World Mental Health Day 2015 – Dignity Or Do I Have To Beg?

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Dignity in Mental Health – 10 October

World Mental Health Day is always an important day to me, and this year it’s been one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The topic set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is ‘Dignity in Mental Health’.

What does that mean? And how should I choose to write on that topic. In deciding, it’s important to acknowledge that ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ will mean something different depending on where you call home. I live in New Zealand and what ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ is to me will probably be different to you.

What has come to mind is the times when my dignity has not been maintained in either living with my mental illness or being treated for that mental illness. Some of that has been directed to me specifically but other times it has been more of a societal issue. And that’s what I intended to write about today… until today. When I completely changed my mind because of the circumstance I have found myself in.

The term dignity is one of those which we all know but is quite difficult to define.  What do we really mean? So to the dictionary, I went;

“The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”

What does that mean? That was the Oxford Dictionary, that which I grew up with. Whether for amusement or clarification, sometimes it pays to take a look at The Urban Dictionary:

“A proper sense of pride and self-respect”

That was one of five definitions offered but is the one I feel most comfortable with. Because it’s about me (or you). It’s about self. That which will give me “a proper sense of pride and self-respect” will give me dignity. It makes sense to me.

Today I found myself in a looming sense of indignity (in terms of my mental health) because I am in a situation where I would have to expose myself more than someone without a mental illness might have to. It was making me feel sick. The more I thought about it, the more a headache came on. Maybe it might seem like no big deal but it is personal and it isn’t going to come easy.

 You might be aware that I am currently looking for some alternative accommodation for six months while my current abode is repaired of its earthquake damage. As is becoming a common task, this morning I went to look at a possible flat/apartment. I liked it. Actually I loved it. It would suit me down to the ground. As I left the agent gave me an application form which I would have to send through to her office.

These application forms are worse than applying for a job. Landlords can be exceptionally picky in this city. There is a huge demand for rental accommodation for exactly the reason I’m looking.  Earthquake repairs and people who have come to the city to work (on earthquake repairs) who need accommodation.

I know that if I had a job my chances of getting this place would rise substantially. You see, the jobless simply don’t stand a chance. We are an underclass and landlords don’t need to acknowledge that underclass even exist. But mental illness makes it worse.

I haven’t worked since 2010, at which point I had a part-time job for 18 months. Before that, I took nine years to complete a three-year degree. And before that I spent eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I have to go back to 1993 to find when I was employed full-time and actually did something those landlords would consider of note.

To get this flat (I saw today) I have to provide something of an employment history and then I have to provide personal references, separate from employment references. Are they kidding? As I said, I had to give up work years ago and I gave up on having friendships some years ago. They hurt too much. With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) it’s too hard and too painful. I couldn’t do it. I have no one who I could seek a personal reference from. I have no references.

Here’s my point:

There are other people for whom this process will be limiting if not failing. I know that I’m not alone. But for someone with a mental illness, landlords in my city are literally refusing to admit we exist. They simply don’t HAVE to admit I exist because they have plenty of nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s. And those nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s have good personal references too.

My only option is to get down and beg. IF I can possibly find a landlord or agent who will give me even just five minutes to beg they might actually discover… I might not have a job, or steady work record and I might not have upstanding people who know me BUT my mental illness, does not preclude me from being a good, responsible tenant who takes care of their property and pays their rent on time. Hey, they might even find they like me. If they give me a chance.

I am a good person. I will be a good tenant, and actually regardless of my lack of a job my insurance company back me.

But because I have a mental illness I simply don’t exist.

Dignity in Mental Health can be viewed from a perspective of how we are treated by mental health professionals. But it is just important to ask with what dignity are people with mental illnesses treated by society. Do we even exist in the eyes of other facets of society? Do we have to get down on our knees and beg for a place to live, or a benefit or a job?

Maybe you’re a Christchurch landlord and think you have every right to deny my existence. You do have that right but how would you want to be treated if tomorrow you were diagnosed with a mental illness, and your world came crashing down around you? Wouldn’t you want your dignity intact?

I have exactly four weeks to find somewhere to live. And sadly it is having an enormous impact on my mental health. Keep reading and I’ll be shouting from the rooftops of WordPress when I find somewhere to live.

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox

Certainty

Certainty is one of those things that we never realise how much we appreciate it until we don’t have it.  I’ve realised that I am lacking certainty, and right now, I miss it dreadfully.

If you have been following my blog for a while you’ll remember that I live in Christchurch, NZ where we have been ravaged by a procession of earthquakes since September, 2010.  The quakes have finally died away (pretty much) but we live with the aftermath on a daily basis.

The most devastating quake to hit the city was on 22 February 2011.  People died, buildings collapsed, and lives would never be the same.  My home sustained substantial damage including basically splitting the building into three pieces and knocking it off its foundations in one corner.  But hey, after some emergency repairs it was deemed liveable.  It’s just not entirely weather-proof (it’s winter here, so I’m feeling that) and the floor slopes to one side.  Aesthetically it doesn’t look too good, but then there are many worse off than me.

Since then, certainty vanished.  I have little idea whether the house can be fixed, or whether it will end up being demolished.  I know that to fix it will take some major work, not to mention money.  In New Zealand we have a government agency, the Earthquake Commission (EQC), whose responsibility it is to fund the repairs of damage caused my natural disasters.  That funding is through a tax levy on insurance.

EQC has become the organisation we love to hate.  Personally I think a lot of that is justified.  Between them and my insurance company (that’s another story entirely because they literally fled the country) they hold my life in their hands.  My certainty is at their mercy.

For some residents of Christchurch, including my parents, their future was determined on the day of that quake.  Their home was immediately deemed only fit for demolition, and they were instantly homeless.  Not entirely homeless, because they just shifted into my home, until we were able to find a new home for them some months down the track.

That would clearly be devastating for anyone, and there were thousands of people in that boat. I don’t wish that for myself, but sometimes I think it would have been a bit easier.  At least I would know.  At least I could get on with my life.

But instead life stopped that day, and it’s been a waiting game ever since (for me, and thousands of other residents in the same boat).  Will my home survive?  I don’t know.  Will I have to shift out?  And where will I go?  I don’t know.  Will there be a fair settlement?  I don’t know.  I’m just waiting.

So today as I write, there is a small army of assessors from EQC roaming my property.  This was last done in September 2011 but they have come to the conclusion that the assessment they did at that time was not accurate.  Basically they didn’t take into account that my home is physically joined to three others.  How could they miss this fact?  I don’t know.  This has particular implications for me because my foundations need to be repaired and to lift the house in order to do that, they would probably have to lift the other houses too.  That starts to sounds complicated, expensive and possibly simply not worth it.

As this team of EQC staff (I think there are about 10 and apparently they are combining the assessment with a staff training exercise) go through my property (and my neighbours) inside and out, I wonder just what will be the result.  I certainly won’t know this today, and I suspect it will be months more before I get any certainty from them.  That’s just the pace they work at.  And this… is just life.

So does certainty matter?  Is it something I need to ensure lasting mental health even?  I’m inclined to think it does matter, simply because I like to know what is ahead.  Even if change is ahead, at least if I know, then I can prepare for it (mentally and physically).  But in this situation that’s not possible.  It’s no worse for me than for many other residents of this city.  We all face this indeterminate wait, with a foreboding that our future is in someone else’s hands.

Perhaps the major thing that I have learnt in this whole earthquake nightmare (which included the subsequent death of my father) is to live one day at a time.  The only problem is that sometimes it is just so damn hard to do that.

Some days I can do the ‘one day at a time’ philosophy.  I can accept that at some stage I am going to have to leave my home, either permanently, or temporarily while repairs are undertaken.  That I don’t know when that will be, and when it happens I probably won’t get much warning.

But other days, like last night when I was trying to sleep, it just seems all too much.  I just want to know.  I just want that certainty of what is ahead. Some days I can live with the uncertainty, but on others it seems like my entire mental health rides on those 10 EQC assessors who are here today.  But then here in Christchurch, that is the only certainty so many of us have.

“The world is a wonderfully weird place, consensual reality is significantly flawed, no institution can be trusted, certainty is a mirage, security a delusion, and the tyranny of the dull mind forever threatens — but our lives are not as limited as we think they are, all things are possible, laughter is holier than piety, freedom is sweeter than fame, and in the end it’s love and love alone that really matters.” 

― Tom Robbins

What Battles To Fight?

Image credit: FB/Women’s Tea Time

Is it just me?  Or do other people get swamped by how many battles there are to fight?

I admit, before my family tell you, I am a stubborn, opinionated ‘dog with a bone’ at times.  I’m passionate (as you’ll know if you followed my Passions Profile Challenge a while back) and I feel strongly when I see things that I don’t think are right or fair.  When I see people being treated badly I want to jump up and down and tell the whole world that it is wrong.

The thing is though that I know I can’t fight every battle I see.  It’s actually not good for my health, mental or physical.  And if I ranted here about absolutely every battle, I suspect I’d lose readers pretty quickly.  If I fight every battle then I end up just being ignored because “she’s just at it again“.  I am probably already gaining myself a reputation that I’d really rather not have.  I dont’ want the ‘crazy’ label.  I want people to say “she makes a good point“.

Yesterday was one of those days where I was bombarded with things on social media and news sites that I just ‘had’ to fight back.  Thankfully I was a little wise and saw the pattern.  I did fight back on one issue, but I stepped away and breathed instead on the rest.  Except I was still frustrated because people were being treated badly, portrayed badly, or money was being wasted on things that just don’t seem right.  By the end of the day I was exhausted simply from having it all in my head.

Here’s a list of some of the things going around, and around in my head yesterday:

1.  Fixing children’s paddling pools gets priority in earthquake recovery in my city over people getting homes to live in.

2. One young person’s suicide is highlighted (irresponsibly in my view) by the media and mental health organisations over, and over again taking the focus away from what really matters.  She’s not the only one.  How do we handle this responsibly, with thought given to others who might read but are suffering themselves from bullying, self harm, depression and suicidal thoughts?

3.  A person labelling another as ‘sick and twisted’ (among other things) because they didn’t like their actions.  Both people are likely to have mental illnesses.

4.  Churches prioritise spending millions of dollars on ornate buildings to ‘worship God’ when (I think) they should be prioritising expenditure on feeding the poor and hungry.  This applies to governments too.

5.  A young person wants to give up the fight for her life (again) because she can’t get adequate help from mental health services.

6.  Fancy sports stadiums are more important than people who need food, shelter, safety.

I won’t go on because I’m sure you’re getting the idea.  Issues of earthquake recovery in my city leave me more, and more disturbed because individual people’s needs are not important.  Maybe I’m a biased on that partly because my needs don’t get a look in on that front either, but there are so many people much worse off than me.

And mental illness (and yes, I’m choosing to use the term mental illness rather than mental health purposely because this is making people sick… or dead), especially concerning stigma and the media’s portrayal of it just sickens me.

But for the sake of my own health I have to draw the line.  I can’t fight every battle, but I want to.  I feel strongly about all these things, and what I hate is that from each of these issues and more,  there are individuals suffering.

Today my fibromyalgia has flared up again.  Certainly yesterday was an dificult day because it had been my Dad’s birthday, but this is what fibro does to me.  The emotional stress inside converts to physical pain, brain fog and fatigue.  I know myself well enough to know that probably both things contributed to today’s reality.

So I’m wondering?  Do other people struggle like this?  How do you choose wisely what battles to fight?  How do you rest easy if you choose not to fight a battle?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

~Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

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Good From Bad

‘Good from Bad’ in the form of the new Christchurch CBD shopping area…
created solely from shipping containers.
Image credit: flickr.com/photos/jjprojects/6335876035/in/photostream/

Regular readers will hopefully forgive me for going on again about earthquakes, and earthquake recovery.  I do realise that while it is a very important issue to me, that it is not so interesting to others, especially if you have never even experienced a mild tremor in your lifetime.  I wrote a couple of days ago in In My Corner Of The World… There Is Hope that today is the two-year anniversary of the start of our earthquake nightmare here in Christchurch, New Zealand.

I was thinking, and came to the conclusion that today’s date, 4 September is significant for me in more than just the reminder of the quakes and the destruction.  I realise that it was the trigger to finally beginning my road to recovery from mental illness.

What I have learnt through this nightmare is to take one day at a time.  In so many ways.  People often talk about taking one day at a time.  Actually, it is almost too often sometimes, because it is difficult to understand how that might possibly make a difference.  Let me explain…

Every time an earthquake strikes there is no certainty of whether this will be a tiny shake that you just wonder whether it was actually just the wind.  Or will it go on, and build to a much more traumatic and damaging quake?  Many times I have sat here at my computer as a quake starts and I wait a second or two to decide, do I run for cover, or do I just ride it out?  Sometimes I have run for cover only to feel a little silly when it was just a small tremor.  But other times I have been glad I made the choice to move, as things come crashing down around me once again.

The other thing I don’t know is when the next one will come.  I always knew that after a major quake, smaller quakes called after-shocks would follow, but I had no idea that after-shocks, and then new major quakes could continue on for years.

It’s difficult to know exactly what to do after the quake stops because I don’t know what will follow.  Is it worth putting all the photos back in the shelf?  Should I pick the television up off the floor? (actually we Cantabarians got clever eventually and screwed televisions down.  Actually anything that could be screwed down was)  I have now had one new television courtesy of insurance, but I don’t really want to have to go back for another.  And to be honest there are some things that now live in the floor so they can’t fall any further.

I had heard people say that animals often gave advance notice of earthquakes about to hit, and that the birds went quiet, and the like.  Well my cat Penny lived through a good number of the quakes and never once gave me any warning.  She would look as shocked and terrified as me, except usually she would move a whole heap quicker than me.

When you’re in an earthquake zone, like I now know I do, you realise that there is little certainty.  I have learnt to have bottled water on hand, extra non-perishable food, and batteries in the torch and radio.  Actually I know have a solar-powered torch/radio so that solves the problem.  These things are so much more important to me now that I have experienced needing them, but not having them.  Now if I am prepared for that uncertainty, then it becomes manageable.  I know exactly the things I need to do if, and when a major quake hits.  I can just go into that action plan almost on automatic pilot rather than the shock of it paralysing me.  I know what is important.

When I learnt to take one day at a time with regard to my material needs, I started to take one day at a time with my emotional health too.  I have finally realised that worrying about my future, won’t make it any better. Worrying about the past wouldn’t make it have not happened.   I have finally learnt to say what is on my mind because I don’t know if I will get the chance again.

I particularly learnt that with the death of my father.  At the moment he died, he and I were having a very rare argument (about chemical toilets of all things).  Clearly it was heated enough to literally stop his heart, on top of the stress he had already experienced.  What I struggled with afterwards was the fear that in the argument he would have lost sight of the fact that I loved him.  There was no time, it was over in an instant, and if only we had stopped and just appreciated each other rather than arguing.

I should say that I have dealt with that now.  I know my Dad knew I loved him and while it is unfortunate that our relationship ended in anger, I know it is okay.  I feel at peace with that, and achieving that in itself is a very big difference from the person I was, who would have felt bad and guilty for the rest of her days.  I have learnt to say what’s on my mind, at the time.  I will never know if I will have another opportunity to say I love someone.

By learning to live in the moment, and be very clear about my feelings with those I care about, I have been able to correct some of the other things that were screwing me up, particularly in terms of my relationships with other people.

I never want to live through another two years like I have just been through, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  But good does come from bad.  I have learnt so many things that otherwise might have taken years to discover, if I ever did.  While the experience has been a nightmare, my mental health has strengthened in leaps and bounds, when for so many years nothing seemed able to achieve that.

We usually look at mental illness as being a bad thing, and quite rightly so, when you stop and think of the anguish and pain for the sufferer, and those around them.  Again I wouldn’t choose the last 19 years again.  Not for one minute.  I lost so much, and I know I hurt people along the way.

But the suffering I went through created a new person.  I am not the person I was in the 1990’s, and actually I am quite glad I’m not.  I am a better person.  I have new opportunities because of the person I have become, and so I would go so far as to say that good came from the bad of my mental illness.  I fully expect that some people may have difficulty accepting that, and that’s okay.  I am just saying that for me, there is good as a result of the pain and suffering I experienced.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Kia Kaha

Kia Kaha    =    Be Strong

Kia Kaha’ in Maori means ‘Be Strong’ ( or sometimes ‘Stay Strong’).  It is a regularly used phrase here in New Zealand in a huge range of places.  For example, when the three kiwi soldiers who died in Afghanistan last week were returned home in recent days, Kia Kaha has often been repeated to their friends, families and colleagues.

It is a warm expression of support and encouragement, sometimes used as a greeting; used by Maori and increasingly by Pakeha (white-skinned New Zealanders) alike.  It is uniquely New Zealand, and I admit that I like that.  If regular readers hadn’t noticed I am proud to be a kiwi.

Kia Kaka chch
(Photo credit: KimMcKelvey)

Kia Kaha Christchurch

The phrase Kia Kaha Christchurch became a popular call after 22 February 2011, when we were struck by the deadly earthquake that killed 185 people.  At the time, and since because it continues to be heard today as we rebuild, it seemed like a nice expression of support that the rest of the country was giving us.  Actually even Prince William used the phrase when he addressed many Christchurch residents at a Memorial Service in the months after.  Someone had clearly told him that it would be a welcome phrase to use, and I’m sure many who heard the speech were encouraged by it.

Yet to be honest, the use of kia kaha after the earthquakes is nice in terms of support but it just  doesn’t quite sit right with me.

I read a comment on a blog recently that caught my attention and perhaps summed up what I was thinking but hadn’t dared to even think, let alone, express.   It said:

“… I just find the whole earthquake terribly cruel,
depressing, crushing, and awful, and nothing
to be kia kaha about” 
(1.)

I accept the phrase kia kaha in the manner in which I think it is meant, but when people have lost lives, limbs, homes, possessions, businesses… I’m not convinced that being strong is always the appropriate  response.

Don’t get me wrong, being strong was pretty much the only option for so many people in the days immediately following.  My own experience was that I had no choice than to be strong as I turned my attention to helping my elderly parents deal with the losses they had encountered.  Neither of them were thinking straight, yet there were many things that simply had to be done.  They had left their home with nothing, so had no clothes, no money, not even any identification.  There was help available for them fairly quickly but it involved dealing with bureaucracy.  Yes, even in a disaster someone is going to want forms filled in.

So I had no time to do anything but be strong.  There simply wasn’t any other choice.  But while being strong was appropriate in the early days, there came a time when it was necessary for me to feel the emotion that I had switched off and buried.  It was buried so well I hardly knew it existed.  It was only in rare moments with just my brother that I was even able to feel the stress that was building.

Six days later I was fortunate to get half an hour of my weekly appointment with my psychotherapist.  It didn’t matter that I was sitting in a field on my brother’s farm talking to my therapist by phone.  My friend Plonker was alone in being able to listen in.  It wasn’t the usual environment but the chance to talk about how I was feeling made a huge difference to me.  I didn’t have to be strong right then.

I worked out at that point where I needed to be strong, and where it was safe to have the feelings that were bubbling over.  That made an enormous difference to me, because I knew that there was space for me.

What concerns me is that not everyone has that space, and for many the term kia kaha is the only words they’ve heard.  A friend of mine (a man of about 60) told me some months later that he had been diagnosed with depression following the earthquakes and had come to accept that he didn’t have to be strong.  For the first time in his life he saw that it was okay to be sad, it was okay to be weak.  Having realised that, and with the help of medication and counselling he was starting to recover, but understanding that he didn’t have to be the stoic one in his family was the break through.

Today I came across a blog post saying a similar thing.  I’m not exactly sure how I came across it.  I guess it was something I fell upon but was exactly what I needed to read.  It fits perfectly with what I am saying, although I admit that the post is addressed to men.  Carlos Andrés Gómez says in his blog:

…I was fifteen when I heard about my closest childhood friend being killed in a car accident, and I will never forget this tremendous burden I felt to “stay strong” and “tough my way through it.”  I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was hurting.  I didn’t want to ask for help.  I accepted it as a given that I would bottle up all of my emotions and deal with them alone.  I took great pride (at the time) in the fact that I excused myself from the table to cry alone in the bathroom after my father told me the news. I never shed one tear in front of my sister and dad, and it somehow felt like undeniable proof that I was finally ready to be a man. I quietly celebrated that moment of shutting myself down emotionally, as though it were an accomplishment.  I wore it like a badge of honor that I could conceal the hurricane of emotions in my chest…”

Whether man or woman I think there are times when shutting down probably seems like the best course of action.  It’s what I did in the immediate days after that quake because there was simply too much else that needed to be done.  And while I welcome anyone greeting me with kia kaha I’m not sure that it is the phrase I need to hear now.  Now I need to hear that I don’t need to be strong.  Even if it is only me that gives me that permission, I need to know that it is okay to be as I am.

This doesn’t just apply to the aftermath of natural disasters.  It applies in day to day life.  I spend a lot of my time concerned with the well-being of other people, and have recently attached a note to my computer screen.  It says “sometimes you have to do what’s best for you and your life, not what’s best for everyone else“.  For me, this is the message I need.  I don’t always need to be strong for others.  Sometimes it is okay to simply look after me.

PS. If I have offended anyone in my interpretation of the term kia kaha, I apologise.  My intention has not been to criticise the use of the term (which is one I use and appreciate), but to explore the use of it.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are
strong at the broken places.” 

―    Ernest Hemingway,    A Farewell to Arms

‘Normal’ Coveted In Christchurch

Is it too much to ask for these signs to be on my front gate?  These Occupational Health and Safety signs indicating a construction area are popping up all around my city of Christchurch, and so they should.  Every house, getting repaired following the earthquake damage, gets them and I’m thinking they are becoming a sort of badge of honour.  Well, perhaps not honour but at least a badge of knowledge that things are actually finally underway.

Let me be clear.  I don’t have such signs on my gate.  I wish.

One of these would also not go amiss:

This isn’t meant to be free advertising. It’s just hard to escape.

Ah, what I could do with one of these on my front lawn? I could clear the pile of damaged roof iron ( from the emergency repairs done after the chimney collapsed and bounced its way to the ground) from my back lawn.  That would tidy things up but even more so the appearance of a skip (is that what they’re called in the rest of the world?) would again, be signs of things to come.  Out with the old and damaged, and in with the freshly replaced.  Aesthetically, it might not look much as an addition to a front lawn, but it would mean everything to me.  I’d much rather have one of these than a goldfish pond.

But again, let me be clear.  I don’t have one of these either, and nor do I have any sign of having either the skip or the signs any time soon.

From memory, there are around 180,000 house repairs to be completed in Christchurch and we have been told that 80 per cent of them will be completed by the end of 2014.  I’m guessing that I’m going to be in the other 20 percent, and interestingly no timeline has been given for those.

One of the best kept secrets in this city, is in what order the repairs are being done.  The only reason I can think of for the government authorities and insurance companies to keep this little bit of information from the public is public backlash.  That’s because it seems pretty obvious that the approach taken is to do the easy jobs first.  Maybe it makes sense if you’re a bureaucrat, after all it makes the statistics of repairs completed climb quicker.  It might look good on the books but it’s not fair on the people having to live with the damage to their homes.  Easy repairs generally don’t affect one’s living standard.  More complicated and severe repairs do, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

I haven’t heard from anyone about my repairs (which rate as severe) for 11 months now, and that is pretty standard.  Actually it’s not quite true.  About a month ago my insurance company asked me (yes, me) to tell them what the repairs would be worth (so they could estimate their level of liability across the whole region).  That’s in spite of an assessor being here 11 months ago, they still don’t know what the amount of the claim will be.  When an insurance company wants me to tell them the cost, that’s scary.  How would I know?  In the end I gave them a rather large figure, after a stab in the dark (along with asking my ‘slightly, but not much, more knowledgeable’ brother to also have a guess) but I still have no idea what their thinking is, let alone whether they have the resources to meet their liability.  But I’m not going to go there.  Some things are better left un-thought-about.  The company has actually now fled the country completely, although they say, if they can, they will honour the existing claims.  That’s reassuring, isn’t it?

As The Spice Girls, many years ago sung, “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want”

What I want is to know.  All I know is that at some stage I will be required to move out of my house (and live who knows where!) for about three to four months while repairs are completed.  I don’t really care if that is still five years away (although please no one tell Roger Sutton or Gerry Brownlee that!). I’ll cope.  But I like to know what is happening and when.  At this stage I don’t know if I will be told tomorrow that I have two weeks to find somewhere to live (in a city with a major housing crisis).  Someone must know how far down the list I am, presuming that they have planned sufficiently that there is a plan.  Actually I suspect my house is on the too-hard list, if anywhere, so I’m sure it will be a while yet before it rises anywhere near the top.  But don’t worry about me.  My dear brother has kindly ‘offered’ me a very delapidated, draughty shed complete with holes in floor, walls and roof on his farm.  So kind.

The thing is that while I (and many other people) don’t know, it is so hard to move on.  Everywhere in my house there is evidence of the damage.  I can live with it now that doors open again, although my windows don’t; but it is affecting me physically and mentally.  Everywhere I look there is a reminder of the fear I felt during the quakes, and the loss I experienced as a result.  It’s very difficult to move on when I still don’t know when my life can return to normal.

But that word ‘normal’.  Actually it’s pretty hard to gauge just what ‘normal’ is now.  Perhaps, normal is post-quake living with the damaged homes, businesses and roads and sounds of demolition in the air.  My area (eastern Christchurch) doesn’t seem to have got far on the signs and sounds of construction yet, but it is obvious if I drive around the city.

I used to like my home.  It felt safe and friendly.  It has become just a roof over my head.  I don’t like living here now, and I see all the negatives of the place.  I really would love to just pack up and move on, but that is impossible.  It would be impossible to sell or even rent out, in its current state.  So I, like many thousands of other people here, just have to put up with it.  I can’t even get insurance for it now.  No company offers insurance in Christchurch anymore.  We are stuck.

“There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.” 
―    Laura Ingalls Wilder,    Little Town on the Prairie

Reality… 10,000+ Earthquakes And Counting

This is my local Community Centre today (18 months on).  Most buildings that are in this bad a state would have been demolished by now but I’m guessing that the community group is having Insurance problems.

“Cut people a bit of slack today. There will be grumpy people, we all express our stress in different ways. Some laugh and get silly and that can offend someone else who is feeling really depressed and sad….We’ve got to keep working together, we’ve got to hang in there as a city.”

– Bob Parker, Mayor of Christchurch, 24 Feb 2011

On many occasions regular readers would have read my mentions of the earthquakes that have stormed my city of Christchurch, New Zealand since September 2010.  These quakes have changed life as we know it for the approximate 450,000 residents plus those in surrounding rural areas.  I live two kilometres from the centre of the city and right on the edge of the worst affected parts.  We are now very much in recovery and rebuild mode, although the quakes continue to rattle us on regular occasions

Here’s some facts:

    • The biggest 7.1 quake which struck on September 4, 2010 at 4.35am  Miraculously no one was killed, probably because it happened so early on Saturday morning.  It was quite a way to wake up!
    • The 6.3 quake which hit at 12:51pm on February 22, 2011 caused severe damage and resulted in the loss of 185 lives.  My elderly parents lost their inner city home and walked away on that day with nothing but the clothes they wore.
    • 10,847 quakes have occurred since that first one on 4 September 2010 (there have already been four small ones today as I write so the number is always going up).
    • No one knew that there was seismic activity under, or around Christchurch, so the quakes came as a complete surprise.  There are now known to be at least two fault lines.  One, the Greendale fault is about 30 kilometres to the southwest of the city.  There is also at least one but thought to be several fault lines also on the Port Hills surrounding Christchurch (starting about 8km and south east of the city centre) and another just off the coast line (about 15-20km from the city centre).
Shallow quakes around Christchurch in the past 60 days
I acknowledge the New Zealand GeoNet project and its sponsors
EQC, GNS Science and LINZ, for providing data/images used in this post.
      • The quakes in the last 60 days (as shown above) have been shallow, as have all the quakes across the entire time.  That is most quakes have been less than 30km’s deep and many have been only 5-10km.  The deadly quake on 22 February 2012 was only 5km deep and centred on 6.2km from the city centre.
      • There have been just under 460,000 claims to the Earthquake Commission which handles residential claims for damages, two of which are mine.  One for contents and one for land and property damage.  So far most contents claims have been settled but only about 15,000 home repairs have been completed.
      • 80 percent of the buildings in the central business district, at the centre of the city, have been or are in the process of being demolished because the damage to them is too bad to rebuild.

And there lies the problem.  I have been advised along with many others that our homes will hopefully be repaired sometime in the next four years (remember we’re already 18 months into this process).  In cases of major work (like mine) the owners are required to move out of their homes while the repairs take place.  So now the city has an enormous problem with housing.

Already over 5,000 homeowners have been told they can not return to their properties because the land damage is too great.  I am fortunate to not be in this area, although the area runs from only eight houses down the road from my home.  I am very relieved that my land has been classed as undamaged (although the building damage is severe).

There simply isn’t enough housing to go around, and while there is a dash to open up new subdivisions it just can’t come quick enough.  As it is, people are living in garages, caravans (trailers) and even cars.  Personally I have no idea where I will go when my turn comes.  I’ll face that when it comes.  It’s one thing it’s not worth worrying about for now.

Another community organisation, The Community Law Centre. The only building left on the block in the central city (the swimming pool behind with blue windows will be coming down shortly.

There are a few things about this who situation that really make me angry.  The authorities are completing minor repairs first.  That way, they get them done and can say “look at all the homes we’ve repaired” when in reality all the major damage hasn’t yet been touched.  It looks better on their books because it looks like they have done so much.  The thing is that it is possible to live with minor repairs but people who have had to find alternative accomodation are still waiting.  I suspect on this basis that it will be the full four years before my house gets looked at.  There are some serious issues that will need to be solved before they start on repairs and it’s simply in the ‘too hard basket’.

I can live with it though.  My heating is significantly impaired because of damage but as I recently said the Red Cross have thankfully agreed to help me with me heating bills over winter.  My floors are on a slope, the porches have separated from the house, the windows and doors don’t open/close, the foundations have slipped, there are many cracks in the walls (inside and out) and the outside cladding is really just sitting there.  If it is touched it will fall off.  But like I said, I can live with it.  It’s not so easy for my neighbours who are expecting their first child next month and are missing one whole side of their house.  It simply collapsed.  The wall is patched with thin plywood.  It doesn’t keep any of the cold out, nor is it keeping rats and mice out.

A few weeks ago I was visting my mother when she had a visit from the earthquake assessors.  They were planning to repair her apartment before the end of this year.  The thing is there really is no damage.  It took a third lot of assessors to even notice that there are a few tiny, superficial cracks in the joins between the walls and the ceiling.  I’m quite sure my mother can’t even see it and it’s certainly not affecting her life.  Yet they plan to fix and repaint the whole place.  In reality it could really wait until she moves out, but this is the craziness that is living after 10,000+ quakes.  And I should add that my guess she will have to move out while this is done, so guess who will end up with a house guest again.

Yesterday I got more angry when I read in the news that The Canterbury Club (founded in 1872, as a exclusive club for business and professional men) was re-opening this weekend after their earthquake repairs were completed at a cost of around NZ$4 million.  I think it’s lovely for these men that they have their building repaired so quickly, and admittedly it was an historic building so it is good to see one restored rather than demolished.  But why does that get priority over people needing homes?  I just don’t get it.

ChristChurch Cathedral showing the effects of ...
ChristChurch Cathedral showing the effects of the February 2011 earthquake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  The damage got a lot worse in June and December 2011 and then again in May 2012.  Sadly the building is in the process of being demolished.

Shall I go on?  One of the controversies in the city is the demolition of the Anglican Cathedral, a building that was about the same age as the Canterbury Club.  It has been an icon, and unfortunately it is now an icon of the earthquakes.  Tourists to the city were regulars to visit the impressive building.  The damage has been extreme and there are arguments still going on as to whether it should be demolished or saved.  The Anglican Church plan to build a ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ as a temporary replacement.  It’s meant to bring hope and excitment to us residents.

I still think hope and excitment would happen if we had homes to live in, repairs completed and businesses re-established in the city, thereby boosting employment and the economy.  I know I’m not an economist (my brother is, but I don’t think that rubs off on me) but surely people and jobs are important than exclusive clubrooms and churches.  Yet they, and I might add the more wealthy areas of the city get priority.

But then maybe it’s just me.  I don’t get why all of this is okay.  Why it is accepted?  I do know one thing though and that is that the residents of this area are tired of living this way and while there are some great people out their fighting for the rights of the people, I think it just comes to a point where it is all too much.  Just the bare basics have been a priority for so long now, let alone being able to get decent sleep (without quakes or anxiety).

There are many people here with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders and Depression now diagnosed and that really doesn’t surprise me.  Many people who never expected to need mental health assistance now need it.  For me personally, my Dad died as a result of the stress of these quakes.  He had lost his home, his possessions, his church (which completely collapsed in that February 2011 quake), a neighbour died in the quake and with the constant quakes and turmoil of the unknown it was simply too much for him.  All of that in a matter of about 50 seconds.  I don’t know the statistics but I know of a number of other elderly people who died around the same time, and I can only guess that stress on top of perhaps already failing health caused this.

An interesting point to note is that it was reported that the suicide rate in Christchurch went down after the big quakes.  It was accepted that the drop was because people were too busy focusing on the material basics of getting through each day to think about how they were feeling or that they wanted to act on suicidal ideation.  I can believe this because I didn’t have a opportunity to think about how I felt.  I knew I was stressed, I knew I was upset but finding where to get water or food actually was much more important.  I think I was just on automatic pilot.  Also there was a strong emphasis of looking out for your neighbours, so people weren’t just left isolated.  People really did this a lot.

The concerning aspect of this is that the suicide rate is expected to go back up again this year, and I can totally believe it.  People aren’t getting what the need, they aren’t being heard, the future looks bleak and no one knows yet whether we’re through the worst of the quakes or not.

There has been a push to provide free counselling for people, but I’m not convinced this will be enough when people don’t have homes or jobs.  For me Dad’s death, the damage to my home, to my brother’s farm and just to life as we knew it has meant I have spent many hours with my therapist trying to deal with it all.

Unfortunately therapy doesn’t fix inequity and injustice.  But hey, we now have a lovely gentlemen’s club again and will have a cardboard Cathedral, so perhaps we’re just meant to be grateful.  Actually it just leaves me more angry than anything.

 It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily. “So it is.” “And freezing.” “Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

– A.A. Milne
NB. This is exactly how we Christchurch residents think now days.