Trauma has been a familiar speed bump in the highways of my life. It has felt like mountain versus molehill most times. This traumatic past has taken the better part of a decade to heal. My days of sadness still creep in and my anxiety runs the show some days. But, I have gained control of my coping skills and racing thoughts enough to get a good night's sleep and be able to function in public and professional settings.
That was a year ago. That was before my life, like yours, was turned upside down, and trauma nestled its nose into my daily life. Going outside to shop became the anxiety-inducing scenarios I had worked so hard to conquer.
In the mental health field, anyone who has done work involving trauma has experienced the scenario of being retraumatized. This means we experience a traumatic experience while still trying to heal from past trauma. This can also mean we encounter a situation that involves the same type of trauma that plagued us in our past.
We are often told that we can’t heal from our trauma in the same place that we were harmed.
What does that mean for those of us beginning to process our trauma while still living through it?
Trauma Responses Abound as the Pandemic Sets In
For those of us in the USA, this past week in March was our final week of normalcy. My state of New York went into lockdown on March 13th. I remember thinking this couldn’t last longer than a few months.
A year later I wonder how we are going to begin processing the traumatic effects a year of pandemic lifestyle has dealt us. Will we be able to begin healing while still adjusting to a new normal?
“Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.” — American Psychological Association definition.
Initial reactions to the announcements of statewide shutdowns regarding nonessential business included both shock and denial last year. Many individuals believed that this was an overreaction to something that would be gone sooner than we could utter mask mandate.
The country went out overnight and created shortages for things such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer by overbuying in a state of shock and panic.
When working with an individual involved in domestic violence at home, the first piece of their story I try and help with is safety. In order for me to be able to work through the complex trauma involved with domestic violence, I need my client to be away from the home or situation that caused her abuse.
In my work now as a Covid-19 crisis counselor, I am unable to take this same path to trauma healing. We are unable to explore the options for escaping the trauma endured from the pandemic because no other planet holds life, and this entire planet is plagued by Covid right now.
The basic need of safety and security is unable to be met by many during the pandemic. 18–20 million Americans are out of work, parents are still teaching kids remotely as schools close based on covid cases present, we are still away from our families and friends and our eyes grow weary of the computer screen that is our connection to outside life.
Finances, relationships, and education are all rooted in providing us our basic needs. Needs that contribute to the ability of us being able to cope and recover from traumatic experiences. This pandemic has asked us to cope at a higher level with less of the skills we used to cope with in the past.
What in the hell do we do then?
Showing Loving-Kindness To Ourselves is the Key
“In cultivating loving-kindness, we train first to be honest, loving, and compassionate toward ourselves. Rather than nurturing self-denigration, we begin to cultivate a clear-seeing kindness. Sometimes we feel good and strong. Sometimes we feel inadequate and weak. But like mother love, Maitri is unconditional.” -Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You
A year later and we are all still reeling from the shock, loss, and change we experienced on such short notice. If you feel that your routine is still consisting more of sweatpants and sleeping that is okay.
Working through your traumatic experiences relating to the pandemic is possible while we still rummage through it. If you are hitting a wall while trying then remember to show yourself love and compassion. Let yourself know that you are doing all you can.
Trauma takes years sometimes to fully process. This is in the best of situations which include being able to leave the space in time where your trauma occurred. As you peel back the layers of your pandemic onion remember some areas may be more sensitive than others.
Healing is an ongoing process. Trauma does not define you and neither does the manner in which you heal. Treating yourself with love and care while you heal is most important of all.