Displaced by hurricane — settling into my new home?

Originally Published: October 24, 2008
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Alice,

I am a displaced New Orleans student at Columbia, and I am still having issues since the hurricane. I have been getting counseling, but it doesn't seem to be helping. I loved my life in New Orleans and at my school. Everyone keeps telling me "to make the best of it," and I'm really trying to. For instance, I try to go to events and meet people. I have been very outgoing and friendly even though I am not a natural exrovert. It takes a lot of energy out of me, and it just doesn't seem to be paying off. I also feel very isolated being around people that don't understand what I'm going through. I've tried to get in contact with other New Orleans students, but I've had difficulties. I feel like I'm going to go crazy being this depressed for another couple of months. Furthermore, I fear that everything will be drastically different when I return to New Orleans, and I'll never get my life back. Also, sometimes I feel guilty feeling sad because my situation could be so much worse. I just don't what else to do!

Dear Reader,

Although it has been a while since Hurricane Katrina and your initial relocation to Columbia, it is normal to still have some feelings of sadness and loneliness. Reflecting on your loss and reaching out for help are good signs that you are, in fact, healing.

Sometimes when people experience a significant loss it can be helpful to understand a bit about the grieving process, in addition to your individual feelings. Grief is an ongoing process that everyone experiences differently. Over time, your feelings may change from sadness and loneliness to anger and resentment and, finally, to personal resolution. Your memories will never fade away, but over time you may find positive ways to incorporate them into your life.

There are a variety of self-care practices that may ease your feelings of sadness and provide positive psychological benefits, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest. Meditation, yoga, or a warm bath may also help you relax and feel refreshed. Journaling is another good way to explore your feelings (both negative and positive) about Katrina.  Journaling may also help you prepare to return to New Orleans by reflecting on your expectations of life at home and how things may have changed.

In your day-to-day life, it may be helpful to establish routines that provide a sense of stability and comfort. For example, you might want to try going to sleep and waking up at similar times each day, or creating small rituals such as a morning run. In addition, it may be comforting to incorporate activities or habits that you enjoyed at home into your weekly routine. If you liked reading the paper on Sunday with your family, you could try reading the news online and emailing links or comments to your family and friends. If there are certain meals you enjoyed at home, you can look for New Orleans cuisine in the grocery stores or explore Creole restaurants in New York. 

You mentioned that you have been making an extra effort to be more outgoing. Making friends in a new place can be difficult no matter what your past experience. You may have also found it difficult for most folks to truly understand the experience of being displaced from New Orleans. Have you thought about volunteering to help other Katrina survivors or other displaced people? This may be a good way to meet people who share your experience and care about New Orleans. Redefining yourself as an "empowered survivor," rather than a Katrina "victim," is another way to find positive resolution in your grieving process.

In your search for meaningful relationships, you may also want to consider a support group as an addition to your individual counseling. Columbia's Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) offers several support groups that may fit your needs.

Although it may seem unusual to feel sad and lonely so long after being displaced from New Orleans, healing takes does take time. Despite your negative feelings, you seem to be actively searching for ways to move forward with your life in New York, which shows you are on the path to recovery. Make sure to discuss any new self-care techniques and plans with your counselor, and good luck making New York a happy home away from home!

Alice