Making Decisions

If you're having a hard time deciding what to do about your home, don’t worry. Experts say this is a normal response to an overwhelming, disastrous event of any kind in our lives. It is not uncommon and it can last a long time. However, a lot of decisions have to be made in recovering from a disaster. The good news is, there are some ways to get yourself back into decision-making mode, and there are people you can turn for help in making decisions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if – even with help – you find that you can’t cope – realize that your difficulty with making decisions may be rooted in a more serious problem.

Why is making decisions after a disaster more difficult?

Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis come easily – so easily in fact that we don’t think of them as decisions -- to get up (or not), what to eat, when to go to work, what to wear, to play cards at the community center on Thursday evening. These decisions are easy because they relating to past experiences and familiar surroundings

In a traumatic event, the very fabric of life is rearranged. A single significant loss, such as the death of a close family member, loss of a job or job-site transfer can cause people to doubt whether they can trust their past experiences. They lose their decision-making ability. In very large disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita people suffer multiple personal losses, loss of trust in higher powers and authorities, and significant changes in their surroundings. Most of the “givens” that made decisions easy to make have been removed. It can be very difficult to regain faith in your own judgment, which is very important for moving forward with recovery.

Losing things we are emotionally attached to can be particularly devastating. Loss of things from the past including family items, photographs, furniture, even the neighborhood itself, may make us feel disconnected.

Regaining faith in your decision-making ability

Take whatever time you need to grieve for your loss; forgive yourself for being unable to focus on figuring out what your options are. You may feel just a little hazy sometimes, but at other times the “fog” may feel so thick it’s almost paralyzing. But trying to decide everything before you start doing anything can be equally paralyzing.

Start small – and perhaps frivolous. Decide to do something out of the ordinary. Something you absolutely won’t want to change your mind about tomorrow. Buy a couple of flowers and put them in water on the window ledge. That will remind you tomorrow that you made a decision today. Make a few more decisions to do things that will make you feel good. I might be a decision to give those flowers to a neighbor.

When these simple steps don’t work, something more serious may be holding you back.

Most people have heard the buzz terms -- post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. It is important to know it is not uncommon, the symptoms should not be ignored, and the conditions can be treated.

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder often associated with combat veterans. It can be caused by any psychologically traumatizing event. Symptoms frequently don’t appear until some time after the event. Some may appear as soon as a few weeks after or, in some cases, years later. These symptoms may include:

  • Reliving the event
  • Avoiding any situation that might remind you of the event
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling “keyed up”

Many people who experience PTSD eventually get better, but some people may continue exhibiting symptoms for years after the event.

Depression is another disorder often reported after a traumatic event. Many people have sad days or get the “blues” from time to time. Depression can be described as "really bad blues." Experts say if a person experiences depression continuously for 30 days or more, psychological help should be sought. The most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease, even with treatment

A person may have PTSD and depression or one of these conditions in combination with some other psychological disorder.

While it is normal to see these conditions develop in survivors of disaster, the conditions should not be ignored. Many non-profit groups have services to assist when folks go through this kind of emotional upheaval after a traumatic event. Some people may also find it helpful to talk with their priest or pastor. Or it may be preferable to seek the assistance of a doctor, a therapist, a social worker or other specific mental health professional. Typically, following large scale disasters, mental health professionals will be brought into the area to help with these cases. Don’t be afraid to use their services.

When you’re ready to move to toward making decisions about what to do with your home, find a few people you can talk to. Get your ideas and concerns out of your head and into conversation. Sometimes just saying something out loud can help you hear how silly it is; saying it over and over in your mind never seems to have the same impact. On the other hand, that friend will be able to give you some positive reinforcement for what you’re thinking. Be a good listener, too. If you’re recovering from a disaster, lots of people will be going through the same thing.

A home restoration or rebuilding project is truly a monumental task. It requires all sorts of skills and knowledge that most homeowners don’t have, because they’ve never needed it. One of the best decisions you can make is the decision to get professional help with recovery planning and construction. You will make your own decisions, but the professionals who advise you will help you work through the process, help you focus on the important issues, and keep you from being taken advantage of.

The ACORN Housing program is one of the best of the many that offer help with various aspects of managing your recovery and your rebuilding project.

Remember that all “Big” decisions are made up of a lot of smaller decisions. Thinking of the smaller decisions can make it simpler to put all the pieces together, resulting in a big decision! Think of decisions as puzzle pieces that involve asking these questions:

  1. What needs to be done? (Identify the “problem.”)
  2. What challenges may get in the way of getting this done? Do I need more money? Are there legal issues involved? (Identify any obstacles.)
  3. What do I have now or can get that will help me achieve this task? Is there someone or some organization to I can turn to for help in funding? Do I know someone who can do the labor – or give me a referral? Do I already have some supplies I might need for this task? (Identify the positive resources.)
  4. Are there other ways to get this done? (Identify any alternative ways to accomplish the task.)

Look at your answers to these questions, weigh the options, and make the decision – one piece at the time.

6/6/2008 8:50:53 PM
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