If the start of 2021 hasn’t brought an immediate relief to feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you’re not alone.
A common hallmark of trauma is the inability to process harmful events as they are happening, because they are overwhelming. A lot of people think that trauma stems from violent events like war or car crashes, but it’s far broader than that, pandemics included. According to Dr. Jillian Lagoy in an interview with Healthline, “The current COVID-19 pandemic has qualities that qualify as a traumatic experience as it takes a physical and emotional toll on many people.”
In that moment, we don’t fully understand what’s going on, or we might not even understand that it’s even happening. And those places in time are hard to call trauma because in the present of that moment, we just call it our lives. Last year was made of days on end of working from home, with the news on a constant loop of political mayhem. Time spent in isolation, apart from people we love and places we long for. Jobs lost and incomes cut off, compromises made and unemployment checks cashed. And most of all – loved ones lost and funerals unattended, our collective grief still open like four hundred thousand caskets.
We as a nation have had very little room to breathe or process the events that are happening to us, personally and nationally. Although we’re not through the thick of it yet, I think we can afford a moment to pause and take internal inventory.
Does the thought of facing your feelings make your heart skip a beat? That’s normal. Jon G. Allen, author of Coping with Trauma advises – “Avoidance is utterly natural, but it can keep you stuck. Blotting the traumatic experience out of your mind can keep you from coming to terms with it.” Experts upon experts say that it’s better to face your feelings rather than letting them fester in the attic of your brain. Experts like Jon G. Allen also say it’s better to face them with a trusted companion. Having an outside person validate your feelings and help make sense of what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way is instrumental in the process. And that person doesn’t have to be someone you know. It’s common to worry about being an emotional burden, or maybe you just don’t want your loved ones to get involved. Don’t be afraid to see a professional. There are many online therapy services popping up in response to the mental stress of these turbulent times. Just know that it’s so much easier healing with help than doing all the work yourself.
Some personal advice from me to you – be patient, and be nice to yourself. Healing doesn’t happen overnight. Focus on the practice of healing rather than the goal. You’ll find that the more you get to know your pain, the less daunting it becomes. You can untangle it like a pair of earphones you left in your pocket. Take note of where it hurts the most, and don’t be afraid to follow your pain. It hurts that much for a reason. But also know that no matter how many times you ask your pain “why?” you may never find a satisfying answer. There’s no good reason why bad things happen. But no matter what, there is no undoing it.
At the end of the day, all we can do is pick up the pieces, take inventory, and assess the damage. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And remember, you are not alone. Between this past year and what we’re going through now, it has been incredibly challenging time for all of us. So be gentle with yourself. We will get through this.