The Dilemma of Sharing Reality Amidst COVID 19
I’ve been surprised and encouraged recently every time I’ve heard someone apply the language of trauma to this time of pandemic.
And yet, what I’ve heard and seen less of is an explanation of why that designation carries meaning and blueprints.
It is both true that the United States now has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than anywhere in the world, and that our response is not yet to scale.
A place like New York City that significantly outpaces other cities in deaths, still hasn’t officially embraced closing schools all year.
A place like Virginia that has conversely closed schools for the remainder of the academic year, just yesterday issued a Shelter in Place order.
A stimulus package was approved, and protections against evictions were named, and yet there remains a widening disconnect between what’s needed and what ‘can be done’.
Essential work is a vacuous category, and the need to be compensated consistently looms.
How do I prioritize safety and use my resources accordingly? What can I say no to, and with what fall out?
Where does the impulse to fill public beaches fit with hoarding toilet paper?
To make sense of these disconnects, we have to examine the continuum of trauma responses —
where again we feel the difference between what is needed and what ‘can be done’.
Traumatic experiences have to do with a changed orientation to information, and an alteration from other times of thinking and planning.
Quite literally, when what is happening is more than we can cope with we cannot act the same.
We can feel nothing, or extremes, but a measure of homeostasis — the body’s equilibrium — will be hijacked.
What that might look like is a severing between our internal and external environments.
To perform on a task, we might not feel hunger.
Sensitivity to light and sound might lead to self isolation.
Dreams may be vivid and violent, while short term memory may lapse.
Expressing emotions with words, knowing how you feel, reacting in the moment to a question or a problem, each might be displaced until they balloon.
These responses might set in for months, changing moderately, or evolving into habits.
Avoidance, hyper vigilance, numbing, risk taking, apathy, dissociation, disordered sleep, and all of these responses and combinations.
Ringing ears, an eye twitch, racing thoughts, racing legs, shivers, insomnia, headaches, body aches, spontaneous crying, all fair game.
Traumatic responses are an expression of generalized unsafety and dysregulation.
Our brains and bodies react to disequilibrium differently because they are a changed reality.
In this moment of social distancing, reality is changed.
But it’s not changed from the same thing, or to the same magnitude, or with the same consequences, or with the same factors for each of us, and that is a relevant source of trauma.
This pandemic won’t stop domestic violence or child abuse, but it will limit safety planning.
This pandemic won’t stop pregnancy or births, but it will limit celebration and support.
This pandemic won’t stop learning, but it will stagger our acquisition of needed resources.
This pandemic won’t undo our various trauma histories, but it will leverage those scripts.
When we say changed normal,
we hear inconvenience when we need to hear accumulated trauma.
Our response reveals privilege we have, coping techniques we use, money and access available to us, and proximity to these changes.
Beyond being in our homes, beyond not going to school or work, what does change bring?
Closed direct service.
Zoom happy hours.
Escalating financial insecurity.
Escalating family violence.
Bursts of creativity.
Home videos and home concerts.
More than we can cope with.
More than we can integrate.
Distorted reactions to stimulants.
A loss of feeling.
A surge of feelings.
An inability to function.
A desire for a schedule.
At any point, we know that we are two weeks out from knowing where we are now.
I say two weeks because viruses like traumatic symptoms can have incubation periods or dormancy.
It is possible to be in a reality before it sets in.
It is possible to use words and not know what they mean.
It’s possible because our trauma responses are involuntary, volatile, and rooted in evolving scripts that began for different reasons.
The dilemma is, reality is setting in.
Realities, I should say.