Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Poo flinging monkeys

I've been seeing lots of comments on Facebook and Twitter from Out-of-Towners about why stay in Christchurch, and how could you stand watching your kids go all through that stress? And how on earth can you cope with all of this? This post will attempt to answer how I'm coping, and in a few day's I'll write about why I'm staying. I can only write about my own experiences, and I'm aware that there are many many people a lot worse off than we are.

And the poo flinging monkeys? You can thank Nigel Latta for that one.

How am I coping with all the aftershocks? If you read my posts in the immediate aftermath of each shake, you'd probably conclude I'm not. What I've observed is that there seems to be a pattern to my responses

Cashel Mall in April 2011.
First is the panic. The world shakes, the heart pounds. My brain is empty of any conscious thought except the unpublishable. Instinct kicks in as I drop, cover and hold. and ride out the shaking. If I'm with the children I grab them too. I have a heightened awareness of my surroundings: what are the risks? what's likely to fall down on me? I'm convinced that extra awareness is what kept me alive on 22 February as I literally dodged falling buildings in Cashel Mall.

Once the world stops shaking my body doesn't for a few hours. I often find myself turning to social media to offload the shock. (There really aren't enough symbols above the number keys on my keyboard). Most of my facebook friends are locals, who are doing exactly the same thing, even in the middle of the night. There's usually a game of "guess the magnitude" going on while some poor geologist at Geonet is frantically trying to do their calculations an post the quake details online. It helps us to be able to share the experience, but it probably gives a distorted impression to the Out-of-Towners, since it's still the "alarm monkey" talking at that time.

The aftershocks of 13 July 2011
Interestingly enough, my children seem to have a lot less of this panic stage. It probably makes a difference that they've not been in physically dangerous situations in any of the big shakes, and they've been fortunate that their home and neighbourhood has only experienced minor damage. I imagine it would be very different for children in the eastern or southern suburbs that have been harder hit. On 13 July, when I went to the school to pick up my children, the younger one was keen to stay and carry on her school day after the first 5.6 magnitude quake. When I did collect her after the 6.3 magnitude quake she was smiling and bouncing around. The teacher told me they'd been playing in the sandpit when the quake hit. The children ducked into a "turtle", then when the shaking stopped just sat back up and carried on playing.

Once the adrenalin wears off, I experience a post-adrenalin low. This lasts about a day or two. This is the best time frame for media sound-bites of locals losing the plot. Polls run in this time frame about how many people want to leave town are I think a bit distorted. I'm not consciously anxious, but I'm aware of being more on edge and irritable. Children tend to get more scratchy at each other. Those of us in the same boat know to be a little more supportive of each other. The meal menu during this phase is takeaways or easy to cook frozen meals. It doesn't help that after a big shake there are about 2 days of smaller aftershocks, which keep deprive us of sleep, and shoot extra shots of adrenalin into the system. This is not a good time to make a long term decision about staying or leaving, but a few days break away might be helpful for some people.

After about 2 or 3 days things settle down. The ground settles back down into its "new normal" pattern of medium to small rattles only every other day. The post-adrenalin biochemical balance also restores itself back to equilibrium. Children return to their normal sleep patterns, routines resume, and life carries on. My sense of humour returns.  The wise monkey is back in the tree.

After the 22 February earthquake the process took a lot longer - more like 2 weeks. I think this is because of the close call I experienced on that day. Having a week's sanity break out of town helped. In the middle of the low times, I remind myself that I've come through this before, and I will do again. I just need to ride this out and it will get better soon. I'll admit that "normal" is tiring. I was finding myself getting bone tired just from getting through each day. I started taking iron and vitamin supplements which seem to have helped with the energy levels.

Stay tuned for the next instalment - why I'm staying.

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