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Forums / PTSD & Trauma / Coping with bushfires

Topic: Coping with bushfires

  1. Nurse Jenn
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    13 January 2020

    Hi all,

    This is such an important thread to start given the state of our beautiful country being in such a state of devastation. I think it is so important to allow people to vent anger, pain, frustration and sadness. Not everyone has been directly impacted by the fires but all of us have been indirectly impacted to some level. This is not only for our country but externally to the world. Australia's disaster state is placing introspection on the state of the world, the mass of population and how our climate is changing, which can make your head very heavy in thought and emotion. Be kind to yourselves and make sure you self care through this incredibly difficult time.

    Me and my family were evacuated early in December from our home for a few days and the fire front came only 8km from our home. My partner stayed to defend which was incredibly stressful as communications were possibly going to be cut. We were lucky as if the weather was as predicted, we would have been overrun. Being displaced even for a short time is so emotionally disruptive. I can't imagine what it is like to not return to a house, to all your little bits and pieces or livelihood. My partner has just been sent down south for two weeks to help fight the fires. Like so many others here and everywhere, we are all impacted in different ways.

    I have found that by taking a break from both the news and social media and the constant images has helped me. I have recently driven through the bushfire impacted areas near my home and seen new growth, green leaves and birds returning. This has given me a sense of hope. Today I put out four new water trays for birds or other animals on our property. This has also helped me feel like I have taken action, even though it is only small.

    Moving forward through distastes is a unique experience for everyone. Some people will want to advocate for climate change and against the current government response, and some will want to donate money to the animals impacted, some people will want to help others and some people will want to hide away until the crisis settles. The range of emotions that are felt may change from moment to moment. It is a very emotional time.

    There is no judgement in what feelings are brought to the surface in the aftermath of a bushfire.

    I hope that people find this forum and this thread a safe place to talk, discuss and heal. I am so glad to be a part of this community.

    Cheers,

    Nurse Jenn

    5 people found this helpful
  2. Doolhof
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    13 January 2020 in reply to Nurse Jenn

    Hi Everyone,

    The region I have lived in these last 7 years has come under attack 3 times from bushfires. One was only a kilometre from the town. Ash and embers were flying around and the sky was almost black. Day turned to night in one of the fires.

    The current fires have not impacted me directly but have been very close to family members. The place where I grew up has all but been decimated. I here place names on the news that I recognise. I see photos of the devastation.

    In all situations in life, hindsight is so beneficial but it doesn't achieve much unless people are willing to move forward, to try something new and different.

    For me the impact of the fires is horrendous as there is so much of this country burning.

    I have also seen the regrowth of the bush after a fire. Yes, these fires have been extremely severe in their intensity and coverage. I just hope and pray recovery is possible.

    Maybe we need more good news stories about the fires and how people have helped each other.

    Some people seem to relish the disasters and horrors of life. Look at the news in general and you would never think anything nice happens in this world of ours.

    My heart goes out to everyone who is hurting in any way due to these fires.

    I find when I don't feel like I am in control I become angry and confused. These fires are no different.

    I have cried bucket loads of tears and not slept well feeling for this country of ours and all who are affected.

    Regards from Dools

    4 people found this helpful
  3. Hanna3
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    3212 posts
    13 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords

    Querky I'm so sorry for what you're going through. These fires have devastated so many communities and places, some that I know and love. And they've hurt you. I wish I had something more to say, but all I can do for the moment is send you big hugs from me and Sam. You sound utterly devastated. Know that we are all thinking of you. Be gentle on yourself, this is a really, really tough time. Hugs my friend.

    1 person found this helpful
  4. quirkywords
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    quirkywords avatar
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    13 January 2020 in reply to Lady Nova

    Pepppermint and Lady Nova,

    ear is a powerful thing. I don't have a house or a shop so I feel lost. I know that fear can be debilitating but if you are going to live there you may hae to find a way to keep going.

    These are hard times but connect to others and be honest.

    I am trying to just cope with each day the furure is too far away.

    Take care, write here and we can help each other.

    Quirky

    2 people found this helpful
  5. Elizabeth CP
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    14 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords
    Quirky, I just wanted to let you know I feel for you. I hope you are able to reach out to get the support you need at this time. When we lost everything in a bushfire when I was a child there was no emotional support or counselling so I had to learn to deal with the aftermath on my own.(I never spoke to my parents about it because it was too upsetting) The result is decades later I'm struggling with PTSD which is triggered badly by these recent fires. I share this to remind everyone how badly trauma & grief can affect our lives long term so it is essential that those affected reach out for the emotional support they need not just the physical support & than we all reach out to support those who are affected but allow them the opportunity to accept support when they need it on their terms. We are all different & the needs will change over time. For people like Quirky rebuilding her life takes time. There is no quick fix. Lets be there for each other long term not just during the crisis.
    1 person found this helpful
  6. Eucalyptuspunctata
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    14 January 2020

    Hi. I live on the south coast and although not directly affected by the fires, there was a fire relatively close (about 9km away) and the repeated days of getting the house ready in case a fire did come. I live by myself and the bush is across the road. The anxiety on those days of when the sky turned black and red and orange with burning leaves falling and the smell of smoke was intense. Worrying that I hadn’t done enough to prepare and just overwhelmed by it all. At one stage both roads were blocked off and meant we were isolated. It was only for a short time but it was horrible. Plus there is the ever present smoke. Add to this, just prior to Christmas, I had to put down my oldest dog and another dog had an operation on her back legs. She has since developed an ulcer in one eye. My youngest dog has just had to spend the night at the vets as she was vomiting, lethargic with a sore tummy. I was concerned she might have had pancreatitis. I have an 86 year old mother with cognitive decline who I had come to me when the predicted fire spread covered her house. I am grieving the mother I am losing/ have lost. I haven’t slept well for weeks (since my oldest dog became very frail). I feel overwhelmed by everything at the moment and have moments of feeling little hope for the future. I know rationally that these moments will pass but in the moment, it is hard to remember that. I don’t feel very adult like at the moment and wonder where the person who generally copes with life has gone to. I read a lot to escape. Things I usually do to help me get through difficult times like going for a walk on the beach or a swim, I haven’t been doing because of the air quality. I don’t seem to have anyone to talk to.

    2 people found this helpful
  7. Lady Nova
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    14 January 2020 in reply to Eucalyptuspunctata
    I too am on the South Coast. The fires got to within 1.2km of my home where I care for 3 with disability and had a medically fragile evacuated friend staying on NE when the fire storm hit the fan.
    I close my eyes and still see the red midday sun.
    we are still coughing.
    I am unsure when my normal will come back to me and I can have the relatively comfortable chaos I have always known. This grief and fear is too raw and the fact that it was oh so very real, not the maybe's of our usual anxiety riddled brains, that is hardest to process through.
    Keep trying ... we'll get there
    <3>
    2 people found this helpful
  8. quirkywords
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    quirkywords avatar
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    14 January 2020 in reply to Eucalyptuspunctata

    Eucalyptus,

    Thanks for making your first post and welcome to this supportive forum.

    he fires are touching everyone in some way.

    know that fear as the day before I left there was a false alarm. The waiting and not knowing is hard.

    Mrs Dools, Elizabeth I am sorry for your experiences. I think talking about it helps but many people don't understand the finality of the loss, they say what did you find?

    Lady Nova I am just hoping things get better and one day soon I will get more than 3 hrs sleep.

    Quirky

    3 people found this helpful
  9. Birdy77
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    14 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords
    Hello to everyone,

    Dear Quirky, i just wanted to say how devastated i am for you. No words can come close to the sadness i feel for your loss.

    I think we live in neighbouring towns and i know how terrifying it was over those days around the week of New Years.

    Lady Nova's description, as well as Eucalyptus ... you have captured the way i feel. Thank you both for putting into words what i am struggling to express.

    Elizabeth, you understand.

    Nurse Jenn, i can only imagine how it would feel to be separated from your partner while he fights fires, after going through your evacuation in December.


    I feel very drained. The constant vigilance. The feeling of deep sadness and loss of the community.

    I walked through my village the last couple of days, the thing most people said first, upon meeting was " are you ok?" .. "are you guys alright?" .... the care and concern amongst everyone is palpable.

    Thank you Sophie for creating this space for everyone- as a few menbers have said, we are all impacted, whether we live in an area that has been physically affected or not. Thank you Beyond Blue.

    I think we will need this thread for a while to come.
    4 people found this helpful
  10. Doolhof
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    14 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords

    Hi Quirky and Everyone,

    One thing I have realised in life, is that sometimes people just don't know what to say and may say something that is really inappropriate for the person who is suffering.

    Words and expressions can hurt like crazy, even if that has not been the intention.

    Each person experiences life differently so we need to be aware of how others may be feeling.

    It must be devastating Quirky when people ask what you have found in the ruins. Unless we have experienced such a tragedy, we have no understanding or comprehension.

    We don't have to loose anything to feel devastated also. Just the experience of having a fire close at hand can be traumatising.

    I too am thankful we have this space where we can share how we are feeling and what we are experiencing.

    Kind thoughts to all who are struggling, from Dools

    2 people found this helpful
  11. Peppermintbach
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    14 January 2020

    Hi everyone,

    My heart breaks for so many of you here...

    Again, I don’t really know what to say. Everything just seems rather trite coming from me right now...

    For those of us who live in the city/metropolitan areas, and not that I speak for everyone in those area, but I think as a bit of a generalisation, there’s a general feeling of sadness, shock and horror. Something like “what just happened?”

    My heart goes out to all of you. I don’t know what to say but I’m so, so sorry for all that you’re going through xoxo

    3 people found this helpful
  12. quirkywords
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    14 January 2020 in reply to Peppermintbach

    Just a hint to to people wanting to help someone who has lost their home.

    People offer their clothes and this is very kind but often the person receiving feels obligated to take them they may not fit or suit the person.

    If you can , think about a gift card as that gives the person control to buy what they want.

    Also this money being raised may not go to individuals. I have people said you will be ok because of all the donations. I hope they are not caught up in red tape and money goes to fire trucks and money to widows of firefighters.

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  13. Peppermintbach
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    14 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords

    Hi Quirky and a wave to all,

    Thank you so much for those very valid tips and advice about donations/attempts to help those who have lost their homes...

    I think you make a really good point about how we should try to help out in a way that is respectful and protects the dignity of those who have lost so much...

    I think some charities have actually explicitly asked people to stop donating clothes, because of an excess supply (in some cases) and how sometimes it’s just not appropriate for someone’s needs. Those charities have, in most cases, asked for monetary donations instead, because it’s liquid in the sense that money can be used to buy things/repair things/ give grants/etc as needed...

    I think what you’re saying is very true about how we need to be aware of how charities are using the money raised. I think there are some charities like Red Cross Australia (to the best of my knowledge) that is giving cash grants to people who have lost their homes, for example, as one way that they allocate the funds raised.

    But again, you’re absolutely right in saying that it’s worthwhile to take some time to understand how funds are being used before donating...

    Thank you so much for your wisdom and sharing your experience with us.

    Again, I’m so sorry for what you have lost. I know my words won’t help recover your loss, but I’m thinking of you.

    Kind thoughts to all too who are struggling and hurting xoxo

    1 person found this helpful
  14. blondguy
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    14 January 2020 in reply to Peppermintbach

    Hello everyone reading and posting on the forums

    Nurse Jenn mentioned "I have found that by taking a break from both the news and social media and the constant images has helped me"

    please be gentle to yourselves

    Paul

    2 people found this helpful
  15. quirkywords
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    14 January 2020 in reply to blondguy

    Nurse Jenn for me social media has been the only way of keeping in touch with the community I have left behind. I had many emails, and posts on FB enquiring how I am and encouraging me and people reconnecting from my town and others I haven't hers from for 40 years.

    I understand for some people it is too much it was a lifeline that made me feel connected and reconnected/

    I agree with avoiding the news and constant images of destruction. I have been sharing what my shop was like . People sharing their memories of my business has also helped me.

    I do know social media can be overwhelming but for me it has helped as I am using it to feel connected.

    Quirky

    1 person found this helpful
  16. Elizabeth CP
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    15 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords

    Quirky mentioned I do know social media can be overwhelming but for me it has helped as I am using it to feel connected. We are all different in our situations and reactions. The right way is the way which works for you as an individual regardless of what works for others. We can get help ideas and support from others but the bottom line is they are not living in your shoes so do what works for you and allow others the same privilege.

    I can relate to Quirky's comment re being given clothes etc. They are needed in the immediate situation but having things which feel right to you is important. For those who are close to someone who is affected thinking about what they want or are likely to miss can help get ideas for helping. Overseas family members sent us copies of photos of our family. Even now decades later those photos are special because they are all we have to connect with our previous life. Someone dropped off some books where we were staying. For me knowing someone had done that for me really helped. Being able to lose myself in those books helped me deal with the trauma. I also remember over 6 months after the fire someone at the new church we attended after moving to a new house found out what had happened and got a collection from the church before taking mum out to buy a nice dinner set. Not something she 'needed' but something 'nice'.

    I wish I was in a position to take Quirky to a nice bookshop to buy a book that she really wanted or to give he a gift card to spend on whatever she wants or needs right now. I hope there are nice people around you to help and support you and let you know they really care. Sending lots of love & best wishes to Quirky & anyone else affected

    1 person found this helpful
  17. Lady Nova
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    15 January 2020 in reply to Elizabeth CP
    I finally got someone to come and look at a door the was destroyed in the over week long power outage. My partner has uncontrolled epilepsy and often jerks wildly, these are myoclonic seizures. I think the door had already lost integrity when, in the deepest darkest of night, he jerked it right off it's spine whilst trying to find the bathroom. Everyone is so busy trying to help that I felt really bad asking for someone to come fit a new door.
    1 person found this helpful
  18. Moonstruck
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    15 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords

    Dear Quirky..... It's awful to hear that you have been so affected in this tragic situation...I am so very sorry and also would not hesitate in sending you a Gift Card to use in any way you wish....I admire your courage and bravery...I don't think I would be able to do it...just wish I could say more , except send loving thoughts and a deep desire for some peace to come to you .....love, Moon S

    2 people found this helpful
  19. Soberlicious96
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    16 January 2020 in reply to Nurse Jenn

    Hi all.

    These last weeks have been some of the most difficult I have had in years, in regards to the fires.I should also warn you, that I have given some detail below (third paragraph) which could be triggering, so if you don't want to read ahead, then please don't. My experience of what happened many years ago is the reason for my current struggle.

    While I have not been directly impacted as such in these current fires - as in had to evacuate - I most certainly have been impacted with my mental and emotional health. I live fairly close to the recent fire activity and have had LOTS of smoke in the area, and plenty of breathing difficulties. There's been (was, but not so much now) MANY emergency warnings on the local radio, and, because I work in furniture retail, plenty of evacuees who are now without homes, coming into work, looking so devastated and exhausted ......

    So why does that affect me so much? Well, I was directly affected by the Ash Wendesday fires in 1983. We were not able to evacuate the area in time, and became trapped in burning building. And in that building, a man died in my arms because he could no longer breathe. We laid under wet blankets, listening to the horrendous roar outside ....... and then, at about 4am we were rescued by a bunch of VERY BRAVE firefighters and bus driver who drove us out and away from the fire. And we lost EVERYTHING. Imagine, if you can, not even having any underwear or a toothbrush. Myself and our family had literally run for our lives. Our pets were also lost in the fire.

    Having said that, I am very lucky that I did not lose any family members. We did rebuild a new home and manage to 'get on with' our lives ........ but it's at times like these I feel permanently scarred. I struggle with nightmares, a lack of sleep and depression and anxiety in the 'mid to high' range.

    But I've seen my doctor, I have a GREAT support network, and I know I'm gonna get 'well' again ..... as in, the nightmares will ease up and the depression and anxiety is being treated as I write this.

    I'll be okay.

    After all, my Christmas present to myself this year was my motorbike licence, and getting a motorbike!!!

    Oh, and a chocolate frappe a day helps too!

    Anyway, am keeping everyone in my thoughts and prayers. Including myself. Take care. And I promise I will to.

    Mel. xox

    2 people found this helpful
  20. Elizabeth CP
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    17 January 2020 in reply to Soberlicious96

    Thanks for sharing your story Mel. It helped me to feel not so alone or strange. We have not been directly impacted by the fires. None of them are near us but the constant media coverage & smoke haze is triggering for me. The bushfire which destroyed our house was relatively small but still destroyed a number of houses & killed 3 people including firemen. Being surrounded by fire & stuck in a burning building is not something I'd wish on my worst enemy. Like you I am grateful for the firemen who escorted us to safety as well as others who provided housing & other essentials until we could get a new house.

    I often feel stupid for reacting like I do when not under threat but I can't help it. I have only recently started getting help. Good luck Mel.

  21. Soberlicious96
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    17 January 2020 in reply to Elizabeth CP

    HI Elizabeth,

    There is no need to feel stupid for reacting to such a traumatic event. A bushfire, no matter how big or small, is traumatic, and particularly given that you (like me) experienced the loss of your home as a result, is in fact, a perfectly normal reaction.

    Anyway, yeah, I will be okay.

    And I am glad that you are starting to get help for this. I wish you all the very best in learning to deal with it all, and will be keeping you in my thoughts and, if you don't mind, my prayers too.

    Take care. Together, we got this. xo

  22. Elizabeth CP
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    17 January 2020 in reply to Soberlicious96
    Thanks. It is good to have someone who really understands. It is not so much the house and the everyday belongings but the loss of the irreplaceable things like photos & other special things. The real problem was the loss of my previous life. We had to move so lost friends . The biggest thing for me is the fear remembering just waiting to die because there seemed to be no chance of escape.
  23. Soberlicious96
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    18 January 2020 in reply to Elizabeth CP

    Yeah, I hear you. Having that experience of thinking you're "really gonna die tonight" is so overwhelming. You wonder how the world keeps going. It's so very surreal and leaves you in a state of shock for quite some time.

    And then later on down the track, maybe a year or two later, you'll find yourself looking for something that you once had. ..... You'll turn the (new) place upside down trying to find this thing that you KNOW you once had somewhere ....... and then someone will quite innocently ask "Was it before the fire?" and you'll stop dead in your tracks and realise; yeah, it was before the fire.

    And then this other thing happens too; your 'life timeline' will become 'before the fire' and 'after the fire' ....... because it becomes such a defining moment in your life. Life a reference point. It'll be all 'old house' and 'new house' and 'I was aged such-and-such then which was before the fire' and 'oh yeah, that thing happened and I was with such-and-such which was after the fire' ....... and on and on it goes.

    It's a memory and experience that has never ever left me. But, little by little, most days, I've learned to live with it, and accept that it's a part of me now. And yeah, there are many people out there that don't get it and never will. But then again, it didn't happen to them; it happened to us. So whether or not they 'get it' is not important. What is important is this; it takes more than a burning building to get us!! We're warrior people! I know you may not feel it, but you ARE a very brave soul. Brave enough to share your story here, and be vulnerable enough to admit to the fear and be walking through it anyway, by simply going on day by day.

    So for now, just be gentle with yourself. If all you can manage for the day is getting dressed and getting 3 square meals in, then you're doing okay. Give it time. A new, but unplanned life takes a lot of getting used to.

    Take care. And keep coming back here as much as you like. It's actually helping me too, to know that at last, someone else understands.

    Best regards, Mel. xo

  24. quirkywords
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    18 January 2020 in reply to Soberlicious96

    Mel and Elizabeth
    thanks for sharing your stories, What worries me is that in 6 mths,12 mths, Not to mention 5 years times no one will think about the fires and life will move on.

    people say things can be replaced as these are often people thane all their possessions,

    elizabeth I am sorry your feelings were not acknlowdged when you experienced loss in the fires as a child ,

    people say they can’t imagine what I am feeling but I can’t understand what I am feeling. It is so unreal please let me wake up from the nightmare. If only it was that easy.

    quirky

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  25. Elizabeth CP
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    18 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords

    Yes it is easy to say things can be replaced. I remember on Ash Wednesday my in-laws coming to help as we were very close particularly when the wind changed to blow the fires towards us. They were grabbing clothes to pack including winter coats so they weren't lost. I didn't have the energy to argue but I knew clothes were replaceable. I wanted to take photos & other things which were personal because of the meaning behind them & the memories they evoked. They are not replaceable. The other thing which is not replaceable is the lifestyle & friendships particularly when you have to move away.

    In 5 years time most people will forget. Politicians & others will think they've done their job providing crisis support so everything is over. From my experience you're needs will change over time so don't be afraid to ask for support regardless of how long after the even it is. Look after yourself.

    Mel I agree about the timeline but for me everything changed so drastically that I never looked for things I no longer had. I thought I'd done a reasonable job of getting over it on my own except when their were serious fires near us such as Ash Wednesday & Black Saturday. I would leave because I couldn't cope with the fear of being trapped again. Unfortunately for some reason Black Saturday seemed to retraumatise me & left me getting triggered by things which previously had no impact. My logical brain is no longer able to take control back.

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  26. quirkywords
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    18 January 2020 in reply to Soberlicious96

    Mel,

    I am so sorry about your experiences in 1983.

    Hugs

    Quirky

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  27. Hanna3
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    20 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords

    Hi quirky and everyone,

    I haven't had anything like your experiences but just wanted to say I have a friend who lost her house in a fire caused by some kind of electrical malfunction - she and her young son just managed to get out in time and watch their house burn down. I know she has been struggling with the news coverage of these fires as they bring all that horror back to her. The trauma you've all gone through must be horrendous.

    Quirky we are all thinking of you and hoping you are managing as well as you can at this time.

    Just sending my best wishes to all of you.

    1 person found this helpful
  28. quirkywords
    Community Champion
    • Outstanding members who have volunteered their time to support others here on the forums
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    quirkywords avatar
    12345 posts
    23 January 2020 in reply to Hanna3

    Hanna and all,

    I find the red tape very stressful. I realise people are doing their jobs but continuing retelling ones story takes it toll.

    be kind to yiurself

    quirky

  29. Hanna3
    Hanna3 avatar
    3212 posts
    23 January 2020 in reply to quirkywords
    Quirky, I can well imagine that having to retell what happened over and over must be re-traumatising for you each time. I'm so sorry you're going through all this, hugs from us here xx
  30. Lady Nova
    Lady Nova avatar
    117 posts
    23 January 2020 in reply to Hanna3

    I was at my psychologist appointment when the emergency services pings started coming through our phones, again. Wild gales, smoke, dust, ash and a burning sensation in the tears that just would not stay put.

    Panic on the road as sticks and stones were thrown at my windshield. Sobbing because I was still not over New Years Eve.

    My partner rubbing my leg reminding me to breath.

    Now as the sun drops, that yellow evening colour of destruction and grief.

    My very dear friend messages me, she has lost her house. How much more can we hurt?

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