“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
– Bruce Lee
I was at a cafe not too long ago, and while having a conversation with a random stranger (which I DO NOT tend to do often, mind you), the subject of Hurricane Maria came up.
“SHOTS FIRED!!”, screamed my triggered brain as I calmly continued the conversation.
A professor of psychology at a renowned local university – which shall go uncredited and unnamed for now (mainly because I personally dislike the place, but hooray for the illusion of education in Puerto Rico – a whole other can of worms for another time) – had published online a compendium of experiences from various students, expressing how the storm took a toll on their mental health.
This conversation definitely piqued my interest, and I had a good read with the published articles.*
*A bit too bloated and wordy for my personal tastes, but then again, I never finished college, so what do I know about hoity-toity writing in Spanish?
Kismet is a funny thing. I was rummaging through my home, cleaning up the usual messes, and lo and behold, I just happen to stumble upon this tiny, unpolished gem lying hidden, dormant, in one of my drawers:
I had always intended on keeping a journal, mainly because it is a highly recommended therapeutic tool for dealing and coping with mental illness, a way to gauge moods, vent frustrations in a constructive, orderly manner, have conversations with imaginary friends without freaking people out, etc.
What better way to cope with what could be a life-ending disaster, right?
And so, I wrote.
And I wrote….
And I wrote some more….
Well, you get the point.
That last week of September 2017 changed all of our lives. We saw our homeland ravaged, torn asunder, devastated beyond recognition. We were an island full of scared, desperate folk, trying to survive, day by day. Time slowed down to a crawl, at points the days feeling endless.
Most people out there are blessed with not knowing the feeling of timelessness, of reality-altering ambiguity. Hurricane Maria not only affected our collective social consciousness, our homes, our businesses, our social media obsession, our Playstation Network, Xbox Live, Steam, and online gaming time (priorities, mind you), but it also unleashed a healthcare crisis of which no one could have imagined possible.
In the mental illness community, a new type of patient emerged: the orphans.*
*Patients who had lost their primary care specialist and had no other resource to fall back on
The medical community in general was hemorraghing doctors and staff something fierce due to the infamous diaspora of puertoricans seeking refuge on the U.S. mainland (much to the chagrin of mainland uber-boricua-patriots who have never stepped once on their “native soil”, but, as I said before, that’s a story for another time).
As islanders kept fleeing the devastation, those of us left behind were left without caretakers, without our required care; computer and communication systems were unreliable, so pharmacies went apeshit when it came to processing prescriptions for many conditions. Hospice centers and hospital systems were decimated, rendered useless and out of commission without the proper supplies to keep them running. Doctors disappeared without a trace, either through omission or self-preservation, with no way for patients to get in touch for treatment; we were orphaned, left without proper care, and many of us suffered severely for it.
I sound angry, don’t I? You might be thinking, “Gee, Seba, put yourself in their position. They have families and personal lives too! So you’re missing a few pills and you’re cranky because your cell reception is shit so you can’t watch your latest Netflix shows, oh boo hoo!”
Granted, they might have a point.
Then again, they were not the ones going through extreme chemical imbalances due to the lack of medication that is our lifeline, our anchor to a stable reality, an anchor that allows us some measure of safety and control, not only for ourselves and our day-to-day functionality, but for the peace of mind of your loved ones, of bystanders and co-workers that are incapable of understanding the pain and anguish of losing whatever lucid grasp you have on your thoughts and emotions.
They were also not the ones who, because of their lack of amplified sensitivity to ambient stress, went into deep depression, suicidal chaos, their carefully monitored routines lying in shambles right along the wreckage of homes and broken dreams.
Just because you can’t see it, does not mean it does not exist.*
*Remember good ‘ole Doubting Thomas?
Those underestimated death tolls you hear about? You know, the ones Orange Crush said were no biggie because Lousiana had more leaks than his lazy bladder during Katrina?* Many of those were not directly caused by a crazy wind surge whisking someone away to Oz, no sir; substandard healthcare logistics, irresponsible management, and the collective IQ of a radish we call a local democratic government (*insert sitcom laugh track here*) were responsible.
*Under no circumstance will I ever minimize Katrina and it’s destruction, for crying out loud we went through the same pain and suffering; I just wanted to insert a joke about a certain Cheeto-skinned buffoon who had the audacity to throw paper towels at the problem and call it a day.
Breath, Seba; become like water, my friend, and everything will be ok.
It has been more than a year now (a year and approximately two months if my remedial math is correct), and we are still feeling the Maria Effect. We are comfortable enough now to make jokes, share our tales, mark dates as BM or PM (Before Maria or PostMaria, respectively), yet with every mention you can feel the sting of sadness, the void of comfort, that haunting vision of splintered wood, crushed homes, flooded shelters, and shattered glass, that terrifying thump of imploding doors and howling monsters pounding about, tearing the world apart.
I now use those words I scribbled to bear my scars with pride; to prove that even through the terrifying storm that is life, we all have a way to not only survive, but to thrive as well.
To me, Maria will always be etched in our collectives as the day that may have broken our spirit, but it adamantly strengthened our soul.