Last week I wrote about reflection in I turned around And I saw my reflection In it I explain about reflecting on several issues such as a conversation, a dream or an action. Today I want to reflect on Trauma.
What is trauma?
First let’s consider what the opposite of trauma is.
That would be wholeness, completeness, goodness, happiness, health etc. It’s what we want in life, and especially at this time in our lives; we want to be reassured, given hope, calmed, soothed, helped, and be at peace but right now we are all in survival mode, trying to make our way through this covid 19 virus with a certain amount of apprehension and dread; possibly feeling like we are drowning.
Trauma can be either physical, like an assault or emotional, like being verbally berated. If you survive a mugging or rape or some other type of violence it is easy to recognize it as a trauma, but an emotional trauma might be less easy to identify. There are many types of traumas: like I already mentioned rape, muggings, then also, war, terrorism, natural disasters, severe illness or injury, accidents, death of a loved one, emotional abuse or even being with someone else and witnessing their trauma: these all can leave a mark on you and effect you. I am sure you could add to the list.
Being in a situation where there is pending doom and unknown factors that might impact your life negatively can also become a trauma because it is ongoing. We are not designed to face ongoing stress that is threatening our well-being; it is not what our bodies can cope with. The types that I highlighted are the ones that I think contribute to Covid 19 trauma. In what way do you think you are being effected by covid 19?
“The core of trauma is feeling afraid and alone”– Jon G Allen – Coping with Trauma.
The effects of trauma.
Often physical symptoms of trauma are lethargy, fatigue, and poor concentration, racing heart, anxious symptoms (tight chest, tummy ailments, headaches and insomnia) and panic attacks. Do you notice any of these signs plaguing you?
Emotional symptoms are denial, anger, sadness, despair, lack of motivation, grief, feelings of loss, confusion and anxiety. Often one of the reactions after the trauma is that you never want to go through it again, or experience it or feel the feelings again; this is why so many of us don’t want to talk about the trauma. Feeling mute or speechless is a natural way to protect yourself from reliving the trauma. It is often difficult to relive the circumstances by talking about it. If you know of someone who you think needs to talk it is best to encourage them but not to force them to talk. The person experiencing the trauma can land up reliving the trauma and being re-traumatized by emotional flooding. So if you or a loved one needs to talk or deal with something, choose who you are going to talk to, and how much you can cope with at one time. Who would you talk to? Who do you think could help just by listening?
I am going to use a personal example that you no doubt already know I experienced: Cancer. Finding out about cancer was a trauma. The mere fact that I was told that I might have cancer and needed to go for biopsies was already a trauma – having to face my fear and the ‘what if’; then waiting for the surgeon’s and oncologist’s reports; every step of the way was a small trauma, ongoingly chipping away at my family and me. I found it useful talking to various people: professionals, family and friends depending on what I needed to work through. I found talking to a psychologist helpful too.
When one experiences and lives through a trauma the person is normally just going through the motions at the time; then afterwards one’s reaction is to not want to talk about it, this could be denial and some sort of protective mechanism; then one faces it, names it, talks about it, and eventually accept it. This can all take a long time.
Imagine you are on your way home from a great party when a neighbour’s dog jumps out at you, barking, and tries to bite you. You get a huge fright and your heart is racing. The neighbour or (your family, when you get home), has one of two responses: 1) you f**** stupid idiot, what were you doing, you must have been teasing the dog OR 2) Oh my goodness I am so sorry; you must have got a big fright, are you hurt, can I get you something for the shock? Maybe they pat you on the shoulder or some other appropriate action like a hug to console you. In the first case, someone shouting at you and blaming you for the accident is going to exacerbate the trauma where as, in the second case, someone that comforts you, especially someone you know or someone who witnessed it happening will help to ease your pain; acknowledgement and compassion are key to validation and healing.
Depending on how the circumstances are dealt with will contribute to or hinder the healing process. Covid 19 is even more insidious as we don’t really think of ourselves as suffering a trauma but there are the elements of uncertainty, of the unknown, the asking of ‘what if’, facing the possibilities of loved ones and friends being sick and dying, the coping of unusual circumstances of lock down, people hording food and supplies, not knowing where we will be in the long run economically etc., etc. I don’t want to make an exhaustive list. I am sure you know already. Social distancing is another factor that we have not had to cope with before because we haven’t needed to live in a world where we avoid each other as a result people suffer from isolation and are aching for physical comfort.
However it is affecting you, be kind to yourself.
The covid 19 virus is also a psychological trauma coming like a wave as we live in silent fear and it curbs our freedom. Just like with sexual harassment, covid 19 lurks around the corner and lingering in the air, without provocation it pounces, affecting us psychologically, physically and for many even our jobs are potentially affected. Trauma is trauma. The virus is pervasive, ‘traveling’ inter-personally, the trauma is repeated and unpredictable.
So when you lie awake at night not being able to sleep, maybe your heart is racing or your mind can’t be switched off; when you wake up in the mornings and you don’t feel like getting out of bed and you aren’t motivated to do anything, or you are lonely and in need of a hug, or you feel guilty because you are better off than other people you know; or you feel desperately frustrated because of the economic loss you might experience or you feel anger because of those people who do not have to suffer like you and your family do; these are all appropriate feelings and there is no one way that fits all in life. There is no one way that we experience trauma, or grieve, or talk about our suffering but be gentle and compassionate with yourselves, and one another, because love is guaranteed to help a lot more than anger and impatience. Understanding goes a long way to heal as well.
If you can’t come to us, we’ll go to you.
If you can’t come to us, we’ll go to you.
Take care and be kind to yourself.
“Our healing is bound up in each other’s. It is the truest level of love, as each and every thing offers itself for another.”– Richard Rohr . instagram . cacradicalgrace