How to emotionally recover after losing all material possessions in a burglary?
September 29, 2011 6:24 AM   Subscribe

What are some practical steps I can do to keep sane after a robbery and try to pick up the pieces of my memories?

I was the recent victim of a robbery and the thieves managed to take every material object that was of value to me. Though money naturally ebbs and flows, I am most discomfited by the loss of my laptop and hard drive. It contained innumerable pictures, essays, videos I shot, music I composed, and all of my personal notes for the books I had read and meta-tagged. This amounts to about 10 years of work.

I've filed a police report and I'm checking the pawn shops, craigslist, ebay, etc. but I am very pessimistic and I'm trying to console myself with the fact that this might be a permanent loss.

Two practical quesions:
1) I'm convinced that I should have backed up everything on "the cloud". I would like to send a mass email to my friends to collect any photos they might have on their computer. Is there a service where my friends can just drag and drop photos which are uploaded to a centralized share point, my personal repository? Does Dropbox do this? Are there any alternatives?

2) I am having incredible difficulty sleeping. At work, I manage to be social and at a conscious level I am coping adequately. However my subconscious is a mess. I cannot sleep for more than a few hours without waking up and pacing aimlessly. I have never had difficulty sleeping in the past and this is definitely correlated with my recent loss. What can I do as the sleep fatigue is slowly eating away at my psyche?

Thank you Mefi.
posted by bodywithoutorgans to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In my nonprofessional opinion, you sound traumatized and you should probably get thee to a shrink to ask about EMDR or some other kind of therapy for it.

Dropbox will let you have 2GB free, more space for a fee. You can add collaborators to your Dropbox by inviting them to join Dropbox (thereby earning more space for each new signup) and sharing folders with them.

Again, if it's any consolation, everything that you actually need and/or will miss will probably come back to you.
posted by tel3path at 6:32 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry.

Almost exactly the same thing happened to me -- my own laptop got stolen back in December, with exactly the same amount of files on it. And yeah, it SUCKED. There are things I wrote that i will never, ever get back. At least: I won't get them back in that form.

Fortunately: you will find that your friends can be very understanding. I too wasn't backing things up, but a lot of friends and colleagues came to the rescue and re-mailed me a lot of emails I'd sent them, pictures, drafts of things I'd worked on, etc. There are some things that are just gone, but I was able to get back some of the really important stuff. (One of my best friends came to the ABSOLUTE rescue when she tracked down an email I'd sent to ALL of my friends five months prior, and she forwarded it back to me "so you can have all the email addresses back", and thus she single-handedly rebuilt my entire email address list.) Drop box would do what you want (let people upload things all to one place), but in order for it to work, they have to accept the invitation you send them, and you run the risk of them just continually forgetting to do that, so it may just be easier to have them email things directly to you.

Also, don't forget about other people you may have given hard copies of things to -- I'd written a short story that was lost, and I really wanted to try submitting that to a contest, but a friend found it in a sheaf of work I'd printed out and asked her to be a beta-reader for. It wasn't in online form, but I had it that way, and BOY that helped. Going forward: one of my friends suggested Mozy as an automated online file backup system. I think it's only about $60 a year, and it backs up my entire system once a day.

As for the other things: the holidays ARE coming up, so don't be surprised if people all rally to shower you with, "some asshole stole your Crockpot, so here's a really space-age new one! Merry Christmas!"

As for the sense of personal security -- was this your first ever crime?...This will knock you for a loop for a while, yeah. If it's only been a week or so, your still being shaken is not too surprising. However, the fact that you've filed the police report and taken action is a good thing; you indeed may not get your things back, but you have taken action, which takes back some of your power. That will help you recover faster (that helped me through all the brushes with crime I've ever had). If you're really concerned about the sleep loss, I'd give your doctor a quick call for advice; or some over-the-counter sleep aids may help, just for this patch.

Yeah, this sucks. Sorry. But you're taking all the right steps for where you are now. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:37 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry. I have been the victim of burglary several times, and have pretty much had everything of personal significance stolen (all little bits of jewelry that came down through my family, including a locket from my mom that had a pic of my dad while he was in the army while they were engaged – it's still heartbreaking for me, and the value for the thief was really low as these things go; I would have paid much more not to lose it).

I eventually decided to consciously live as though all my stuff could be gone at any moment, which is technically a true thing. At this point, yeah, it's really just my laptop that would be the worst of the worst. I back up to other devices, but cloud isn't reasonable for me, because I don't have superduper upload or download speeds. I imagine that it would take me weeks to download everything from the cloud (and more to upload). I'm anxiously awaiting a higher level of tech to become available to me.

I also ended up moving way far away from the place where I had been so insecure, and I'm still not sure if it was because of the break-ins, or if I would have done it anyway. I still feel that I'm vulnerable, but I find myself regularly doing a check-in: "how devastated would you be if this was stolen; what about this; what if it was all gone?"

One thing I have to say as a survivor (heh), is that no books or art work was ever stolen, ever. Some of my husband's underwear was actually stolen, but no books. Learn from that what you may.
posted by taz at 6:50 AM on September 29, 2011

Response by poster: As a plus, none of my books were stolen. The police officer told me books are heavy and thieves probably don't give a shit about Kant.
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 6:54 AM on September 29, 2011

I don't know what state you're in, but my state has an Office for Victim Services that can hook you up with specialized counseling programs for survivors/witnesses of violent crime (families of homicide victims or survivors of robbery/assault), usually at no cost. Check the website of your state's judicial system?

Just to clarify, though--were you a victim of a robbery (i.e., direct contact with the perpetrator) or a burglary (i.e., home invasion when you weren't there)? That may, unfortunately, make a difference on your eligibility for a program like this, which sucks because a burglary is certainly traumatic (speaking as a victim of two burglaries in one year, myself) but it isn't classified by the judicial system as a violent crime.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:54 AM on September 29, 2011

There are forms of post-traumatic treatment that are most effective in the immediate aftermath, and I've never heard anyone say they regretted doing it. I do know people who, six months later, sure wish they had done it. Part of that treatment will be assisting you with your sleep issues, which is better done sooner than later when you're so strung out from lack of sleep that it takes much longer to get back to a regular set of sleep requirements.

The Dropbox route is fairly easy, but you might also want to make yourself a special gmail account for people who don't have the time/savvy to figure that out.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:54 AM on September 29, 2011

when i first moved into my current city, i was mugged, my apartment was robbed and my car was broken into within the first three months of living there. it was partly the not-so-nice neighborhood, and partly my naivite having never lived in a city before. it's six years later, and i still miss some of the things i lost. i can totally sympathize with how upset and violated you must feel right now.

this is definitely going to be a grieving process for you. what helped me get through it was to be very proactive about preventing it from happening again. whether you're renting or own, make sure you have an insurance policy that truly meets your needs. evaluate your home's locks and windows. replace or upgrade as needed. leave lights on if you're going to be away from the apartment. we would leave a radio on, too, when we weren't there. whether those tactics are an effective thief deterrent or not, it was soothing somehow to be changing behaviors in a way that could prevent further incidents. talk to your neighbors about the robbery, and advise them to protect their homes.

lastly, when you find yourself in a foul mood, pacing, panicked, angry, whatever...take a minute to take a few deep breaths, clear your mind, and try to move on.
posted by sk932 at 7:07 AM on September 29, 2011

I am most discomfited by the loss of my laptop and hard drive.

Four years ago thieves broke into the cellar of my building and stole two guitars - one of which I have had for 30+ years. It's gone. There's nothing to do about it. You put it in perspective just like a dead friend.

So some time later my dear sweet sister comes to visit me and she brings her guitar as a replacement. We took lessons together as a kid, so her guitar was at least as familiar and as dear to me.

I decided to keep this one at my office. And then six weeks later, thieves broke in there too and that guitar was gone.

I comfort myself knowing it was probably some junkie trying to scratch together for the day and there was nothing personal about it - he/she just needed the money.
posted by three blind mice at 7:14 AM on September 29, 2011

My home has been burgled twice: the condo I then owned in 2006 and my current home in 2010. I was very angry in a "some fucking loser who can't be bothered to work to buy the things he wants thinks he can just take my stuff that I worked for!!!!" vein, but not at all traumatized or really even shaken up. Everyone even commented on how not that upset I seemed.

The bottom line for me was that it's just stuff, and there's a fairly low ceiling to how upset I can get over stuff. So I think it's best to take that attitude if you can. You are not your stuff or your place, and you were physically untouched by this. Stuff is just stuff, and you can always get more of it. You lost your work (I didn't), which is certainly rough. I lost my jewelry, which is probably the next hardest thing to lose because you can hardly ever get the same pieces again, and so much of it was gifted to me and carried such sentimental value. Most other stuff though is easily replaceable, and can even be improved on. For example, one CD is as good as another of the same kind (maybe better, because maybe your old one has some scratches) and you could get a better digital camera than the old one.

Some other thoughts:

- Safeguard yourself and your place as well as you can. Self-defense classes are always a good idea. Look into improving your home security, or getting your landlord to do so. Start backing up your work regularly. Make sure you have adequate insurance. If you feel you need therapy, by all means see a therapist.

- There are times when retail therapy is useful and appropriate. This is one of those times. The day after my first break-in I went right out and bought a new gold necklace I'd been eyeing. It got stolen in the second robbery (oh irony), but it made me feel better at the time and I got to enjoy wearing it for four years, so that was something. You don't mention insurance — do you have contents insurance? If you do, enjoy spending that money. If you don't, treat yourself to as much nice new stuff as you can reasonably afford. And if anyone asks what they can get your for Christmas, don't be too bashful to give them some ideas. Those who care about you may make some wonderful gestures. My dad replaced the signet ring he bought me for my sixteenth birthday with a new one because "buying another with your insurance money won't be the same as though it came from me".

- You may feel differently about this, but I immediately decided when it came to replacing the stuff that can't be replicated (my jewelry), that I was not going to try to replicate it. It would have been a futile effort and new, not-quite-the-same versions would only be a perpetual reminder of what I had lost. So, except in a few cases where it was possible to get the same thing again, I bought all new things that I loved for themselves. And I had the happy experience of coming across a Christmas bracelet at Value Village that was exactly like the one I loved that had been stolen. Totally made my week.

I'm sorry you went through this, but just know that you're going to be okay and this will be something that just happened that sucked.
posted by orange swan at 7:57 AM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I live in a very high-crime area, burglary is a constant threat. Realizing that my hard drives are probably the most valuable thing I own, I have been backing them up onto BackBlaze. I recommend their service over something like dropbox.
posted by fake at 9:28 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The police officer told me books are heavy and thieves probably don't give a shit about Kant.

It's that pesky categorical imperative.

I am having incredible difficulty sleeping. At work, I manage to be social and at a conscious level I am coping adequately. However my subconscious is a mess. I cannot sleep for more than a few hours without waking up and pacing aimlessly. I have never had difficulty sleeping in the past and this is definitely correlated with my recent loss. What can I do as the sleep fatigue is slowly eating away at my psyche?

As the victim of a couple of serious crimes (a beating with a 2x4, in 2007, and a mugging this summer), this is classic PTSD. What I can tell you is that it goes away, but you may want therapy to talk it through. If you are unable to sleep you can get a sleeping aid prescribed such as Ambien, as well as an anti-anxiety med for times when your mind is racing and emotions well up on you. For me, in both cases, I was determined not to let the criminal acts deter me from living my life as I wanted.
posted by dhartung at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2011

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