to lose consciousness. My sister did the best thing she could do which was to take me upstairs and call someone she knew who was involved with the power company. He reassured me that this was just a rumor. My world and everything in it was crashing down on me.

Please know that whatever you are feeling is normal. No matter how you feel, its ok and after a while you will start to feel better but there is a grieving process. Each person who went through this horrific storm experienced something different. Each person was in a different place in their life and has a different way of dealing with emotions and what’s happening to them.

I was in a very fragile state. I was fragile right when it happened and for a very long time to come. I had just given birth 8 weeks prior and my precious little girl had pretty severe reflux. Her reflux had already caused a good deal of concern and stress. I probably had some level of post partum and didn’t even realize it. In addition, I had just found out that my 2 year old had been involved in an incident at daycare where one of the teachers and the school cook had locked her in a closet. When the storm hit we were in the middle of an investigation into what happened. I have never discussed that incident with anyone. I share it with you now because I know some of you aren’t just going through the storm. For some of you, there is a storm within a storm. I fought my way out and so can you. We all have a choice and the choice is right now. You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself or you can pull your sad self up and fight.

In the days and weeks after the storm, I felt more and more sad. I had a hard time connecting with my baby. I had no patience. I remember my 2 year old needing to take a nap and I couldn’t get her to fall asleep. I was so tired and she was crying. I yelled at her to go to sleep as loud as I could. Her eyes flew open wide. She had never heard me yell. I fell to my knees next her bed and laid my head next to her and cried. I remember her putting her tiny hand on my head and patting me. I wanted to have a nervous breakdown, I thought anything would be better than feeling all of the feelings I was having.

I knew right then that my kids needed me to be strong. I knew that I had to make this better for them not for me. I prayed for strength and answers. I preach to my employees now that you have to fake it till you make it. I don’t mean be fake; I mean fake the feelings you want to have. Force yourself to fake feeling strong and happy and the more you fake it, the more you believe it and the more it becomes reality.

I did just what I’m telling you and it worked. It worked when I fought with an unprepared and untrained insurance adjuster at my lost home, it worked when I fought to get my mortgage company to write a letter stating I was legally required to pay off my mortgage with insurance funds so that we didn’t lose eligibility for an SBA loan, and it worked when I fought to put my life back together over the next year.

Later this week I will post about my experience with insurance companies and what you need to know to protect yourself. My prayers are with you as you recover and rebuild. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Surviving the Storm: The first of many letters to those who braved Hurricane Sandy

 As many of you know I lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. I lived near the 17th Street canal breech and lost my home and everything I owned during this devastating storm. We had over 10ft of water in our home for close to 20 days. My oldest daughter was 2 and I had just given birth to our second daughter 8 weeks prior to us evacuating. This blog post is NOT about me but about how what I experienced may be able to help YOU. I do feel however that you need a little of my back story. My husband and I are from New Orleans and the home we were living in during the storm was built in 1942. The home was 2000sqft plus a small guest house and had never flooded. My husband is a Veterinarian and I had owned my Professional Organizing business for 2 years. We were young professionals with not a lot of extra money because we were just starting our family. I watched the news as Sandy approached the Northeast in disbelief and sadness. Mother Nature is powerful and her path can leave unparalleled destruction. It brought me back to where I was 7 years ago. I can tell you that the memories of Katrina are still hard. I can tell you that you have a long road to travel and that some days you are going to feel like giving up. I can also tell you that with the right help and surrounded by support, it will get better.

 Right now you are in survival mode. You are focused on your most basic needs and that’s fine. During this time one of my clients gave me the best piece of advice; take any and all help that is offered to you. In the months to come you will be fighting very hard to be paid by the insurance company for your damages. You may have lost income due to time off work or damages to your own business. Whether money seems like a big deal right now or not, in time it could be a different story if you aren’t careful. Help and resources from the government are hard to get but I will have a blog devoted especially to that in the days to come. Right now, don’t turn away ANY help.

I felt like I was an educated working woman and I didn’t need a handout, but I was wrong. My client informed me that even I was eligible for a one time food stamp card and that I should also look to food banks to help stock my pantry. This battle can be long and whatever money you do have could dwindle as the process to rebuild your life goes on, so save what you can by taking advantage of help that is offered. I received food stamps as well as help from a church for food. It was also nice to make the connection at the church because they were also a good resource for other items we needed. I received a check from the Red Cross and a small check for help with expenses from our insurance company. You are now your own boss, the new company; your life!You are responsible for researching, making calls, and being an advocate for rebuilding your life! Make sure you have a binder for your new company and that you keep EVERYTHING you receive and send out , basically anything pertaining to the storm in this one binder. You will need to refer to the information in this binder for a long time to come.

 For now, don’t forget to call everyone you owe money to. Let them know that you have been through a devastating storm and need to see what assistance they can provide. They may allow you to skip several car payments, reduce your monthly note for a period of time, etc. Call all of the utility and service companies for your home and cancel service if your home is destroyed. I remember calling the water company to cancel service and the lady on the phone said they couldn’t cancel my service! WHAT?? She told me that since my home was currently under 10ft of water, they couldn’t turn off the meter so I would be responsible for minimal charges that would still accrue. I am not kidding you! I told her that she was going to note the account that I called to cancel and that I suggested they get on some scuba gear and swim down to my meter and turn the damn thing off because after the hell I had been through and since I was struggling just to breathe she better not send me a bill for water! I was on fire. I collected all of the information and her name. And guess what!? The water company sent bills to my old home, but they were returned by the post office because no home stood where they were sending the bills and then 2 years later they tried to make a claim on our credit. I went to my binder, pulled my information to send to the credit bureau and the claim was removed. I was so glad to have collected the right information and to have kept it organized.

Another tip is to get a copy of your mortgage papers and your insurance papers and read them well. You will now learn the difference between flood and homeowners and the process will be painful for some of you. As for your mortgage papers, if you receive a check from your insurance company make sure know your rights before you pay off anything including your mortgage. I almost lost eligibility for help through SBA because I paid insurance money to my mortgage company!! I’ll post on that topic as well. I think what I have realized is that I could write for weeks even months on the things you need to know about surviving the storm.

You are not a victim of Hurricane Sandy, you are a survivor.