Feeling blue about Sandy is nothing unusual
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It took a little while but psychologist Mary Beth Mannarino finally identified the source of the "heaviness, a layer of stress" that she had been feeling for several days: Superstorm Sandy.
"I hadn't connected the dots until [Tuesday] night," said Ms. Mannarino, director of graduate psychology programs at Chatham University. "Even though I wasn't directly affected, there was an extra, little layer of stress throughout the day that I had to deal with."
She's not alone.
Even as Pittsburghers experience relief at escaping Sandy's wrath, many are feeling sadness, grief and compassion for those not so fortunate. And that's OK, she said.
"It's normal to have a wide range of feelings, from the fear and anxiety of not knowing what's going to happen, to the sadness and sense of loss for people directly affected. There's a sense of helplessness, I think," Ms. Mannarino said. "And it's normal to feel angry -- angry that you feel helpless, angry that you don't have control, angry that it happened, period."
Jack Cahalane, chief of adult mood and anxiety services at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic of UPMC, agreed.
"I think there is a feeling of discomfort, of uneasiness," he said. "Part of it is we all like to understand life as predictable. It does cause us to think about uncertainties when large dramatic effects occur and they're out of your control."
Connections to the affected areas would increase a person's reaction to the tragedy, both noted.
"If you've been there and know the place it does make it different," Mr. Cahalane said. "I grew up in Staten Island and still have relatives there. They're safe but have no power, literally or figuratively. I feel helpless, concerned, and would like to do something but there's nothing to do except stay in touch with them and provide support."
Many Pittsburghers will be affected because they vacation on the New Jersey shore, some since they were kids.
Ms. Mannarino said she spoke with a friend who has special memories of childhood summer vacations spent there.
"He's just sad. You hold that memory and kind of think it's always going to be that way -- the games on the boardwalk, the rides, the ocean. To see that destroyed is very, very hard."
Talking with others about such feelings is important, they said. And taking some action -- such as making a relief donation or volunteering aid to those affected -- is helpful, they added.
The up side of such tragedies, they said, is it brings out the best in us as human beings. They said they were struck both by private acts of selflessness and more public displays, such as the way Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put aside his political differences a week before the election and met with President Barack Obama, heaping praise upon him for his handling of an emergency of historic proportions.
"They connected in a time of crisis," Mr. Cahalane said. "That's heartening in a time of divisiveness."
"They put petty grievances aside for what's important," Ms. Mannarino said. "We're not talking about potential or what if, we're talking about a situation that needs to be dealt with right now.
"That was reassuring to me, a hopeful sign. You look for beacons of hope and light to come out at this time."
On an existential level, she said, such a crisis allows us "to sit down and figure out what our priorities are, what we are grateful for, what blessings we have, what our role is in the world and to step in when people are suffering. That's the strength of human nature."
Mr. Cahalane agreed.
"It gives us an opportunity to connect with others, to think over time about what you do have, what values you have, what's important and to not take things for granted."
First Published November 1, 2012 12:00 am