Hello Trauma Survivor,

As we both know, you’re not a stranger to chaos, you’ve been through loss, fear, panic, dread and being on-edge for some or most of your life.

With the recent pandemic, coronavirus, you realize the world is in a state of trauma. Yes, it is a trauma, and a valid one.

You look around and you see the world panicking, freaking out, or some being in utter denial, and you roll your eyes inside. 

They just don't get it, you think to yourself. 

They really don’t. 

Welcome to my world, you think out loud. 

My world was never certain. 

I never felt a secure sense of safety. 

My soul always held the brutal reality of the unknown.

If you're a trauma survivor, this may resonate with you. And when I mean trauma survivor, as you may already know, I dont  only mean trauma as in “big T traumas” such as car crashes, a single incident rape or national disaster. I also mean “small T traumas'' such as ongoing childhood neglect, poverty, being around emotionally explosive people, socially feeling like a misfit, experiencing ongoing emotional or physical abuse or or never being seen, heard or accepted. {for a full blog on explaining trauma, and silent traumas, read here}.

Yes, coronavirus is hard for all people, but when trauma has been engraved so deeply on your identity, it can feel like a retraumatization. Which means that right now, it’s likely that you are reminded of triggers of emotions you experienced during a past trauma (even if you have worked really hard to forget them).

You may feel frustrated because you’ve finally gotten good footing in your life, or were beginning to feel steady, and now you're feeling like the rug was pulled from under your feet.

 

It's like you just joined the world of “normal people” and suddenly you’re spiraled back to the world you’ve climbed out of.

It can be scary, upsetting and downright confusing. 

If this is you, know you are not alone. Many many many people are experiencing a host of new, or very old, yet familiar symptoms and are wondering what is going on. 

Your past personal traumas are meshed with today's global, collective trauma

In the past, what you probably faced was a personal trauma. A trauma that you went through, and it was probably not fully addressed as trauma is when others around you don't see, understand or appreciate the impact something has on you, and later, you get to heal and resolve the impact. 

But now, we are in a global trauma. The whole world is facing it all, together. 

For some, this has brought a lot more support into their lives, and for others, it has highlighted how misunderstood or alone they feel. 

By “facing this together” , I mean, we are all in this ship together, sailing   stormy waters and each of us doing our best. 

If trauma is your second {or first} language, this is how you may be feeling during corona

Common Challenges During this Time & how to support yourself:

1} Your {emotional and body} flashbacks may be worse than before.

 As we know from somatic psychotherapy, our bodies hold memories on a cellular level.  You may notice you're more on edge, agitated and easily annoyed… more than usual. 

You may lean back on some old support and coping strategies you've used in the past, even if you have not relied on them in quite some time. 

  • Obsessing about all the possibilities of how life can go wrong, as a hope to protect yourself from future danger.
  • Dissociation and spacing out because the reality feels too frightening to stay present and connected emotionally.
  • Going into over-cleaning, over-cooking, over-planning or any other over-mode in the hopes of gaining some semblance of control. 
  • Feelings of insecurity like you have no friends, your efforts are worthless and your partner doesn't fully emotionally understand you. 
  • Feelings of being trapped (your throat may feel constricted, and your belly may feel tight. These are all body symptoms letting you know you’re anxious, or some other strong emotional response to trying to process something.) 
  • You may be having nightmares, or weird dreams, or intrusive thoughts during the day, that confuse you. 
  • You may be feeling anxious, depressed or more watery than usual. 
  • You may be having a hard time sticking to your routine, not sleeping at night, sleeping in later than usual, isolating more than you’d like, and drinking too much alcohol, or binge watching shows deep into the night.

All of this is normal. 

Though not ideal at non-pandemic times, it is expected and ok when life has changed so quickly to be experiencing a few of these (and others).

It is simply your brain's way of trying to organize some not-yet-metabolized information. It may be related to the ongoing trauma, and more likely, it may be kicking up some old worries, fears or panics of a younger part that went through a past trauma. 

2} You may have an eerie sense of calm

When you've been in survival mode, your body’s equilibrium can be programmed and almost feel calm when the world is in chaos. You might feel more at home in your skin than usual. You have a “reason” to be in fight or flight, being hypervigilant, “on edge” and super aware of the realities around you. Trauma survivors nervous systems are hyper focused on the sensitive details around them, and on a “regular day” may feel exhausted by the awareness, and needing to feel like they need to be alert and ready to run, but when the world is in a state of alert, they can finally settle into familiarity. The body thinks, “oh I’m finally doing it right”. 

There's also a sense of calm when the police, the fire department and the doctors are all working round the clock. Trauma survivors can feel a sense of protection and organization when the world and workers are responding to danger- it’s almost like they can finally take a deep breath of relief.  It’s almost like the world finally woke up and realizes your truth and your reality. The sirens and professionals being awake nonstop leaves your inner part with a sense that there are grown ups who are tending to the issue. This is the opposite experience that you have when you are neglected or abused, and everyone around pretends everything is normal. 

Now, things are not normal, and you’ve known this not-typical life for a long long time. Finally people are getting it. It would make sense you’d feel calm. 

3} You have waves of panic and dread

We can't stay in fight/flight forever. 

What happens is that the body goes into exhaustion mode after being on “high alert“ for too long, and the body can go into collapse and freeze. Collapse is when the body is exhausted, and feels like it has no more energy to run, fight or be on “guard”. You may feel panicked when this happens because the perceived sense of “I got this” softens and you realize the uncertainty we are all facing. That's normal. 

Or, you may go into “freeze” where your body goes into dissociation, or a sense of denial, pretending all is ok. Your body and mind know all isn't ok, when countries are losing lots of lives, when economies are at the brink of real shifts and when we are home cooped with our partners and kids, but your psyche is needing to numb so you can function. 

If you are in a freeze mode, it simply means that's the best your mind can do. You may go in and out of freeze, and when you come out, you may face deep dread. This is simply your body dipping into the reality so find a softer way to embrace what is. 

Sometimes you need to ride the wave. 

 

4} Your emotional neglect may be kicked up due to the forced isolation 

Even if you have a lot of support in your life or daily routines, your lack of ability to meet up with friends or coworkers for coffee dates, not being able to go to your therapist’s cozy office, missing your gym class or even reading a book in your local library where there are other humans around can leave you feeling more alone than usual. 

If your childhood or adulthood has had some years of deep isolation or emotionally being neglected or misunderstood, you may feel a deep feeling of aloneness and sadness. That is an emotional flashback to the intensity of the feelings you've had in the past, being kicked up by your current situation. The reality is hard, but when it’s so deeply intense, it is usually rooted in the past. This isn't’ bad news, actually it can be empowering if you are able to shift the intensity of today from the past, and take steps to helping yourself. 

 

Now, here are some snippets to help you make sense of some of the ways you may have been feeling in the last few weeks. I hope this provides some some insight so you can best support yourself as you face the days ahead.

If you’re someone who likes digging in for extra skills ‘n’ chocolates, read my next blog here.

I’ve written some tools here to help you try some things to reduce symptoms of PTSD and even find calm and knowledge in all of this. If you’d like to read more, click here for “4 Tools to Reduce PTSD during Coronavirus”.

And for now, I’m here sending much strength, love and care your way as we wade through this pandemic. In the bigger scheme of things, this is a blimp in regard to our bigger lifetime. When it feels so big and unmanageable, remember that.

Until next time,

Esther

 

*originally posted on integrativepsych.co

 

Esther Goldstein LCSW is psychotherapist and trauma specialist who runs a private practice called Integrative Psychotherapist in Cedarhurst, NY. At Integrative Psychotherapy we are passionate about helping adults reduce anxiety and find a richer way of living, loving and "being" that promotes joy and connection. Our therapists use science based methods and modalities such as psychodynamic psychotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (somatic), Expressive Arts and Parts work (Ego State Work) to help clients feel relief that last way beyond their time on the therapy couch.

Specialties include treating anxiety, trauma survivors, relationships issues, family-of-origin work, Inner-Child work, Attachment focused Therapies, Healing for Complex PTSD And Dissociative Disorder Treatment.

We also offer Trauma Informed Consultation To Therapists Committed To Improving Their Trauma-Informed Practice And Attachment Focused EMDR Consultation To Therapist Attaining Hours Towards EMDRIA Certification.

Website: Integrativepsych.Co