Column: Keys Disease

The 2019 hurricane season approaches, and with it comes the fear and dread of what just one of these named monsters can do. Many already noted the early system that came from the Bahamas; while it dumped a little rain, it raised awareness of the season to come. 

Closer to home, some of us have recovered from Irma, while others still wait for assistance to rebuild. Most of us still feel a bit of anxiety upon each announcement of the upcoming tropical season. It should be noted that therapists consider this a normal reaction to having faced a truly abnormal set of circumstances. Hearing about the upcoming season triggers memories of the not-so-distant past. 

Let’s take this opportunity, however, to reflect on the things that make us a strong and resilient community — a community that can face adversity and come out better on the other side. First and foremost: we have survived!

Our city staff did an incredible job cleaning up the debris from our streets and assisting in helping local businesses and homeowners rebuild. While we are still waiting for the bulk of FEMA reimbursement funds to show up, street repairs go on. Park maintenance continues. And Sombrero Beach is finally getting the rehab it deserves.

Our local business community stepped up and was there in the immediate aftermath as well as the prolonged recovery. We all have stories about our favorite places opening up their businesses and their hearts to locals in need after Irma. These businesses went above and beyond even through limited supplies, a displaced workforce, and damages incurred to their homes and establishments.

Many businesses have totally recovered, thanks to the efforts of so many. We have restaurants, resorts, grocery stores, post offices, a functional hospital, and more — and the most recent successful tourist season was a testament to the hard work of our Marathon community. We in the Keys are hearty folk.

We ARE a community. We ARE there for each other. We all know neighbors who were there for so many of us… those who assisted in debris removal… those who helped people who lost everything with lodging, food, clothes, even just a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on. Many of us made new connections and friendships in the aftermath of Irma that we will never lose.

Despite these advances, we are not totally out of the woods. As a result of Irma, our community has faced an increase in the number of suicides, divorces and substance abuse cases. We are also likely to find an increase in serious physical illnesses in response to the chronic stress of recovery. Our small city stands strong by each other. Struggling individuals need only to turn to a neighbor, a sheriff’s deputy, or a local official. A person in need can ask for help and have his voice heard. 

In honor of May being National Mental Health Month, the Long Term Recovery Group and Fishermen’s Community Hospital recently hosted a Less Stress More Joy seminar dedicated to assisting locals in finding the happiness in their Keys lives.

The Florida Keys Trauma Recovery Network (TRN) is available to work with anybody facing significant mental health struggles with Irma recovery. If you know someone who is faltering in their continued efforts to recover, say something. Help is available. Contact the TRN at 305-304-6794. 

We CAN face whatever comes. We as a community are even better prepared to deal with the next event. The City of Marathon recently participated in a disaster drill with Monroe County Emergency Management; the lessons of Irma fresh in all our minds. Between all our personal experiences, our lessons learned as local governments and agencies, we know we can respond even better than before.

In the (slightly paraphrased) words of the great disco queen Gloria Gaynor, “At first we were afraid, we were petrified … but we will survive!”

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