Tuesday, the SJRA Board met to reconsider lowering Lake Conroe seasonally. Many Lake Houston Area residents there to testify felt bullied by the large and boisterous crowd of Lake Conroe residents. This is another story of bullying. It’s about how a young man with autism who was traumatized by flooding during Hurricane Harvey fought his way back. He’s now taking up the fight to continue lowering Lake Conroe seasonally. Below: the text of a letter he wrote to the SJRA Board. It took courage for Ryan to share this letter with the world. Spoiler alert: Keep a Kleenex handy as you read this. It’s inspirational.
Ryan Long’s Letter to the SJRA Board
From: Ryan Long, Kingwood, TX 77345
My name is Ryan Long and I am a 15-year-old from Kingwood. In August of 2017, when I was 12, my home flooded after the release of water from Lake Conroe. We do NOT live on a flood plain, and we NEVER had flooding in our neighborhood until the middle of the night of August 27th during Harvey.
Foster’s Mill, where I live, had no warning to evacuate. When flood water came, the current was so great that regular boats could not get down my street to rescue people. Helicopters flew in all day and rescued people from roofs.
Rescued by USAF Special Forces
We were finally rescued in the evening on a boat by a Special Forces team from the U.S. Air Force, hours after flood waters came into our home. I, my family, and my community will feel the impact for years to come.
I have autism and am classified as “high-functioning.” Before Harvey, I loved school. But due to the Lake Conroe release during Harvey, I lost years of therapy and a year of schooling.
As I woke up on the third day of the storm, power had gone out. When I opened my curtain, I saw a river rushing right outside my home; the water so deep it was about to seep into my downstairs. I panicked and ran to my parents! As the day wore on, I watched as water crept in our home like a slowly rising tide until the Special Forces evacuated us.
Descent into Darkness
Our journey out was rough. The destruction I saw traumatized me. I felt broken. Every day, I felt anxious. The first time it rained, I hid under a desk, certain it would happen all over again. I slept with the lights on at night. Darkness felt like a Halloween horror movie. School became traumatic. Walking down a crowded hall felt as if I were caught in a cage. Kids began to pick on me about my panic attacks. I isolated myself, even from friends.
I could not figure out how to ask for help. I felt frantic when taking tests. I could not concentrate. My grades, a source of pride, began to suffer. Even with the help of teachers who recognized the problem, I still failed.
The Long Road Back
My parents found a counselor who helped me find a way back. She talked to me about things I loved. Eventually, I started listening to her. Slowly, she taught me strategies to cope. She helped me overcome fears and taught me how not to feel so lost. My grades improved, and I learned to sleep in the dark again.
However, I was still struggling with kids who frequently bullied me. After a particularly brutal, physical incident, I found the courage to stand up for myself and reported the incident – despite fear of retribution.
At first, I wondered what changed that day. I finally found the courage to believe in myself. I started doing things with my friends again. And I finished the year with straight A’s.
It took more than a year before I learned to believe in myself again. Today, I am still anxious at times. I still do not like thunderstorms. And I still struggle occasionally on tests. But I no longer think I am too stupid to do the work. But I believe in myself. Harvey did not break me. I came out better in the end. But that doesn’t mean I want to go through it again.
Still Dealing with Anxiety
People not living with the repercussions of Harvey tend to forget what happened. They expect the trauma and damage to go away as soon as homes are repaired. However, two and a half years later I still have anxiety.
My home is fixed but others on my street and many in my community are not. People still live on second floors with their downstairs in disarray. Other homes are abandoned. Many people are frightened when it rains. My mom has panic attacks when she hears helicopters. Damage – both physical and emotional – lingers on.
So, what does this have to do with the SJRA and the people of Lake Conroe? I beg you to remember that there are people and lives that have been devastated by flooding downstream. We ask that you continue the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe until the flood mitigation can be completed on Lake Houston.
Thank you for listening.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/23/2020 with grateful thanks and best wishes to Ryan Long
877 Days after Hurricane Harvey