Trauma vs. stress
That has been my big question recently. How do you know something is traumatic? How do you know if you have suffered a traumatic experience?
Trauma happens when a person is confronted with a concept/ experience that is so foreign, it can’t be registered logically. It is something you can’t reason. It is something that has no previous example that you can draw from to inform next steps or calm the mind. And for that exact reason your body immediately goes into fight or flight.
Examples can be as extreme as a car crash, being raped, or just as foreign, learning that your child with constipation really has cancer all over his body. But it can also be smaller. It can be really anything that is foreign to you. It is subjective by nature. When these foreign experiences happen adrenaline starts pumping in your body. This hormonal shift limits the function of your prefrontal cortex. We can see this in MRI studies. The prefrontal cortex shuts down. It is postulated that this happens because this is an evolutionary advantage, no thinking is helpful, no time to reason, Run Forest Run!!!
Now with the prefrontal cortex offline, the memories of this experience are not stored like normal memories. And therefore are not even retrieved and triggered like normal memories. Often they are disjointed and not whole memories at all. This explains why victims of trauma often can not recall entire hours of an experience. And don’t forget the physical energy these moments produce, adrenaline in the end is just an energy. That energy just sits in the body for most modern traumas. Bombs exploding around you and in a bomb shelter? There is nothing you can physically do. Child being pumped with chemo? You sit in a chair and watch, still, non-moving. If interested in learning more about this energy I really recommend “The Body Keeps the Score” by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk. Of all the books on this topic, this has been my favorite.
So using this definition of trauma, I realized something. You are all most likely experiencing trauma. Really the world is. This pandemic is 100% outside of our normal experience. There is nothing to compare to. Nothing. The news is scary and the isolation is real. Having kids to entertain all day long when you are going through trauma on top of it all too. And we know that uncertainty is the number one most anxiety proving emotion. So not only are you having trauma, you also are experiencing anxiety as tomorrow is so unknown.
Oddly, I escaped this COVID trauma. Fearing the world making someone sick has been my norm. I have been scrubbing hands and sanitizing surfaces for over a year. Having my children out of school and lack of certainty of what tomorrow will bring (and at times questioning if there will be one) has been my norm. Nothing has changed from my day to day. But it has for the majority of you, if not all.
And I want to be there as you have for me.
I have an idea on what we can all do. How we can all help. It started a few days ago.
I went to New York City to clean out the apartment as we contemplate renting it. We still don’t know what the fall will bring, but going back to New York City feels out of reach right now for our particular COVID circumstances. When going through drawers, I found a stash of “cancer artifacts.” It was letters, small tokens, etc. from you. All gifts from people reaching out throughout this year. I spent time touching each of them and rereading them. I could remember where I was when I received each one. And I can’t even begin to explain what they all meant. It was a moment when someone took the time to take pen to paper and buy a real stamp and put it in the mail to say that they care about us. Someone in their stressful life, took time to think of Jacob and me. It made me feel less alone.
I decided right then that I was going to write to all of these people and return the favor. But I couldn’t do it. The idea of writing and putting words in envelopes and getting to a mailbox in this COVID world felt too consuming. When would I do this? So I took the easy way out and just texted around 20 people. Total cop out. I can’t even pretend I took the time to write them unique messages. I wrote them all the same thing. I honestly felt pretty bad about it.
But the responses to just a simple text saying “I’m thinking of you” have been incredible and so well received. So thankful for the text. One oddly, though, was a bit complicated of an exchange, she was confused why I would hold on to such a little thing. Truly. It was belittling the way she made me feel about her letter. How maybe I was reading into our relationship. Why would I keep such a thing she asked me. And when I informed her that in my cleaning I still kept it, I think I heard her laugh.
How silly I must sound.
And it dawned on me.
I don’t think people understand the feeling of trauma and isolation. And I don’t think people understand how important feeling valued is. This is not just a teacher thing, this is an ALL of us thing. And this is something we all need to be aware of right now. That everyone around you is experiencing trauma and just needs some acknowledgement. That even a simple text can really brighten someone’s day and make them feel less alone. People don’t realize the power they have to give people the basic human rights they need for survival: food, water, shelter, and love (perceived value).
So today I am starting a text campaign. I hope since I’m writing about it it doesn’t come off as disingenuous if you receive one. I am going to text 5 people a day to just check in. Just a “thinking of you” text.
I only share because I thought maybe you would want to join me. As most likely every person you know is experiencing trauma right now. Every person including you would appreciate feeling thought of, because no matter how rich/poor/happy/sad you are, we all are in a place of extreme upheaval and uncertainty.
The good news regarding this trauma is that it is a shared one. Unlike other traumas where it can be harder to reach out as you question if it is “your place.” This is all of our place.
So basically this is just one long text to all of Nightwing to acknowledge that you too are going through trauma and…
“I’m thinking of you. Just checking in😘”