There I sat on Valentines Day 2016 - unsettled. Unable to stay focused on anything...except for the fact that Christchurch had just experienced another Earthquake, just a 8 days short of that dreadful day in 2011 when life, as us Cantabrians knew it, changed.
The ridiculous thing, for me personally, is the way my body reacted the second I read that single status saying "F!#k - that was a big one". When someone from Christchurch posts that - you know that it isn't just another four point something aftershock type affair - we almost got used to those.
No, my body went straight into fight or flight response, heart racing, restricted vision & coiled like a spring while I looked around me trying to figure what to do............. then realising I was 2,504 kilometers away.
With shaking hands I put a call out on Social Media for Christchurch friends to check in. My head said "Family & Friends" by my hands weren't listening. My thoughts were rushing trying to remember that old mental checklist of names of everyone I needed to check on. I missed loads of names. Fortunately I got quick responses on Facebook, saw posts commenting on the quake &, as I was starting to really stress, a phone from my eldest daughter, Michaela.
But what was it with that reaction? That surge of adrenalin, that left me shaking, alternating between tearful & unable to focus on anything for the rest of the day. Not to mention feeling exhausted for days afterwards!
I know those experiences haven't truly left me - I get reminders. Helicopters flying over will cause a temporary stillness while my mind takes that brief pause to figure it is not another civil defence emergency. Parking under buildings still always triggers that "what if" in my mind as I go in - & for the most part I will park in the open given the choice. The city here - I don't even contemplate taking my car in - preferring to catch the train, not just for convenience.
Sitting on a wooden deck having a coffee with a friend, & the deck will shake for some reason.....& there it is, that pounding that triggers my body into high alert. These days at least I manage to stay seated.
The first time that happened it was just a bird landing on the patio out of our sight, such a tiny shudder of the floor beneath me & I catapulted out of my chair & froze - waiting to see if that movement got bigger before fleeing. Thank goodness for the gentle voice next to me that realised what was happening with me & said "it's ok, Deb, it's just a bird", bringing me back to earth.
Back when the Earthquakes first started people used to tell me that I was so strong, & I probably was - I had to be for my kids & my Mum. In the months that I stayed with Mum before moving here, I realised that my "strong" had run out. Roles were reversed. Living out near the beach gave a whole new perspective on how nasty each & every one of those "aftershocks" truly was. They just felt different - so very much harsher than just 6 kilometers inland. An even nastier kind of nasty. Hence some of the references to a city divided.
So almost 5 years on I know that Christchurch has little to feel like celebrating.
Oh yes, the rebuild is plodding along (if you define the rebuild as being focussed primarily in the CBD). The very first estimate of $20 Billion to rebuild (laughable even at the time), escalated to $30 Billion within 6 months & $40 Billion by 2013. But that is only a small part of things.
What about the people? Right from the beginning I have questioned all of this focus on fixing the bricks & mortar, rather than fixing the people. There was support for those that had suffered injury & loss in the early days, those that were suffering because they had been caught in the thick of it - but what about the longer term.
Initially I questioned it on what I was observing around me - the reactions of friends & family. It was a no brainer to figure that some were dealing with it better than others.
How many have given a thought to the medical conditions that are a direct, or indirect result of continued stress? I didn't need any sort of degree to figure that one - dealing with a partner having what was a rather significant heart attack 3 days after the September 4th 7.1 quake taught me the effects of stress rather quickly. Interestingly this timed perfectly to the onset of my symptoms that were later diagnosed as Hypothyroidism.
In hindsight I'm surprised that no one ever bothered to look at adrenal fatigue, given the events surrounding us at the time. I honestly wonder how many people are struggling with that - especially as the primary causes are prolonged stress, emotional trauma, lack of sleep....
It doesn't get better alone - & it certainly doesn't help your ability to cope.
Yes, we were strong, or made an appearance of being so - but the resilient, not so much. We were strong because we had no choice - but for the most part "resilient" was a handle that the rest of the country gave us because that is how we appeared to them. I well recall feeling like smacking the next person that referred to Cantabrians as "resilient" over the head by Boxing Day 2011. I also wondered if I was being uncharitable by feeling that way, until I read this today.
I don't feel so uncharitable any more.
A city tired....tired of the "get over it" attitude sometimes seen from the rest of the country, tired of circumnavigating broken roads, tired of waiting, tired of change, & certainly tired of upheaval.
So on the 5th Remembrance of the February Quake - just take a moment before "labelling" Christchurch & Cantabrians. If you must pick labels then patient, enduring, accepting, loving, valiant & inspiring might be better choices.
Try to comprehend what it is like to lose your bearings in a city that was once as familiar as the back of your hand, because those subconscious "landmark buildings" are no longer there - & everything is unfamiliar....often causing you to grieve all over again when you finally figure what it once was.
Try to understand that many choose to say "I'm ok"- because it is easier than trying to explain why they are not....& that in itself becomes habitual.