Love – and don’t sideline – one another: CPTSD in the time of SARS-CoV-2

All over the world, we are seeing what it’s like when people withdraw into their homes. Some are homeschooling and parenting, some working full or part time, some having to do both. Many have lost their jobs. Some are alone, some with roommates they may or may not know well, others with family. An unknown percentage are with abusers of one form or another. Globally, there’s a big step back and it’s affecting our mental health with many complaining about cabin fever and going stir-crazy. The good news is there are lots of resources online to help, from therapy to exercise. Obviously, it’s also affecting economies. I’m in the U.S. and we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

You are seeing what a lot of us who have CPTSD, or are otherwise neurodiverse, have known most of our lives. When you have the stigma against mental health along with child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and other traumas, some of your brightest and most gifted citizens are sidelined. For some of us, it is through self-isolation from anxiety, a flight/flight/freeze response essentially stuck in the On position, and fear. I’ve been in DBSA rooms and seen people under-treated or unable to get adequate treatment. They are neurodiverse and they are also brilliant. We could use their gifts, their observations, and wisdom. Not to mention what Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday in his briefing: this is not who we are – we need to value every single life, regardless of whether they can contribute to a way deemed economically useful. Every single person has inherent value. Or they should in a compassionate and just society. As Americans, we are a ways off from that. We can talk a good game, but we don’t back it up with real care. Trillions was not a problem to bail out companies, but with regard to making a real difference to the neurodiverse, the damaged, the chronically ill, the disabled, it was seen as too much money. State disability payments are far too difficult to get for the neurodiverse. You have to have the fortitude to fight three, four, five times over. Judges, politicians, and many doctors lack understanding about the aftereffects of trauma, of the debilitating effects of depression, of what happens – including the structural changes in the young developing brain – when you are utterly demoralized as a child.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

We have the opportunity to make real changes in ourselves and our communities. But we must get dark money out of politics and embrace the values of empathy and compassion, to live up to the values we espouse. As Ed Fong writes in How The Pandemic Will End, “One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic.” We’ve been given a timeout, a pause. We can come back better for it.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Maybe my CPTSD can help you in the time of COVID-19

I’m calm. That might be annoying if you’re not during this pandemic. I’m trying to work out why I am and how that can help others who aren’t.

First, why am I calm? I grew up with a lot of abuse: incest, ridicule, public humiliation and so on, primarily from my mother. As a result, I have Complex PTSD and that means life-long hypervigilance. I’ve always been on high alert for danger around me, scanning the environment, other people, you name it. It’s exhausting, but it’s second nature. It also means I’ve been imagining worst-case scenarios all my life. I’m 63 = sixty years of thinking about what to do if everything goes to hell. Let me put it this way: THE ROAD was my go-to long before the book was written.

In my trauma recovery, I found the videos from NICABM helpful. Here is their latest. There I discovered Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory and more. I’d already read Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD and Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score (both excellent and highly recommended).

So what are some keys in addition to what’s already out there about limiting your news and social media exposure, structuring your days, getting fresh air, and building community online?

* Stay in your body. Use grounding exercises – there are thousands on YouTube. Some are more woo woo and some are more concrete ones if chakras and cords aren’t your thing. Watch Donna Eden’s energy work. Try her 5 min routine to start your morning and see if it makes a difference for you. The key to my trauma recovery was to learn to reinhabit my body after decades of dissociating. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is.

* Stay present as much as possible. This is where mindfulness practice shines. When you eat, take your time, take extra time! Use all of your senses when preparing and enjoying your food from the sound of bubbling, maybe the sun through a window shining on your plate or candlelight, the smell, how many different tastes you can identify, the feel of different textures. Suggested reading or viewing: SALT FAT ACID HEAT

* Breath work. This helps with grounding. If you’ve had trauma, especially over time, chances are you hold your breath a lot. Breath is key to so much in the body and polyvagal theory explains the benefit of the long slow exhale.

* Practice limiting negative self-talk and runaway thoughts. You can literally say STOP when you notice it happening or you can go the other direction and set a time for 3 or 5 minutes and let yourself fully indulge, but you must stop when the time goes off.

* Journal. Get out your worst fears, worries, irritations, frustration on paper. Balance it out with an equal or greater amount of gratitude.

* More gratitude. If you are sheltering in place with others, go around the table and say three things you’re grateful for at dinner every evening. You can only use food-clothing-shelter once, maybe the first day, then stretch yourself! If you’re alone, set it up online or by phone with friends. If for some reason that’s not an option, yell it out your window. I’m not kidding! There was a guy singing something at the top of his lungs – at first it sounded like a fight was starting up the street, but he was alone with headphones on. No judgment (cut down on the judge-y stuff while we’re at it) – do what works (at least six feet from the rest of us).

* If you do not love yourself, this is the time to learn how. If you have pain in your body, ask it what it is and why it’s there, then sit quietly and listen. There are lots of self-care lists out there. Pick on and do one a day. Repeat until the self-hatred loosens. Act as if until you can feel it for real. Do your shadow work: read Robert Johnson’s book. Do your Inner Child work. Change the stories you tell yourself about who you are and why you do what you do. If you’ve been blaming others for a long time, it’s going to be difficult. Do it anyway.

* Give to others as much as you can. Money is going to be tight for awhile. If you’re in a good position, donate to your local food bank or favorite charity. Send takeout or a grocery order or Amazon gift baskets to your local hospital for the health care workers. They cannot get out often to get fresh fruits and veggies and when they do (see the teary nurse on Twitter), markets may be sold out. If you cannot give money, give encouragement, give wisdom, give advice. You have an expertise so offer it up! If this continues for a long time, people are going to need advice on how to pivot, how to redo a resume, how to keep going, how to homeschool, how to garden, can fruits and veggies, cut their own hair, trim their pets’ nails, how to dance! and more.

That’s it for now. I’m running around after my 11-month-old grandson full-time during the week and he’s gone back to waking up during the night now and then. Will be back when I can. 😴

photo Diane Sherlock