This day has a great emotional impact on Joplin residents who lived here in 2011. Seven years ago a massive EF5 tornado destroyed a third of my city, killing 161 people and injuring many more. Homes, businesses, schools, parks, cars, animals and trees were gone in moments. I can’t forget what happened, nor do I want to.
I woke up this morning feeling the heaviness that accompanies this day. There’s a pall that hangs over the city as people remember, grieve and feel the strong swirl of emotions. There is gratitude as well, thankfulness for survival, for the rebuilding that has been accomplished, and for the indomitable spirit of this community.
I didn’t intend to share anything today, about life post 5.22.11, however, I’ve had some fresh insights in the last few months, about some some health trends I’ve observed in survivors of that horrific event. It seems this is the story I’m to share.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as an emotional condition that can develop after a traumatic event, particularly an event that involves actual or threatened death, serious bodily injury to oneself or to others, and creates intense feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.
Many lived with PTSD after the tornado. Fears of storms, dying, losing a loved one or a pet, losing a home, or loud noises were natural responses to the devastation that occurred. I experienced the disorder myself and still get uneasy during bad weather. My daughter Adriel lost her home and vehicles and most of her possessions that day and still deals with storm related anxieties. Even my grandchildren, who were not directly in the path of the storm but rode it out in the fringes, experienced PTSD in the aftermath. They witnessed the effects of the tornado and understood the emotional toll on survivors.
In the past two years, as I changed my eating habits and moved into greater health and well-being, I’ve understood the serious and often overlooked effects of PTSD. Beyond causing anxiety and fear, this disorder is contributing to poor health and an increase in autoimmune disorders and mystery illnesses in survivors.
Physically, stress creates a flight or fight response. Adrenaline floods the body as a result, to aid in running from danger or fighting an enemy. When we continue to live under stress we also live with too much adrenaline in our system. So anxiety sticks around and becomes chronic. Those continual bursts of fear-based adrenaline feed the viruses that inhabit our bodies…Epstein Barr, shingles and strep. The viruses in turn release an abundance of neurotoxins that keep the anxiety going. It’s a vicious cycle…and it’s making people sick.
I realized recently that my chronic sciatica pain, which began after the trauma of a car accident in 1995, increased after the second trauma of the tornado. My health began a downward spiral after 5.22.11 that ultimately caused me to begin walking with a cane in 2015. I am grateful for the turn around that came for me after learning how to feed my body while starving the viruses.
What about those who haven’t found the connection between a healthy diet and healing? I’ve watched as a close friend, who survived the tornado but lost her husband that day, has greatly deteriorated, health wise. She had injuries as a result of the storm. Those healed. But in the years since the tornado she has partially lost her sight and her ability to balance or to drive. She has aged beyond her years, and currently uses a walker due to extreme weakness in her legs. Doctors are puzzled by her symptoms and have ruled out Parkinson’s and several other diseases. They use the words autoimmune, mystery illness and worse. She has been told she is crazy, seeking attention or making up her illness.
I’ve offered her compassion and also suggestions for changing her diet to improve her health. To heal from PTSD, the brain needs to build up its glucose reserves. Good glucose is needed, found in fruits and vegetables, not the sugar found in sweets, which leads to a crash later. And it helps to create new experiences to replace negative ones and to serve as positive reference points in life. Journaling about favorable experiences, gratitudes and even small adventures changes perceptions and calms an overactive brain.
I talked to my friend on the phone this evening, letting her know I was thinking of her today. I was pleased to hear that she is gaining strength in her legs and eating less meat, dairy, and eggs. Her voice was more clear and best of all, she felt a sense of closure today, seven years after having her world, literally, torn apart.
New Joplin Library at 20th & Connecticut
I share tonight in case there are those reading this who experienced the 2011 tornado and are confused today about their worsening health or who are hearing diagnoses of mystery illnesses or autoimmune disorders. Or perhaps you know someone who continues to suffer when others feel they should be “over it”. Post traumatic stress syndrome is real. It has a powerfully negative effect on the body, feeding viruses most of us are playing host to, and contributing to poor health.
Know that there is hope. Joplin has risen from the rubble and been reborn. The city is growing…stronger, healthier, more beautiful. Her people can do the same. Reach out to me, if you want to know more. We can heal, together.