I did not suffer flooding damage at my apartment. None of my family experienced property damage, or had to be rescued from floodwaters, either. The power never went out. The internet service never got interrupted. My office was closed and my employer covered our salaries through an emergency leave account. So for me, Harvey was essentially a week-long staycation from work. This is not to say it was particularly enjoyable to spend the week trapped in the apartment, glued to the TV, scrolling through horror stories on Facebook and otherwise going stir crazy. But for me, Harvey was little more than an inconvenience, as if somebody had pressed the "pause" button on my life for a week. I found Harvey to be much less onerous than Ike
, when we went for two whole weeks without electricity.
Compare my experience to that of a friend of mine, who recently moved back to Houston after her husband died to be close to her mother. She rented an apartment in a complex in the Meyerland area that backs up to Brays Bayou expressly so her two teenage sons could attend Bellaire High School. She and her sons safely got out of the apartment before the flooding hit, but they lost all of their possessions - including keepsakes belonging to her late husband - and are now staying with her mom.
Compare my experience to my girlfriend's coworker, whose house on the east side of Baytown flooded and who, along with her family, had to be rescued by boat. They're fine, but they've lost cars and furniture and their house, along with every other home on their street, is currently being stripped of waterlogged carpet, sheetrock and cabinetry.
Compare my experience to those who bore the brunt of Harvey's initial landfall, whose business and homes have been blown away. Towns like Port Aransas and Rockport have been essentially wiped off the map.
Should I feel guilty that I was spared while so many others are suffering right now? Abby Koenig at Culturemap Houston certainly does:
I feel guilty just writing this. Hurricane Harvey came to Houston, and my home and family and I are fine.
On the Thursday before the storm, my husband told me that his office would be closed the next day, and probably the following Monday. “This is so stupid,” I replied, “It’s not even supposed to start raining until Friday night.”
The whole thing was a bother, even more so when I found out my sons’ daycare would also be closed that Friday and probably the following Monday. That meant I’d have my twin three-and-a-half year-old boys for four days straight! Ugh.
On Friday, the boys and I went to the mall and walked around and window shopped. It started raining lightly around noon.
“It’s not even going to do anything!”
But it did. A lot.
Friday night it began to pour and pour and pour. My husband and I began to worry. We had been in Houston through Hurricane Ike but not in our current home, and even though we had not had any troubles previously, it was becoming quickly apparent that this was different. Like most Houstonians we turned on the news Friday night and didn’t stop watching for the next three days.
Once Harvey made landfall the texts began. “You guys OK?” “What’s going on there?” “We’re watching the TV, is it bad?”
Like many in the city, we are transplants. Our friends and family watched the horrors on the national news with little context of how the city functioned.
But we were fine. Like… fine.
We saw friends. Their stories were the same. So lucky. Dodged a bullet. Never even lost power. Can’t believe it. #Blessed. Grateful. Can you believe it? Like nothing happened. A little water but really fine. Fine. Just trying to figure out how to help. And can you believe the pictures? Terrible.
We uttered the same words in the same hushed tone: Survivor Guilt.
Koenig describes how she tried to assuage her "survivor guilt" by volunteering and donating. She clearly is also trying to assuage her "guilt" by writing this article, which quite frankly comes off as self-absorbed and overwrought.
is the condition by which a person experiences remorse or feels somehow at fault because they survived a traumatic (and oftentimes life-threatening) event that others did not. It is experienced by everyone from survivors of terror attacks to combat veterans to cancer survivors. It is technically considered by the DSM-IV to be an aspect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Which means it's not a condition that Keonig is entitled to experience.
First, Koenig's experience is nothing special. It's not like she survived a form of cancer that kills 90% of its patients or was a handful of people to live through a plane crash. Most Houstonians "survived" Harvey in that they did not experience flooding or had to evacuate.
Although the national media might have painted a picture of an entire city underwater due to Harvey, the fact is that it was not
. Harvey may have affected as much as 14.2 percent
of the local housing stock, and given that there are estimated to be about
1.66 million housing units in Harris County alone, that's a lot of homes. However, the majority of Houstonians are "fine," in that their homes did not flood and they are not currently ripping out drywall, haggling with insurance adjusters or living in shelters.
This is not to belittle the immense toll the storm did take: lives that are lost or will never be the same again, property that was destroyed, priceless heirlooms that will never be replaced. It's worth noting that a lot of people may have avoided damage to their homes but still lost their cars
to the flood, or lost a week's worth of wages as their businesses were closed or unaccessible. But the truth is that much of Houston got through this ordeal relatively unscathed.
This is why there were long lines of volunteers at places like the George R. Brown Convention Center. Most Houstonians got through Harvey just fine and wanted to help their fellow residents in need. Unlike Keonig, they simply didn't feel the need to draw attention to themselves through a column in a local webzine.
Second, Koenig did not experience anything that could be considered traumatic. She was not one of those who had to be rescued from their car, or plucked from a rooftop by a helicopter, or evacuated from their home in a bass boat with little more than the the clothes on their back. While she certainly had every right to be concerned about the amount of rainfall she was experiencing, she was spared the experience of standing helplessly in her living room as floodwaters crept up around her.
While others spent Harvey experiencing real trauma, she spent the storm watching the news, reading Facebook and drinking wine. While she understandably feels awkward and contrite because she comfortably weathered a storm that devastated so many others, she did not undergo an experience likely to cause her PTSD in the future.
Finally, nobody gets to feel "guilty" or otherwise at fault for a naturally-occuring, albeit extreme, weather phenomenon that dumped as much water on the city in three days as it normally gets in an entire year and flooded neighborhoods that have never flooded before. The people who got flooded out of their homes didn't do anything wrong; they were simply located where there happened to be too much rainwater and no place for it to go. Those of us who didn't flood didn't do anything wrong either; we simply happened to be in places where those conditions did not occur.
Whether or not you flooded was simply the luck of the meteorologic and hydrologic draw. Even my friend who got flooded out of her apartment with her two kids realizes this. "Just bad luck I guess. We'll be fine," she messaged me.
Koenig's article might have been stronger had she focused on the fact that while she and her family were "fine" in that their house didn't flood, nobody in this city is truly "fine" right now. All of our daily routines have been altered in one form or another. We're all mourning the loss of local heroes
. We're all dealing with horrendous post-flood traffic
(although it's gotten better this week). We're all going to have to absorb the economic hit this region is going to take. We all know people who have flooded out of their homes and we are helping them accordingly. We're all going to have to work together to make things "fine" again (and, to prepare for the next time one of these events occurs, but that's a topic for my next post).
I feel fortunate that I, like most Houstonians, made it through Harvey without any loss.
But I don't feel like I survived a trauma, because this experience was not traumatic for me; to claim that it was would be to trivialize and demean the people who truly went through horrific experiences.
Furthermore, I do not feel guilty. Neither should Abby Koenig.