Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Well- it seems like it's finally happening; after all these surreal days and weeks and months.
But how do we prepare for a post-traumatic stress-flavored world?
With all the talk about reopening, we still find ourselves just as torn and conflicted as we’ve been for the past three months. (With an ideological civil war to ice the cake on the Pandemic.)
The only consistent theme of this COVID19 era is perhaps the inconsistency of it. The lack of clarity, or reliable data, of certainty about what is happening and of what we need to do. That confusion, that helplessness, besides for the very real tragic and dangerous effects of this virus, have left many feeling destablized.
There is little doubt that we, as a global community have endured a collective trauma, compounded by yet another- a domino effect of an overloaded national nervous system. The illness, death, and fear of Covid, compounded by the disruption of routines, schools, work, travel, and financial crisis was apocalyptic in its own right. It was then followed by the horrific, surround sound broadcast of an officer choking a man to death, followed by an explosion of varied, polarizing expressions of fear, anger, hate, and violence, have left most of us reeling.
Trauma can be defined as an event that leaves a profound impression. Trauma, especially when it results in PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder, can often be a root cause of many other common mental health diagnoses and symptoms like: flashbacks, nightmares, phobias, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders. Not everyone who experiences trauma will suffer PTSD. And not everyone who has symptoms of PTSD can pinpoint a specific traumatic incident. In fact, pretty much every human has had some experience that are sometimes termed “small t” or micro- trauma; events that might not be objectively acknowledged as unusual or impactful, but nonetheless, can shape how we react to similar stimuli or triggers afterwards. Some examples of these subjective “small t traumas” might be: being embarrassed by a teacher in front of a class, turbulence during an airline flight, or a memorable scene from a scary movie. I believe even just viewing the 9 minute video of George Floyd’s murder could itself register as a trauma for some.
Some experienced Coronavirus as a firsthand serious illness, or through the loss of a loved one. Others may not know anyone personally who died or was even very sick, but still had their daily lives and routines comes screeching to a mandatory standstill. We were all more or less imprisoned in our homes for some length of time, unsure of whether we would have access to basic supplies, or how devastating the life toll of this pandemic would be. The obligatory, handwashing, face masks, gloves, wiping down of anything that entered our homes created a sense of necessary societal neurosis. The social distancing deprived us of the comfort of human interaction and touch. Children, suddenly thrown out of their regular school routines, found themselves locked in with parents who hadn’t had ample time to prepare for the task. Economic hardship and uncertainty compounded the public health fear, as the entertainment industry crumbled before our eyes, prayer services, sports events, Broadway shows, movies, weddings, and conferences cancelled, and many other businesses followed. Smalls businesses were totaled. Life itself almost felt canceled.
Now finally, after these long, difficult months, we begin to try and breathe again. But how?
What will this feel like?
For the children, who have learned the language of fear and avoidance?
For the adults, who are still trying to recover sanity, serenity, and financial loss?
For the marriages, taxed from overexposure and stress?
For the humans, who have grown accustomed to functioning from behind a screen?
For the businesses- the ones who were not deemed “essential” by those who didn’t need them?
I don’t have the answers. As therapists, we keep getting invited to do virtual talks on topics like:
“Dating During Covid”
“How to Covid-Proof Your Marriage”
“Homeschooling During a Global Crisis”
“Parenting While Trying to Suddenly Work from Home”
I’ve tried to avoid speaking or writing authoritatively this way- simply because we honestly have no clue. It’s not like we mental health professionals took a course in grad school, or wrote research papers titled: “Helping Society Function During a Pandemic.” There are literally no experts on these topics; there can’t be.
That said, there have been other national and societal crises from which we can try to extrapolate coping tools, and that will definitely be explored and shared.
I think the name of the game is grace. Being patient with ourselves, our loved ones, the kids, our friends, relatives, and neighbors, the businesses, policy makers, and professionals who are all just trying to get back up on wobbly legs. To understand that this will be a gradual, bumpy, nonlinear process all around. That if we embrace the mindset of trying to just put one foot in front of the other, steadying ourselves and supporting each other, allowing for emotional and logistical glitches along the way, we will slowly be able to rebuild, reconnect, and recreate a healing world- in more ways than one.