I woke up from a deep sleep gasping for air in the early morning hours of Monday morning. It took me a minute to realize the power had gone out and my CPAP machine (that helps me breathe while I’m sleeping) wasn’t working. I knew losing power was a very real possibility during the winter storm we were experiencing, so I wasn’t alarmed. I fell back into a restless sleep only to awake a few hours later to an even worse nightmare.
The sun rose and my bed was filled with little boys who were scared from the power outage. It was five degrees outside, and the air was frigid inside. My husband and I covered the kids in blankets and made sure they knew it was going to be OK.
I tried to check for news of how long we could expect to be without power. Our phones weren’t able to access the internet, data, or send many text messages. If we got a phone call to go through, the connection was very poor. We could not get any news or updates. My husband turned on the radio in his car to try to find news but found nothing about the current storm.
My husband and I dressed in several more layers and tried to make a game plan. On the outside, I was determined and focused to find ways to keep my family warm and fed (this was such an unfortunate time to not be able to use Google).
Inside, I started to panic.
How long would this go on? We had prepared as well as we could have for this storm, but I never expected the power would continue to be out for this length of time.
It was C-O-L-D inside our house. And getting colder by the second.
We used our gas fireplace to create heat and the gas stove to boil water and cook food. Our power did eventually come back on later that day for a few hours, only to be shut off again leaving us without heat for another night. Even when the power did come on, our furnace didn’t have enough gas pressure to work properly.
The uncertainty of the situation was scary. I have lived in cold weather before, outside of Texas, but this was different. We were completely cut off from the necessary resources one would need in this type of weather and we were very inexperienced with a prolonged power outage in the winter.
Some northerners might wonder why this is a big deal. You deal with things like this regularly and in much colder temperatures to boot. We get that this may seem like nothing to you. But when it gets to the point when jokes are being made online about how Texans just need to “suck it up,” that is where I draw the line.
There’s a lesson I learned from a friend many years ago that has stuck with me. She and I were discussing a mutual friend who was struggling, and I mentioned how annoyed I was about her complaints because, I thought, she didn’t have a clue what a hard life really was.
My friend’s response was a sharp but gentle reproach, “The hardest thing she’s ever been through is still the hardest thing she’s ever been through.”
I knew I was wrong at that moment to try to criticize, compare, and rank someone else’s suffering. I had no right to do that, and you can never really know what a person is experiencing on the inside.
Just like my friend’s problem, this winter storm might appear common at first glance. But it’s anything but common when you see what’s going on underneath the surface. This is one of our first experiences with this type of event in our lifetime, and as a whole, we were simply unprepared and unskilled at handling winter survival.
The thing with experiencing hardship and uncertainty is that the fear is real whether you think we should be feeling it or not. The anxiety remains present whether others think it is warranted or not. What our state is experiencing feels traumatic to us, and we don’t need to justify that to anyone else. That goes for any life experience.
Texans are prepared for many things, but real winter is not one of them.
We know about hurricanes—many of us have emergency kits designed for the possibility of evacuating or losing power in the heat. We know about extreme heat; everything here is built with the intent of keeping cool.
But winter is just an afterthought here. In some places, the temperature barely ever gets below 60. And depending on a Texan’s location and lifestyle, they might not even own a real jacket. Or warm boots. Or gloves. Or thermals. Or have stacks of firewood.
So I beg of you . . . please cut the citizens of Texas some slack in the way we are attempting to cope with this mess.
We knew the power could go out, but we didn’t know there would be intentional massive blackouts for millions of people that lasted days.
We knew services might be limited, but we didn’t know some pharmacies and deliveries would be so disrupted that some would not be able to access life-saving medications.
There are 29 million people who live in Texas, and nearly half of those are facing disruptions in their water supply: 14,000,000 people. Do you see all those zeroes? They are people. Just like you and me. And they are in danger.
The full effects of this winter storm remain to be seen. Dozens of people have died, and I assume that number will go up as time goes on. This isn’t a joke.
So, while the number on our thermometers may not be alarming to you, we ask that you do not mock us and respect that we are truly going through something here. What may seem insignificant to you feels Texas-sized to us. And that’s because it is.