Pretending was my coping mechanism, I thought if I pretended hard enough to be ok then I would be ok. So, I started thinking “what would an evacuee being doing” and I did those things: going to fundraising BBQ’s, hanging out with other evacuees, purchasing things I didn’t have and the entire time that this was going on I was using social media as a shield to put out the “I’m ok” vibe. On the inside I was lonely and angry. I was short with my family and I never talked about any feelings whatsoever.
I am a forester and I work as a Wildlife biologist; this gave me the opportunity to do some Fire Smart Forestry related activities during the fire and some wildlife stuff. Which meant I got to drive highway 63 while it was closed to most people and go through town while it was evacuated. I was happy to be doing the work and to contribute to the overall effort but I wish I had had the courage to say no when the opportunity came. I was too proud to reach out for help, I was too arrogant to say no and I loved the attention I got when I was in McMurray. My sense of self importance grew as I would get more hits on social media. “Likes” turned into my sense of belonging and would act as approval for me. Having low self esteem and being lonely meant that I would say and do anything for approval.
Going up to Fort McMurray during that time was something out of a nightmare. It was desolate and smoky. The forestry work I did put me in fairly close proximity to the fire and I wish I could un-see what I saw. I wish I had the courage to be honest about how I felt, I wish I had the courage to say I was more afraid that I had ever been, I wish I has the courage to say that being the only vehicle on highway 63 was the most lonely and depressed I had ever felt. I wish I could articulate that it was just so painful to be around that destruction. It hurt so much.
For me, talking about my feelings is something that is new and I wish I had the courage and humility to learn these skills as a young adult.
However, the fire was a positive experience because, as painful and destructive as it was, it set me on a path to be free from the illness that has plagued me and has allowed me to learn to love and be loved in an honest way.