Tuesday, September 12, 2017

IRMAGERD

We still don't know the extent of the damage down in south Florida and on the coast, but here in Orlando hurricane Irma was a bit of a drama queen. First she spent a solid week freaking us all out and causing bottled water shortages, then she couldn't make up her mind who to visit first, and *then* she made a last minute, midnight detour straight for central Florida. By the time she got here she'd fizzled down to a Category 1 - really only enough to knock out power and give our big tree a serious pruning - but after all that there was still a hefty mental and emotional toll.

 The tree we're forever worried will fall on our house. But it didn't! Yay!

We've never had this much warning for a hurricane before, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. We're all exhausted here, tired of worrying and making disaster preparedness checklists and debating whether or not to evacuate and especially tired of "hunkering down."

There's also a conversation to be had - in the stabbiest of tones - about the 24/7 sensationalist news coverage. Coverage that justifies itself by claiming it only scares us because it cares. I avoided it while I could, but when it's 2AM and the house is shaking and there's no power and you just want to know when it's all going to be over, of course you go to Google. And in that moment, the last thing you need are headlines like "KILLER STORM BARRELS THROUGH CENTRAL FLORIDA," and helpful death tolls and slide shows of decimated houses from past hurricanes.

This was also the first time John and I've boarded up the house for a storm, which had the completely unexpected consequence of scaring the crap out of me. Our power went out around 8:30pm, and in that unnaturally black darkness - without even the glow of starlight through the windows - my agoraphobia ratcheted up to full panic mode. All I could think was I had another 12 hours to go before I could leave this boarded up Doomsday Bunker, with only the howling wind and worrisome THUMPs on the rooftop to tell me what was happening outside.

I joke a lot about how I never leave the house, but I need those views outside. I just never realized how much before.

As you might imagine, it was a long night. Sleep wasn't happening, so we burned through the batteries on John's laptop, watching stand-up comedians (Ryan Hamilton's Netflix special is hilarious, y'all) and Brooklyn 99 to keep ourselves distracted, pausing at times so I could pace around like a caged tiger. When the news came around midnight that the storm had switched course right for us, I made my smartest decision of the whole hurricane - smarter even than baking a batch of chocolate muffins the afternoon before: I took a Xanax.

In about 30 minutes I went from teetering on the precipice of something dark and airless to feeling like I was back in control again. I knew we'd be OK. I knew I could handle it. I was still worried, sure, but the irrational terror was gone.

If you have anxiety it can be hard to know sometimes which fears are just your panic kicking around and which are healthy. For most of the storm prep I think my fears were normal and rational, but when I reached the point where the ground seemed to open up, when I felt the world twist sideways with panic and couldn't imagine a moment beyond this one because I just couldn't THINK - I knew it was time for modern medicine to intervene.

I'm a writer. I process things like this, tapping away on my laptop in our still-powerless home, listening to the hum of the floor fan and the soft snores of John on the couch beside me. For whatever reason, I simply don't feel things fully until I write them down. To tell a story is to relive it. To express an emotion is to feel it distilled, concentrated. It's why I will write and say and tell a thousand happy stories, and still thirst to write just one more. I don't want to relive my panic, my fears and shames. When I write these things, they drag me down with them again. But you know what? As much as I'm feeling the walls close in again, and the roof shudder and the still air choking me, I'm also feeling relief and gratitude and triumph. And THAT I want to remember.

If there's a point to any of this meandering, it's one I've made before and will make again: it's OK to need a pill sometimes. It's OK to grab your monster-slaying sword. No, I'll go farther: it's AMAZING to grab your monster-slaying sword. Last night was hell for me, but it didn't win. I beat back my personal demon, sword in hand. And dang it, it felt good.


Today we emerged to find a lot of debris and fallen fences and trees, but no major damage to our street. I know others weren't so lucky. The neighbors banded together and went house to house, making giant piles of tree limbs by each driveway, chainsaws sputtering through the gusty morning. John helped. Then we took down all the boards and opened the windows, letting the wind and sunlight blow in. After the stale still night, it was heaven. (Turns out heaven is super humid, btw.)

Our house backs up onto a newer neighborhood with buried power lines, so they never lost power. Thanks to John - of course - the neighbor behind us there agreed to throw an extension cord over the fence, enough to power a fan and this laptop. We don't expect to have power back for nearly a week (that's how long it took after hurricane Charlie), but that's OK. We have local friends we can stay with if need be, but for now I'm happy to be here, typing away in the dark, the stars watching through the windows.

G'nite, gang. More silliness and stories of hope and happy things, coming soon.


P.S. Sending much love to all of you in the path and the wake of Irma. Locals, now that the curfews have lifted we have power tools and are ready to travel, so if you need help, please say the word.

57 comments:

  1. Taking care of yourself can mean many things,glad it was much less worse than was feared for your area.

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  2. So glad you, John, & cats are safe! <3 Being in Ithaca, NY, we've never had to board up the windows, outside... But when it is 10 degrees outside and our power goes off, I put big pieces of foam core cardboard in all our windows, and it's kind of the same feeling of claustrophobia-ish - not being able to see the stars... (only, not with the side of fear of the roof being ripped off!) So glad you had the Xanax, and thought to take it - so smart!

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  3. Glad you all came through ok, and really glad the monster-slaying worked out. After the first paragraph, that was the part that really grabbed me - that you were able to avoid falling all the way into the black hole. Go Jen!

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  4. Glad to hear you made it through OK! The news coverage really was ridiculous this time. And great job with the monster slaying. (The way you phrased it reminds me of this book I read recently on "living gamefully", complete with quests and fighting bad guys. It's called SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, if you're interested.) Enjoy your stargazing!

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  5. So glad you made it through. We live in Bartow, and the eyewall came right across us. It was surreal. Our town has much of the same, trees down, fences toppled. Many roads are not passable, so school and government offices are closed. Almost all the houses on my street have power, aside from our house and my neighbor. We both run off the same transformer. Fortunately our neighbor has a generator and has been kind enough to let us use his power.

    This was definitely an experience. Glad you, John, and the kitties are safe!

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  6. We had lawn debris over here by Tampa. Lots of our neighbors had multiple trees down. One was across our road, but the menfolk all took chainsaws and made quick work of clearing it out of the way. Lost power for less than 24 hrs. I cheered, yelled a huge THANK YOU and gave a thumbs up to the 2 power trucks as they entered our neighborhood. MY darling hubby had already made hotel ressies for ME because I cannot sleep when I am hot and I had not slept more than about 5 hrs in the 48 hrs leading up to Irmagerd. My eye bags have bags of their own! He said the room was paid for, I might as well use it. He stayed home with our 20 year old kitty, Savannah. If that's not love, I don't know what is. He said Savannah spent most of the night pacing the house,singing the song of her people, looking for momma! So today I have the house to clean. We boarded up before and took everything down yesterday and the house looks like I've not cleaned in years. But I was not concerned yesterday. Like you, I wanted to SEE the light and FEEL that sticky, humid breeze! Glad you are all safe and that your medication did what it is supposed to do. That is what is most important.

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  7. I'm very glad to hear that you and John are safe.

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  8. Try boarding up the windows with plexiglass next time. I don't have any hurricane experience but that's how we protect the windows in our stable from destructive horses. It's way stronger against sudden violence (like carparts, a treebranch or kicking horse) than wood and you get to keep your wiew!

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    1. Clear boarding! Some cities are requiring it now for abandoned houses so that they don't look quite so...blight-y. It is more expensive than plywood, though.

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    2. Maybe just a few of the windows then with the most precious wiew and keep the wood for the rest.

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    3. Great idea and no termites in the stored wood either. My mil is super-afraid of bugs, but is typically one of the first to board up her house and high-tail it outta town! I'm going to mention this to her.

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  9. So glad you guys are ok and had Xanax in your hurricane supplies! ;) We keep a Gameboy charged as part of our kit to help the hubby keep from getting stir crazy when the power goes out. We went through it in Miami twice for Katrina and Wilma, and you're right, all boarded up is pretty awful! There are sturdy lexan shutter panels you can find at HD or Lowes(?) and you can just buy one panel for each of your windows to mix with your regular shutters to give you some light. Makes a HUGE difference for sanity! We rode out the storm at the Orlando Winnie Palmer Hospital in their lobby - it's a glass dome!? That was like the opposite of your experience, we saw too much! Thankfully I didn't go into full blown labor but many of the other mamas there did as we all waddled around the hallways trying to figure out if labor was really beginning or not. It was a pretty uncomfortable night of no sleep, but we were thankful to be safe and have water, food, AC, and wifi! We're back in St Pete now and thankfully we're spared any major issues since we are literally expecting a baby any day now (today's my due date)! We're so happy to be back on our original homebirth plan!

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  10. Glad to hear you guys made it through!

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  11. (looks at this post which sings Mr. John's praises for his helpful spirit and skill with power tools) (remembers a previous post where they both felt like they weren't making a difference) Well... if community service isn't making a difference then I....... don't know how to finish that thought without sounding arrogant or something. :/ You guys ARE making a difference, just the ways you make it are different. Glad you're okay, glad you had the "sword", glad that writing helps you feel better. :)

    Pinkie Welborne, 16
    Indiana

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  12. Glad you are safe. Glad the house is fine. TOTALLY with you on the 24/7 coverage. Riding out a hurricane in the dark is uber scarey. Good for you to know when you needed help. Thanks for all the posts you do.

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  13. We love you and John so much! You were in my thoughts all through the storm and I'm glad that Irma spared you the worst and that you had your monster-slaying sword to draw and fight with!

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  14. I'm so glad y'all made it through okay, and that you had the power of modern medicine to help out! There's no shame in it -- no one would've thought twice of you taking blood pressure medicine or something then, so why should anxiety medication be worse?

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  15. Glad to hear you are safe and well. :)

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  16. Glad you're okay!

    I take Xanax to fly and I have absolutely no qualms about it. It basically turns flying into a "normal" experience, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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  17. I never thought about it! I'm agoraphobic also, and I never thought about what it would be like to be boarded up throughout a dark night...like being buried alive. What a horrible thing. But you made it through and came out stronger, and knowing more about yourself.
    I'm sorry heaven is humid! Although I live in the CA desert, we do get a few humid days a year, and there's really no way to keep cool on those days. Of course our little bit of humidity would feel delightfully refreshing to you Florida folks.
    Take your pills when you need them. They help, I know. Who knows why some people need help and others don't? Same reason some people have freckles and others don't, I guess.
    I'm glad you're making it through. What/how do you eat without electricity to keep stuff cold or to cook stuff?

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  18. First off, I'm so glad you and John are safe!

    Second, I'm 100% with you on the sensationalist news being a problem. I live on the far inland side Savannah, GA. Last Tuesday, the stores were out of bottled water and the gas stations were out of gas because the people in town were freaking out about the storm that had not even started to drift northward. Some of the projections were that the storm would hit us straight on, so people started evacuating Thursday - heading to Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. And at that time, it was a HUGE storm and looking very scary.

    But the storm barely hit us! It was windy and rainy starting Monday early in the morning and into the evening, but nothing that would knock down trees. It kept me awake because I have an irrational fear of wind at night, but it hit Atlanta and Birmingham a LOT harder than it hit us here. (That said, I have no idea how hard it hit the islands and the storm surge might have been devastating -- I don't know yet.)

    Now, I will never be someone who tells people that they should stay when they want to evacuate, but maybe waiting until they know where the storm is actually going to go? Might be a better plan. But all we were hearing was DEATH STORM HEADING STRAIGHT FOR SAVANNAH.

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  19. First: You guys made it through! Yay! And modern medicine is sometimes miraculous, and it's wonderful that you found a big monster-killing sword!

    Second: For laptop/phone power, investing in several power bricks might be a good idea. We have 3 phones in this house...and 6 power bricks.

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  20. So glad to hear you guys made it through relatively unscathed! I can't even imagine how terrifying it must be to live through a hurricane. We get tornadoes in my neck of the woods, but they are short-lived and not nearly as widespread in their destruction. I'd rather go through that any day over a hurricane. And kudos to you for doing what you need to to help with the anxiety. We love you both and are grateful you are safe!

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    1. Ooh, and I'm way more scared of tornados, ha! I guess it's what you're used to?

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  21. I've been anxious for you two and our other friends the whole time too, enough so that I even remembered to grab my regular daily sword like I'm supposed to and yet often don't, and trying to breathe extra sighs of relief with each update. Hopefully I'll be hugging you in congrats of yet another victory soon. Hashtag YOU DID IT WHEEEE <3

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  22. Glad you made it through! I agree with you about this sensationalist news coverage. It's TOO MUCH and makes people panic more. I was feeling a little panicky myself about Irma and it wasn't coming anywhere near me!

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  23. Glad you made it through. Scary stuff, but you knew what you needed to take care of yourself.
    My electric lineman friend is on his way to your neck of the woods in his bucket truck from Massachusetts... hope he helps get everyone back and running again soon.

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  24. Glad you were safe! Sorry the anxiety was so bad, but also glad you made smart choices to deal with it.

    We're from Bradenton & evacuated early to Ocala. We're all safe & the houses are fine, but I sympathize with the anxious feelings. I ended up seeing some of the 24/7/ TV coverage (because family had it on), which made me feel sick and panicky. I could definitely do without the constant coverage, but I know others felt better knowing what was happening minute by minute.

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  25. First, I'm so glad you all are safe, sound and hanging in there.

    Secondly, I must agree with you about the sensational news coverage. Though I totally fell into the its tentacles. My sister and nephew evacuated Cape Coral, but her husband was required to stay as it's his job. For days leading up to the storm actually hitting FL, I followed every news source and freaked myself out with all the ways things could go wrong. I didn't sleep most of the weekend waiting, listening, waiting, following, tracking....and more waiting. And I live in Buffalo, NY!! I learned my lesson, don't fall into the news trap. Walk away, safe yourself.

    And your description of Irma's drama queen meanderings is just perfect. Thank you for sharing as you process :)

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  26. I couldn't agree more with you. The constant news coverage really made it worse than what it was. My stomach is still a mess from all the storm anxiety! We live in Port St. Lucie and we were really lucky that we kept our power through most of the storm when areas just a few blocks away did not. We had minimal damage, just some shingles and tree limbs but nothing too bad. I am glad that things are good there and I hope you get power soon.

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  27. Jen/John and anyone else tired of the overly dramatic, hyped-up weather forecasts: In Houston, we swear by the weather blog https://spacecityweather.com/, started by former Houston Chronicle reporter, Eric Berger. Of course, most of it is Houston weather reports, but come hurricane season, he also extensively covers anything in the tropics in a very no-nonsense, forthright manner.

    Glad you guys came through it OK, and best of luck to everyone with recovery.

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    1. Fellow Houstonian here, my first though was Space City Weather too. The world needs more weather coverage like that

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    2. Thank God for Eric Berger! The pre-hurricane panic makes it feel like we live through it twice. Eric Berger is not only no hype but sometimes funny too.

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    3. I did not see this and posted the same further down. My husband worked with Eric when he was at the Chronicle. I was so glad that he kept the blog when he moved on to Ars Technica. Eric has been my go-to for weather and hurricane coverage for years. He is the best!

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  28. Beautiful post! We're without power too, so totally understand. We stayed away from the news, but also understand the need to know feeling. Hope your power is back on soon. You'll be in our thoughts!

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  29. I'm so glad you and John are okay! And from now on, when I take my Lexapro & Wellbutrin cocktail, I'll be thinking of it as my depression-slaying sword. <3

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  30. So glad you're all safe! I hope I never have to board up my windows...My old Vic has 30 or so. I would have needed to be warned in July.

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  31. I LARP, and therefore have a literal monster-slaying sword. It may be foam latex, but when I am feeling tired and weak and small, I find great comfort in gripping its hilt and telling the scary dark world to *bring it*.

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  32. So glad to hear that you're ok <3.

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  33. We're in Tampa and we love Denis Phillips on WFTS in Tampa and Mikes Weather Page (spaghettimodels.com and on Facebook). Both of them give a straight, non hyped view on the up coming weather, and they do it with a little humor.
    The major channels (especially the Weather Channel) give me anxiety as well.

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  34. I'm so glad you all are ok. We're in Sarasota and were spared the worst because it did take that sudden veer to the center. Still, it was not a pleasant night. We lost cable and internet about 2 pm and then power about 5. The storm had just started ratcheting up so we were completely without information for the duration. We didn't board up and I'm glad since we didn't have any damage but still had light. I understand completely about the light. The storm came through Sunday night and it's now Wednesday with no power. They're saying maybe 10 days. I don't want to wait that long but I'm incredibly grateful that we were spared.

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  35. Glad you two are safe and that the dragon has been slayed. Irma's slow meander to Florida really did make the anxiety drag on for an exhaustingly long time, but happily both my dad's house in Central Florida and my house in Atlanta are A-OK. And one silver lining to all of this: at least Irma waited until the weekend AFTER DragonCon to make her appearance.

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  36. Sword wielders unite! (Is that something's battle cry? I feel like it is but my memory is crap.) I myself am a card-carrying member of the Monster Slayers Sword Guild, and I would not be functional without my morning mix of "Go forth and greet the world!" meds. Kudos to you for recognizing what you truly needed and doing something about it! Most times that's truly the hardest step. It's taken me a long, long time to realize that what I have is not something to just "suck up and deal with", because how does just sucking it up bring balance to the chemicals out of whack in your brain? What's helped me the most is making sure the people in my life are super supportive and understanding, and ditching the dorks who choose to be dorks. So glad you have John in your life. It's amazing what love can do. :)

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  37. You have a disease. Medicine helps. So take the medicine. There shouldn't be any more stigma to that than a heart patient or asthma patient taking their meds. Just take the meds.

    Be well. Stay well. Stupid stigma is stupid.

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  38. I'm so glad you are okay and that you took excellent care of each other and yourself. I'm in Ocala and I burrowed into my closet to ride out the storm. The library I work at has power and internet, so we're the place to be for folks looking to get cool.

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  39. I've lived in Fort Myers for four years, so Irma was the first hurricane I weathered. Fortunately when we had to evacuate, we were able to spend the weekend with my husband's family (long time Florida residents) who helped keep my anxiety to a manageable level, and we returned to a house with no flooding or damage. So glad you guys are safe too!

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  40. I am so very grateful that all of my loved ones in Florida made it through the storm.

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  41. So glad you are ok!
    going way off on a tangent... Plexiglass on a couple windows sounds like a very good idea. I also keep wondering if some of your Harry Potter floating candles would help. if you can put a little light in all the corners of your rooms, just so it's not dark, I wonder if that would help? Obviously it wont stop anxiety, but it cold make the house look more normal, which might ease things a little? just a totally random thought. Very glad to hear that you are well. Let us know what's up with WDW when you get a chance.

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  42. It's frustrating that mainstream media has to go so sensational. But unfortunately "if it bleeds, it leads" and advertisers make money with more viewers and readers of "The world is ending as we know it with this hurricane" type pieces. I turn off the news when it gets overwhelming and go to different sources for updates on storms (weather stations seem to be a little less melodramatic, and Environment Canada is objective). Do what you need to in order to look after yourself in situations like this.

    Glad you guys are ok! And that your tree survived! :)

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  43. So glad to hear that you are all OK. I was flooded into my neighborhood here in Texas during Harvey, but no real property damage.

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  44. I love reading what you share about your anxiety and the stuff in this post about processing by writing hits home for me. Sometimes when I'm doing well, I forget I actually need to journal to keep doing well and when I'm doing badly, I'm glad I switched to digital options so I can even write on my phone laying in bed if I need to get something out and down to figure it out. I end up writing things I didn't know before the words appear on the screen and actually feel my feelings. Wow. Anyway, love to you and John from a long time lurker, rare commenter.

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  45. Me and my husband are from Miami and we evacuated to Atlanta with our cats Nanners and Lola, our Greyhound Anubis and my Husband's parents' miniature poodle Jax. It was a full car for a very long drive, but it made me realize that the most important things aren't things at all. My Family, including my animals, were safe with me. I'm glad you stayed safe and did what you needed to do to stay calm. We're back in Miami now, and there is sadness here but I know it is worse elsewhere. Thank you for putting this into words.

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  46. I hear you on the sensationalist news. I was in Tokyo during the 2011 9M earthquake and tsunami disaster. We felt severe shaking but were hours away from the real disaster area. So many people in the US reached out to us in a panic because they couldn't tell what was real news and what was sensationalism. I also had a hard time processing information about what was going on in our area even with the Japanese news, which was not nearly as sensationalist as the US news but still hard to take at face value. It was then that I decided to stop following the news altogether. If enough people are talking about something I go look it up then, but otherwise I stay out of it all. My life is much happier and a lot less stressful now. I worry a lot less now that I'm not spending my time learning about things that don't affect my life in the long run.

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  47. LOVE your title for this post. I think when Harvey hit us in Texas the week before Irma it ratcheted up the coverage for you guys. I tried to avoid watching TV through the storm here, but after 4 solid days of rain I gave in I'm glad you came though Irma okay. That period without power after a hurricane is a drag. Hope you've got power back now. I can recommend a web site to follow for hurricane coverage. It's no-hype and really good. Check out Eric Berger's Space City Houston weather site. He's been covering hurricanes for years and he is the one I trust for information. He focuses on Houston, but he thoroughly covered Irma as he does most hurricanes whether they are aimed at Texas or not.

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