Coping with Anxiety from Storms

The atmospheric river in late January approached as I took a walk at the park.

As I write this, sheets of rain are pouring down on our house. It’s about midnight, and with wind gusts up to 60 mph I doubt I’ll go to bed anytime soon. This storm is one of the strongest I can remember. 

Power surges flicker the lights, but the electricity remains for now. I’m passing these tense moments by writing—something that has brought me comfort over the years when under stress. It helps me break from the paralysis that comes when something traumatic comes. This is definitely one of those times.

The Storm that Exposed a Leaky House

Strong storms that shake the windows do come most every winter here in the Central Valley of California. I grew up in the Bay Area where the storms hit first before moving to the middle part of the state. When I lived in Southern California similar storms would come as well.

One winter, though, exposed every weakness in the townhouse where we lived in Diamond Bar—about 25 miles east of Los Angeles. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day a series of storms dropped half a foot of rain in a matter of days. The house began to leak in no less than seven places—all at once.

I stayed up most of the night monitoring the small window under a downspout on the second level. Heavy rain overloaded the gutter and downspout, which was half clogged with leaves. A sheet of water began to stream onto the window. We learned that night that the installers the previous owner hired did not seal the windows properly. The water passed through the window as if no seal existed at all.

I quickly punched out the window screen then grabbed a cookie sheet to deflect the water away from the house. Once the rain subsided, Lori and mopped up the large pool of water in the house. We then cut a piece of tarp to cover the window—not easy given the height of the window above the ground. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Another window, in a bedroom above the garage door looking out over the street, also leaked along the inside of the window from the top. That water seeped into the wall, which started to come out of the drywall. I cut out a hole in the wall to get a better view, then devised a way to divert the water coming down a 2×4 in the wall to a bucket below. Water from that storm just about filled that five-gallon bucket.

The roof leaked too—onto the furnace in the garage, from the second story above the kitchen sink down into Lydia’s bedroom on the first floor, and into the attic. Thankfully, the homeowner’s association sent a roofer to inspect and fix those leaks. I never had a problem with the roof again.

The Inept Window Installer

Besides the two leaks from the bedroom window and the side window in the living room, two other windows had minor leaks. I quickly surmised that the installers botched the job when they replaced the original windows in the townhouse a few year’s prior.

The previous owner lived nearby, and told me I could contact him if I ever needed anything. Did I ever need some help after that week of storms and window leaks. He gave me the phone number of the window contractor, a friend from his church. The window contractor replied he could come look at the windows that week.

I felt relieved. That week of storms practically traumatized me, but I figured help was on the way. The window contractor took a look at the windows, sealed them, and said to contact him if it leaked again. Good, it’s done, I thought. The roof is fixed, and now the windows. Not so—not by a long shot. 

Over two winter seasons of storms I repeatedly called the window contractor back to look at the problem windows. He “fixed” them each time, only to have them leak again. Pretty soon, I felt anxious about every storm forecast to hit our area. 

In the end, I decided to call a few other window contractors to give me quotes on properly sealing the windows. Up until then I did not want to pay for the repairs, but I knew the installer could not fix the problem. I ended up replacing four of the windows at a cost of thousands of dollars (the window in the bedroom over the garage was a unique shape that needed a special order). 

We sold the house not long after, having endured that traumatic period living in a leaky house to repair it for someone else.

A felled tree in the neighborhood after 60+ mph wind gusts blew for hours overnight.

Another Roof Leak

We moved from Diamond Bar back to Northern California over seven years ago. Still, though, I watch storm tracks just like I did ten years ago. We bought a new house partly because of the problems we had with older homes in San Jose and Diamond Bar. I figured a new house would bring me peace of mind.

The house did not turn out to be a perfect house, however. The windows do not leak, which I much appreciate. We’ve had issues with concrete, drywall, appliances, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, and the garage door. Now we do have a leak in the roof near the edge of the garage.

Around Christmas I called the builder, a friend for a referral for a roofer, and my homeowner’s insurance to see who could help with the leak. My friend’s roofer examined the roof and said it was a job beyond his ability. The builder, Lennar, did call a couple of days later and sent a roofer. He pulled off a number of tiles, called it in, and proceeded to fix it. It didn’t leak the next couple of minor storms so I figured all is good. 

This past storm with the 60 mph winds and hard driving rain tested every window, door, and roof tile. Unfortunately, the roof leak returned upon inspection the day after. I called my contact at Lennar who sent a roofer to work on it. He didn’t finish the job by nightfall but did have enough time to install the water resistant felt before leaving for the night. 

It’s raining again tonight. I’m hoping the felt on the roof deflects the water from my house and this leak is fixed for good.

Coping with the Anxiety from Storms

My time in Diamond Bar left me ragged whenever a storm approached. While living there my anxiety turned into checking behaviors. I checked the windows throughout each storm to see if any new leaks developed. I monitored storms on weather apps (I once had five installed on my phone), learning how to read the doppler radar maps. I often stayed up late until I exhausted myself. Once a storm passed, I felt relieved.

After moving to a new area and a new house, I became less worried. I did keep some of those behaviors, though, including checking weather apps. I used to enjoy the sound of rain. Now, though, storms still cause me some anxiety. The biggest atmospheric rivers leave me up half the night.

I’ve lived with various kinds of anxiety from trauma, including with psoriasis and eczema flares. I cope by praying, focusing on getting through shorter periods of time (such as the four hours of intense rain and wind the other night), reining in catastrophic thinking, distracting (like writing), and doing what I can (calling the builder). These help me get through those tense moments.

The storms, whether literal or metaphorical, will continue to enter into my life. I can’t stop them necessarily. How I manage them, though, make a difference in my overall wellness when they do come.