My Reflections

WHERE WILL YOU STAND? (Part 5): Universal Trauma


The lockdown that began in March, shook us all.

Trauma may always be a part of 2020 for many, but with time and healing, it can help make us better.

I am not a trauma specialist, by any means. In fact, this blog post has taken me longer than normal, because trauma can be difficult to face and be even harder to process.

Yet, there’s no doubt that from the onset of the pandemic, trauma indeed has occurred from the impacts of COVID-19, everywhere. Whenever our lives get hit with a negative, unexpected event it typically causes some levels of distress. However, without a way of knowing when this might end or what may still happen, it makes it hard to gauge what more could occur.

Universal trauma began in waves, until the whole world was feeling it.

This concept is often referred to as collective trauma. The Verywell Mind website explains this as “the psychological upheaval that is shared by a group of people who all experience an event. This type of trauma can affect groups of people of any size, including entire nations or societies . . . . The COVID-19 pandemic is a global event that will result in both individual and collective mental health effects. The social and economic impacts remain to be seen, but it is likely there will be long-term societal mental health consequences of the pandemic.”

While I experienced 9/11 living across the water from where the Twin Towers once were, in a town that lost the most amount of people, I now know that what many of us still share since that day is collective trauma. It’s why even as the 19th anniversary of that day will be here in about 8 weeks, those who struggle with PTSD from the experience still feel parts of the impacts associated with what happened. While that catastrophic event is not like this pandemic, the results of it all lasted for what seemed like a very long time after that nightmare of a day.

I admit that every 9/11, I am not fully myself. There’s no intentional desire to relive any of that time. However, living in the midst of the horrors, grief and sadness of what was occurring then, still impacts me every year in various ways.

Likewise, with this pandemic experience it is likely that we will have portions of this time that impact our current society in ways that stay with us. Whether it’s what happened in our nation, or other lands, this world has had aspects that we have shared and those that are unique to America alone.

One example for us is while most other countries have been wearing masks when asked to wear masks, there are people in our country who have attributed wearing or not wearing one as a political statement in connection to our upcoming election. This has caused major cases of anxiety which can lead to further trauma, as potential repercussions of these decisions involve a deadly virus that doesn’t care what our votes will be or who we are.

I hope that mask wearing won’t always be needed by the general public, once it’s safe, but down the road people may wonder why we may struggle when we see a doctor or nurse wearing one. Going to a funeral in the future may trigger thoughts of loved ones who died by the virus and didn’t have a proper farewell. We will universally share certain parts of this time, years after life has moved on to better times.

As protests have occurred in most cities for our fellow Black community members and for the sake of equality, other countries have joined our protests. With racism occurring in many places of this world, there will be some shared universal trauma significance. Here, in our country, it most definitely is felt.

Said by the character Alex Karev, in Shonda Rhimes’ show “Grey’s Anatomy,” this profound quote is a great reminder that while trauma may stay with us, it can also propel us to be a part of creating a better tomorrow.

However, worldwide there will be collective or universal trauma for those of us who have had some level of fear of getting the virus. Being in isolation, may be seen by future generations as some time alone, whereas those who struggled with it now may have traumatic scars from the idea of being alone. Even the situation of life getting turned upside down in a matter of weeks, for us all, is enough to imprint us with some issues we may need to work on overcoming, after life gets more normal.

What we all have been experiencing here in 2020 has been a worldwide pandemic, something that no one has experienced before. That is why my view of the concept is more of a universal trauma. Since our cultures all over the globe are different, there will be parts of this time where the trauma impacted us and not those in other countries. Others, will be ones that relate in many parts of this Earth, universally.

We lost a lot this year and it’s taking its toll on everybody.

Social distancing occurred suddenly and swiftly as we all hunkered down into lockdowns in our homes when the pandemic began. Schools and businesses closed their doors in a hurry, as students adjusted to learning from home, educators shifted to teaching from home and most people were working from home for the safety of all.

Houses of worship closed completely, while their leadership did what they could online or started figuring out how to be online, to connect with those who would normally attend. This left a lot taken from us, nearly all at once.

When in public, social distancing started following a 6 feet apart rule if you had to be around others. We had to learn how to not touch our skin, especially in public. Wearing a mask became a requirement, then a recommendation and lately a back and forth situation depending on government officials and our own choices.

While we’ve had to give up a lot during the pandemic, it has also made us value parts of our lives so much more. When there’s traumatic experiences, there can also be a new awakening.

Not knowing how long this would all last, there was mass panic and hoarding ensued as there were mad rushes at the grocery stores. It’s still difficult to find cleaning supplies, and there was even a shortage on meat and many other items.

Then, we came to realize that our essential workers like medical personnel were in a life and death situation, not only for their patients, but also for themselves and their families. That was soon followed by grocery store workers, who eventually got to wear masks and then have plexiglass shields installed around them for their safety and that of customers.

Suddenly, we not only were worried about our physical health, but our mental health became more prominent.

Life shifted even more drastically, causing further tension for all. If you’re not aware of how much stress got placed on everyone at once, let me jog your memory or help you realize what others have been enduring.

TOO MUCH TOO SOON: We’ve all been there where life may seem like a constant spiral of negatives happening in our lives, but this time everyone else has been experiencing it, too. There weren’t others who could tell you how they got through this before. Others were just as stressed, so why burden them further? Then, there has been the rollercoaster of emotions that didn’t always make sense or didn’t feel typical to our pre-pandemic selves.

STAYING SAFE: We became afraid of touching our faces. Using hand sanitizer and washing our hands became a practice that turned into a neurotic type of habit. Wear a mask? Don’t wear a mask? Stay 6 feet away from everyone, except those in your household. In general, stay away from others, as much as you can. Hope someone who has the virus doesn’t somehow pass it onto you. That’s A LOT!

NO MORE TRADITIONAL CLASSROOMS: Educators, like me, are used to planning way ahead and juggling a lot. We know how to adapt quickly to change and that we may need to protect our students from a person who means us harm and somehow gets into our school building. Then, in a matter of weeks, we all figured out how to still teach the best we could through Internet issues, families and pets all being around at the same time, and not getting to make the same type of connections we value so much with our individual students. Suddenly, we were seeing our students in groups through video chat sessions and hoping we were making positive impacts on them, academically and emotionally.

With each of these dramatic shifts in our lives, and the problems they may have caused, may we come out on the other side with new understanding of ourselves and others, of new ways to do life and learn how to go with the flow better, knowing how much we were truly able to handle.

PARENT TRAP: Parents of school aged children were typically working from home instead of at their normal places of employment, while also needing to support their kids with school and handling the pandemic. Issues with the amount of devices needed to be used at one time, the major slowdown of the Internet nationwide and how to manage it all added to the stress. Then, there were so many decisions to make on behalf of our families, as well as handling living at home with families 24/7, with no clue when the lockdown would end. It wasn’t a matter of lack of love, but more of a HUGE shift in the everyday dynamics that once was.

FOR HOW MUCH LONGER: As the lockdowns happened everywhere, nobody believed it would endure for as long as the pandemic has been lasting. Many hoped it would be over or at least better by summer, so that life felt more normal and there was less anxiety. Living with a hardship is always difficult, but many hardships have an end. Lose a job? When you get hired, life’s on the way up. Many hardships have an end in sight or at least the dreams for when it will come. For many, the fears have risen or rollercoastered as COVID-19 numbers have risen, dropped and risen again. Uncertainty on who to trust, for which information, has been difficult. Remember when you were in the car as a kid and kept asking, “Are we there, yet?” That’s all everyone wants to know, but the one driving is a virus.

Of course, there is far more that people have endured to test our mental health. Buying enough food and supplies. Doing enough for safety of self, loved ones and/or others. Doing too much. Not doing enough. All of the politics that can most definitely be a major nuisance on society, but even more so during an election year while a worldwide pandemic is happening. Then, while the coronavirus would be plenty to have to handle and then some, the Civil Rights Movement took on a much needed resurgence this year when George Floyd became the final straw and protests erupted in nearly every city, while many of us are still fighting for equal rights for all.

SOME TRAUMA CAUSES

Fear is powerful; it’s all a matter of what you
choose to do with it.
  • Fear of getting the coronavirus
  • Fear of someone you know getting the coronavirus
  • Fear of a loved one or friend with the virus dying alone, after dropping them off at a hospital
  • Fear of being asymptomatic and transmitting the virus to others
  • Fear of a lack of employment, whether you own a business or are an employee
  • Fear of essential items running out
  • Fear of making the wrong decisions to stay healthy from the virus
    • Wear mask vs. don’t wear a mask
    • Social distance in all circumstances vs. gathering with large groups you trust
    • Sending children to school, remote learning, a hybrid or homeschool
    • Returning to your place of employment
  • Fear of voting for the wrong candidates, knowing how our lives are in their hands should the problems with the virus still exist or worse occurs, in the future
  • Fear of losing more parts of what was once normal life
  • Fear of the unknown

These causes are from what I’ve experienced, known others to experience and/or have read or watched information about how others have been responding. By no means is this an exhaustive list of sources for the trauma.

The one aspect that you have probably deduced by now is that fear is the major cause of the universal trauma most are experiencing on some levels right now.

PROS and CONS

Fear can help us or cause harm. During all that 2020 has changed in our lives, it means understanding the power of how fear works in us, for the sake of taking care of ourselves the best way we can. With all of the the possible causes of trauma, how our bodies are reacting, plays a huge role in our lives.

As Adventure Collection reminds us, that fear can keep us safe, as “fear acts as an internal danger alarm. It compels you to action and helps you make wise and prudent decisions. Without fear, you wouldn’t live very long because you wouldn’t be aware of or care about the threats around you.”

It is good to know that fear of what could threaten us, during these times, can help us to make the best decisions for ourselves and those we love. However, fear often can get out of control when there are so many avenues for fear and so many others feeling it around us. Social media has added another dimension to how often those worries or panic can stare us in the face.

HOW TO HANDLE THIS

A good starting point, always, is to talk to someone you trust so you’re not keeping all of that trauma and possible fear inside of you as you try to appear strong. The CDC has some great help to know when and who to turn to, if you need more guidance or help.

To find how you can help your mental health feel better, I suggest:

  • Talk About Mental Health: In case you’ve only ever considered your physical health only, know that our thoughts, emotions and a lot of our physical health within us is impacted by our mental health. When mental health isn’t managed well, it can cause responses within our physical wellbeing. What could it hurt to learn more helpful tips for yourself or for those you know and love?
  • Coping with Stress: There is a lot of options offered here, as well, after some more in depth explanations of what you might be feeling due to the pandemic.

As the CDC shares, “You may experience increased stress during this pandemic. Fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions.” It’s often hard to figure out when fear is helping us or hurting us. Don’t go it alone.

THERE IS HOPE

Just like in the 1930s Depression, universal trauma was felt by those who experienced those hardships, but so have their descendants in certain ways. It’s why my parents’ generation, who were raised by parents who lived during the Depression, made us eat all of our food. Their parents lived in fear of not having enough.

However, as any situation in life that impacts us on a major scale like this, there is hope. We know that it won’t last forever. While at times we may worry that this time will never end. It will. Life has shown us that, as well.

We have so many resources to help us through it:

  • Medical people and scientists are working tirelessly to protect us from COVID-19, and possible cures appear to be working. Just type the possibilities into your Internet search to see for yourself.
  • People have adapted their lives, because we want to survive. Never underestimate the power of the human spirit.
  • We have mental health professionals who can literally help us through managing what we are experiencing, both online and in person.
  • If you’re a person of faith, as I am, you know that God is with you, the Bible is full of God’s promises and truth to rely on, and your minister, pastor or priest along with those who share that faith with you, can be a source of comfort, help and support.

Ultimately, while varying levels of trauma may have already occurred in your life or may come, before this time in our lives moves on, I truly have faith in the strength of who we are as human beings. As long as we do all we can to stay safe, make the best choices for our lives and take care of our minds, bodies and spirits, we may very well look back at 2020 seeing it as the year that made us the strongest versions of ourselves.

While we may have lost much in this year, already, I anticipate a greater future for us all. If you’ve experienced trauma, know that many of us have, providing us all with so many more people to grow with and learn from, once this part of our lives is behind us.

As the realities of life happen, I for one, will never stop dreaming, and I will work daily to make those dreams come true.

Don’t stop having hopes for the future. One of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes, impacted me to dream and to never let go. He inspired me as a young girl greatly, to this day. Coupled with my faith in God, this Bible verse is one I have reminded myself of again and again. May you find comfort in both the poem and words of the Lord. As it says in Jeremiah 29:11, God tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” May this time of trauma propel each of us to pursue our dreams with a passion.

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