Hurricane Sandy: Trying to Stay Healthy and Happy

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Photo by Perry Santanachote

It's calm now in upper Manhattan. No rain, no wind, no flood, no flickering lights, or panicked texts from friends in the lower half. But that was a reality for many people last Monday night when Hurricane Sandy hit land along the Eastern seaboard. Hurricane Sandy punched New York pretty hard, destroying coastline and knocking out power for millions.

But the superstorm wasn't just a New York phenomenon. While New York has (for the most part) regained power and transit is coming back to life, other boroughs like Staten Island, or states like New Jersey and Connecticut have it even worse with whole neighborhoods still under water and missing persons still unfound. Almost all of the Greatist Staff is based in New York or the outlying areas. We struggled with how we could talk about Sandy, we debated if we even should. In the end, as journalists, we felt a compulsion to try. This isn't about clicks or views, it's just us, speaking honestly about the past week: our thoughts, our attempts to stay both healthy and happy, and our observations from all parts of the city. There are stories from Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Stories of luck, guilt, hope, and gratitude.

It was difficult to read through some of these, but what they really point to is a conversation and sense of hope. We started one within the team but we want to hear from you. How are you doing? What are your thoughts? No matter where you are, reach out and join the conversation. Greatist is more than just a website, it's a community, and we're here if you need help. Let us know what's up in the comments, on Facebook, or Twitter and we'll get back to you. Also be sure to scroll to the bottom for ways you can help the relief effort. Thanks for reading, and hang in there. — ZS

Perspectives From the Storm

Community — David Tao, Chief Research Officer

"What struck me quickest about the aftermath of Hurricane (Superstorm?) Sandy was how quickly the community rallied around itself — the fitness community, that is. As soon as the power went out in lower Manhattan, I started getting texts from workout partners, fitness writers, and trainers I’d worked with over the past year, right alongside the nervous calls from my mother and other relatives. Even crazier? I'd never even met a few of these people.

"And these weren’t just “Everything OK?” texts. I got invites to work out at uptown gyms that still had power. Others suggested places where I could grab some nutritious food instead of the junk snacks many were flocking to. One person even sent some Paleo-friendly care packages to our office. And several fitness buddies let me know that while they’re couches weren’t the best for sleeping posture, I was more than welcome to crash with them until the lights were back on. People who work in the health and fitness space seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to others’ wellbeing; after all, one of the toughest parts of helping others reach their health and wellness goals is being able to figure out what they’re feeling at any given moment, even if they’re not telling you directly.

"The moral of the story? Make a fitness buddy (or 20), be it a trainer, running partner, or employee at your favorite health food shop. Share with them your health and wellness goals, quirks, and successes. At least for me, they turned into an indispensable support network when the going got tough."

Photo: Tantika Tivorat / tantika.com

New Jersey — Sophia Breene, Staff Writer

"As Greatist’s only New Jersey resident, I feel it’s my duty to report what’s going on in the Garden State. Luckily, I live in North Jersey, well away from the damage and flooding that happened along the coast. Before our power went out on Monday evening, my parents and I watched our favorite vacation spots (Seaside Heights where I had my 11th birthday party and got my ears pierced, Atlantic City where my grandparents took me to the boardwalk, Long Beach Island where my friends from high school had cottages by the beach) wash away on the news.

"Despite the near-universal wreckage, there have certainly been some funny moments. On Tuesday morning after the worst of the storm had passed, everyone gathered outside their homes to chat and survey the damage. My mom likened the gathering to an impromptu block party, except no one brought bean dip. Because of the gigantic tree that fell across our front yard and driveway, we’re town celebrities and “storm tourists” stop by at all hours to take photos of our tree and hear the story of how it fell!

"My health plan this week has definitely been “catch as catch can.” It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of inertia — in a commuter town like mine, when the trains and bridges and tunnels don’t work, everything else comes to a standstill. I’ve been trying to stay active, more for mental health reasons than anything else. Nothing works off an all-PB&J diet like some push-ups in the living room and a short jog through the neighborhood!"

Silent Night — Derek Flanzraich, CEO & Founder

"New York is a city where it’s never quiet, a city in which there are always millions of people yelling in a million different languages, a city with cars honking in all kinds of different ways at all kinds of different hours, a city that truly never sleeps.

"Quiet. That’s what struck me most about Sandy’s aftermath. On Tuesday morning, everything had suddenly stopped. Power and cell phone service was out for blocks in all directions. People stayed inside. Silence. Except for a siren every half hour or so, New York City — the city itself — seemed like it was taking a quick, meaningful nap. Its electronics on pause. Its animals quiet. Its delivery trucks parked. Silence. And the silence was awesome. It was inspiring, refreshing, energizing. Let’s just talk! Let’s go explore! Let’s just witness and participate in the spectacle-- we’re a part of it! Let’s go on a search for coffee because, hey, what else is there to do? It’s so quiet!

"Quiet. It was evening and the power was still out. An eerie, sullen, somber darkness descended, suffocating all of it. Electronics were dead, very dead. People returned, locking doors, lighting candles that were already nearly wasted away (how fast they go). Except for a siren every half hour or so, New York City — the city itself — seemed dark, ominous, unconscious. New York is a city that’s always on for a reason. Always ticking because it has to. Always exciting because it says so. So when everything is done, down, dulled — everybody, everyplace, everyone is too. There’s only so much to talk about. There’s only so much to explore. There’s only so much to see when it’s so black. And the silence was deafening. Maddening, maybe. Let’s go to bed and hope things change tomorrow because, hey, what else is there to do? It’s so quiet."

Luck - Laura Schwecherl, Staff Writer & Outreach Director

"Amidst everything that has happened this week — everyone who was evacuated, lost their power, lost their car, lost a weekly income, lost a life — I can only wrap my head around one thing: luck.

"I think it’s pretty normal to feel confused during a crisis like this. Should I be angry? Sad? Grateful? And then there’s the question of “What the heck do I do now?” Go out and volunteer? Take Instagrams of fallen trees? Keep eating beans straight from the can for the sake of having nothing better to do? (I speak from experience.)

"Rather than honing in on the small things, or even the big things, I’ve just felt extremely lucky that I experienced probably the least amount of worry, discomfort, and stress throughout the storm. We never lost power, the Internet has been holding up strong, my family on Long Island is safe (even though the town is a wreck).

"I’ve also been following the conversations surrounding the New York City Marathon. As a fellow racer, I not only wanted to know if I’d be running 26.2 miles in a few days, but whether or not that was the right decision for New York City and its inhabitants. (You couldn't help but wonder what the extra time and money could do for people if the race was canceled.)

"And as with all breaking news, a lot of people freaked out when they heard the latest: All 35,000+ athletes will not be heading over to Staten Island on Sunday morning. While I was initially upset (I definitely shed a tear or seven) I believe that the decision to cancel the race, although very last-minute, is still the right one for New York. And most importantly, I’ll continue to feel lucky and appreciative for my health and safety, which trumps any race — big or small."

Connecticut — Nicole McDermott, Staff Writer
Photo by Nicole McDermott

"I’ve been home in Connecticut for more than nine days.

"Monday morning, right before the storm hit, my mom insisted we lace up and get the blood flowing before we had to hang tight inside for… who knew how long. Bless her soul, my mother would get her daily walk in no matter what (even despite impending weather warnings). The air was already menacing, so instead of our normal four-mile route we stuck close to home and looped around the block as many times as we could before it seemed stupid to be outside any longer. Over the next 24 hours, I made a batch of apple chips, we lost power, I crocheted a scarf by flashlight, and we turned to the radio instead of the Internet as people phoned in to share accounts of storm destruction.

"Tuesday, late afternoon, brought unexpected sunshine. We threw on our sneakers and took to the barren streets. Hardly necessary to look both ways when crossing (since it was still deemed unsafe to drive), our biggest concern was dodging downed power lines and other post-Sandy shrapnel. Meanwhile, other people scooped bucketfuls of muddy water from their basements, or were forced out of their homes altogether. Most of the Greatist Team lost power, and we checked in with each other (with what little phone battery remained) to make sure all were safe and sound.

"The few days I sat in a powerless home, I couldn’t help but notice how comfortable I was. The house suffered no damage, I had plenty of food (a full jar of Nutella), warmth, the company of my parents, and the luxury of going for a stroll. My biggest inconveniences were losing Internet, and missing the well-equipped gym that’s a block away from our office. We were incredibly lucky.

"Next step is returning to the city. In the meantime, I’ll be walking with my Mom and tucking into our supplies."

Moving Again — Laura Newcomer, Staff Writer

"By Monday afternoon, I was already antsy. I kept pestering my boyfriend to go walking with me and he kept pointing to the cluster of balloons tied to a street sign across from our apartment — their strings were stretched taught, their colored bodies thwacking wildly against each other in the upwelling wind. So we stayed inside, and I worked and did bodyweight circuits (and ate more than a day’s share of our “emergency rations”). We learned the names of the local news anchors and waited to see if the storm would be as bad as they said.

"We woke up early the next morning remarkably lucky, and so grateful, having weathered the storm with our utilities and (most importantly) ourselves intact. Tuesday afternoon, we changed out of our pajamas and took to the streets. I was so relieved to be moving again, and I wasn’t the only one: People all over the neighborhood were out walking, gaping at fallen trees and power lines, and running circles on the track in the local park. There was a seriousness to people’s actions, and the streets were weirdly hushed despite the crowds. It was as if none of us knew what to do, but we needed to do something — and so we started moving.

"In the days after the storm, I’ve been working from home, feeling simultaneously frustrated by the loss of my normal mobility and intensely guilty about mulling over fitness when some people have lost their homes or even their lives. Watching all those runners on the track on Tuesday, I realized how comforting movement and fitness routines can be; they can help us feel like we have control over a tiny chunk of something (I will run for X minutes; I will lift X pounds) even when trees and homes are falling down around us. So while I recognize that exercise is hardly the most important thing in the world (or this city), I’m choosing not to judge myself for craving movement in the face of disaster — and I’m taking heart from the little red and white and blue balloons, which also, somehow, survived the storm."

Photo by Zachary Sniderman

Queens — Becky Berowski, Social Media Strategy Director

"I live in Queens and find it very hard to convince people to come out my way. Taxi drivers suddenly seem to forget how to get to that borough and friends always convince me to come back out into the city. Then Sandy hit and I felt as though nothing had changed here. I was looking at pictures of communities destroyed by this hurricane and my apartment and I were okay. Overcome with guilt, I went out into Queens.

"A community that I had been convinced wasn’t good enough compared to the city became my home. I went into small businesses I never knew existed, talked to strangers on the street hearing their stories, and even took a ride into the city with an elderly couple who were only allowed over the bridge if they had three people in their car. There wasn’t one particular thing that struck me most, but rather the entire community stuck out in my mind: My home was no longer my apartment a few blocks from the subway. My home was this borough filled with people ready to tell stories and make a real human connection; something we all can forget to do now and then.

"Walking through the community became my exercise. Even though I couldn’t make it into the city to get to fitness classes, walking the Queensboro bridge next to a guy who talked to me about his first pet was exercise for my soul. As we moved together, I think we each felt a little bit stronger."

When the Lights Come On — Shana Lebowitz, Happiness Editor

"On Monday, after the worst of Hurricane Sandy had passed, my father stood in the kitchen, scrolling through news updates on his iPhone.

““The mayor says the subways might not be back up ’til Thursday!” he said, glancing in my direction.

"I looked up from the computer screen, from the spot at the dining table I’d labeled my personal “work-from-home” station. It had been 24 hours since I’d left the house, and already I’d started to see bathing, physical activity, and dining from a plate as unnecessary luxuries. The winds and rain that swayed my parents’ brick house seemed like child’s play compared to the frightening possibility of being trapped there for another 48 hours.

"Call me lucky, but the biggest problem I faced during Hurricane Sandy was boredom, and the restlessness that comes from being jolted out of a daily routine.

"Tuesday morning I got up, got dressed, and ate breakfast as usual, then went up to my room and sat down on the floor. I opened my computer screen, then closed it. Checked my phone for any emails, saw there were none, then checked it again just in case. Quietly, I was starting to panic. Suddenly the national weather crisis seemed to give way to an existential one. Did I have any hobbies? What did I enjoy doing? Who was I?

"The next three days passed, each one a little easier than the one before it. I baked chocolate chip cookies; I made some beaded jewelry. I read short stories and every magazine in the house. I watched movies and reality TV (hey, Snooki) with my little brother. I knew I should feel grateful: At 3 p.m., when I’d typically be hunched over a laptop in a sea of track changes, I was free to nap or play tug-of-war with my poodles. Sometimes I felt liberated; mostly I felt a little depressed.

"Wednesday I walked to the Starbucks about a mile from my house; I’d spend the morning working there. The air was cold and crisp and when I heard the leaves crunching under my sneakers I felt a sense of glee. To be out, to be walking, to be going somewhere! I wished I’d had more of an Emerson-style realization while sitting at home — shouldn’t I have done some soul-searching or written a novel or something?

"Maybe, maybe not. All I know for sure is that when the power’s back on, and everyone’s returned to good old HQ, I’ll look at the group of friends gathered around the tables and feel just a little more grateful than I did the week before."

The Power of Social — Jordan Shakeshaft, Fitness Editor & Multimedia Director
Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft

"I had power, running water, and the comfort of knowing all my friends and family were safe. Through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter I knew that Nicole was crocheting by candlelight, Kelli and Steve were camping out with a bottle of whiskey, and that Perry’s oven was still very much in commission (yum). For me, the only real trouble was the periodic pangs of guilt. Guilt for each oatmeal raisin cookie I snuck pacing back and forth from the kitchen. Guilt for snapping pictures of the stormy skies and fallen trees, and for “Liking” photos of deserted streets and drowning taxicabs. Guilt for having WiFi and Netflix and the complete fifth season of Breaking Bad downloaded to my iTunes, ready to go.

"But I also felt proud. I saw friends sharing couches and beers and an outlet to charge phones, and gyms opening their facilities to anyone looking to work out or take a warm shower. Home cooked meals meant more this week than ever and I did my best to appreciate the fact that I had a working kitchen to cook healthy-ish meals and muffins (a treat for my boyfriend, who was flying from Shanghai to Chicago with no knowledge of how he’d get back home). I also came to appreciate the power of bodyweight exercises (thanks Laura!) and all the “hurricane workouts” my favorite trainers were quick to write up and share. I hope our communities will continue to lend a hand, a healthy no-bake recipe, or whatever it takes to make those who suffered most feel healthy, happy, and back-to-normal again."

Discovering What We Need — Zachary Sniderman, Editorial Director

"Hurricane Sandy took a lot of things away. Homes, lives, power; all washed out as Sandy hit the Eastern seaboard on Monday night. But the storm also gave some things back, things it probably didn't expect. Spot communities popped up, people found new friends, moved in together, shared stories and supplies and helped where they could. Walking around lower Manhattan, you could find bastions of power by following the hum of portable generators. Three of us managed to find a soup spot on the Lower East Side and drank and played cards by candlelight. There is a certain desire to wash over the bad spots, and history tends to remember the extremes, the highest highs and the many lows. One friend had most of his life washed away as his apartment building on 10th Avenue in Chelsea filled with six feet of water. Family photos, memories, all drowned out. He slept on my couch, other flitted through for a snack or a shower. I, like my co-workers above, felt guilty for having when others did not. But that guilt turned into a drive to help, to be a lighthouse in the storm. This feeling isn't special to me. It's a surge that can be felt throughout the city as people rush downtown to give their money to newly reopened stores or give blood in pop-up shelters, or volunteer their time and short supplies to communities on Staten Island and New Jersey where Sandy hit even worse.

"Even as Manhattan licks its wounds, the relief effort continues where it's most needed. The truth is, though, that the relief effort isn't just FEMA or the Red Cross or Bloomberg. The relief effort is "us.""

Photo by Zachary Sniderman

How to Help

For those looking to volunteer, donate, or just simply help out, Mashable's Zoe Fox has put together a good starter list of sites accepting donations here. Also check out InterOccupy.net, an independent site that has aggregated news updates, volunteer opportunities, and a variety of other enormously useful information.

Let us know how you're doing in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter. We'll get back to you and help however we can.

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