When the Whole World Has PTSD

“Even in times of trauma, we try to maintain a sense of normality until we no longer can. That, my friends, is called surviving. Not healing. We never become whole again - we are survivors. If you are here today, you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it through hell and are still standing? We bear a different name: warriors.”

(Lori Goodwin)

The forging of warriors We are now not only a nation with PTSD, but a world with PTSD.

  • We are jumpier, more reactive than we used to be. * We can’t sleep. * We sleep too much. * We sleep and sleep and never seem to get rest. * We practice hypervigilance, checking and rechecking for our safety. * We have moments where our minds, our bodies and sometimes both act as though we are still in danger, even when we aren’t. * Our memory is somewhat shoddy. * We apparently only barely remember how to drive. * Our judgement tends to randomly decide to misfire. * We really aren’t sure how to connect with people anymore. Is it safe? Is it unsafe? * We think that maybe we never really liked people any way, even though we sort of at the same time really miss people.
  • Sometimes we throw caution to the wind and do incredibly unwise things just because we’re tired of being so careful. * We get anxious for no apparent reason. * We get depressed for no apparent reason. * We struggle to find purposefulness and sometimes feel hopeless, and then we’re baffled by it because it seems like we should have so much more hope now.

If the population of the Earth showed up for a therapeutic evaluation as one unit, we would be diagnosed with PTSD. A mixed bag I think most of us knew that there would be no return to a previous normal. We put in significant work to develop good enough temporary “normals” and now we’re being told to scrap those things that kept us alive through so much insanity and suddenly pivot to something else. But what?!?!? We are exhausted from all of the pivoting we have done. We don’t want to pivot again. We want to recover. But there is work and school and community life and faith communities and and and and and… Maybe we’re just too tired to even want to figure it out. SSSsshhhh…. Don’t Tell…

Therapists are not exempted. Neither are bad ass well-skilled trauma survivors. I have many clients who are fully vaxxed. I am fully vaxxed. All but one of the people, (my teenaged stepson,) in my household are fully vaxxed. The state mandates say it is safe for fully vaxxed people to meet indoors without masks. I expected to want to go back into the office to see people face to face full time. I want that. And, I don’t want that. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why. I love my office, I love my clients. I don’t love my commute, but it isn’t awful. I am truly tired of the inside of my home and aching for a change of scenery more than the once a week I have already been going in. But I just didn’t want to. It made no sense. What many of us want is a llloooonnngggg vacation. And very few of us can afford that because --- work and school and COVID-inspired financial losses and and and… Hello, homeostasis! The concept of “homeostasis” comes up a lot in my work. Human bodies are determined to keep us alive. Our bodies seek out patterns and predictability like an insurance actuary on amphetamines and do everything in their power to keep us in consistent patterns as much as they possibly can in order to avoid perceived risk, even if we hate everything about that pattern. As mentioned many times in this space, it’s all about cutting neural paths. We have deep paths cut for the most predictable pattern. Cutting new paths takes work, intention and a great deal of repetition. A “habit” is nothing more than one of these neural paths cut in a way that we lean toward it instead of the old path. (If you’d like more specific information on this, read this article.) Habits and crisis Habits can be a highly adaptive form of survival. Without them, the data of our day would seem like totally random chaos. Those neural paths help us make sense out of things and avoid spinning out. There is no time when that is more important than when we are in crisis. In crisis, we go into “all hands on deck” mode all the way down to the cellular level. It’s as if the body is stuck on “keep doing the thing we do, keep doing the thing we do, KEEP DOING THE THING WE DO, KEEPDOINGTHETHINGWEDOOOOOO,” as a way of doing its part to get us through. It’s like it says to mind and spirit, “Don’t worry, friends, we’ve got you covered. Now go out there… (or stay in there…) and figure out how we’re going to make it through this mess!” You know, like we’ve all been doing for a year and some months now. Oh yeah… THAT There have been many things that we have de-prioritized in the name of COVID coping, right alongside civil unrest coping. We may have tried to work on some more sophisticated things, but many of us found that our bodies, minds and spirits just said… nnnaaaahhhh that’s okay. Just watch another movie and try not to commit felonies against the other people in your home. We’re good. It’s not at all surprising to me that I am hearing about more and more people ending relationships, changing career directions, becoming seriously ill with things other than COVID. There seems to be an increase in suicide attempts and painfully, completed attempts. All of the things we didn’t have room for in the ten years that were 2020+, we now give space to foment with our worn down and worn out resilience. We just don’t have as much fight left in us. When you can breathe again We thought that 2020+ was a lot. This is the rest of it. It’s somewhat like when an alcoholic quits drinking. The person comes to terms with the fact that alcohol is destroying them. They bravely choose to become sober. Victory! Except that now they are face to face with what S.O.B.E.R. stands for: “Son Of a B!@$#, Everything’s Real.” Now the real work begins. And so it is with pandemic recovery. Here we are, all raggedy, and it’s time to work again at doing life on the other side of it all. Calling All Therapy Rock Stars! There are a lot of humans who don’t have previous experience with trauma. All of this PTSD-ness and weird reactions to things leave them stumped. They are new to this. Now is the time for those of us who are well-versed in getting off of our last nerves and using our tools to rethink our options to get out there and help those who are starting to wonder what’s wrong with them. (Go get ‘um, therapy client rock stars!) I honestly think that in this case, naming the thing is a part of figuring out how to do the thing. When our feelings seem crazy and contradictory, understand that a deeper survival logic might be in play. Get care. Get rest. Get creative. Be gracious and patient with those around you who aren’t doing it well, (while still protecting yourself from the behaviors that are not okay with you.) *** Be careful not to unconsciously create crises because crisis has been your homeostasis for so long. *** Lower your self-performance expectations. When things seem like too much, pull back. Take your time. If taking your time has negative consequences decide 1. If they’re worth it, 2. If they’re necessary, and 3. If you can live with them. Reimagine your options and yourself. By the way… I’m back in the office on Fridays and will likely add either Thursday or Monday soon. But not both. Because I’m reimagining my options. If you have appointments on a day when I am in the office, you can choose either virtual or in person on those days. Because you get to reimagine your options too. It may not feel like it, but we’ve got this. I’m back in the office on Fridays and will likely add either Thursday or Monday soon. But not both. Because I’m reimagining my options. If you have appointments on a day when I am in the office, you can choose either virtual or in person on those days. Because you get to reimagine your options too. It may not feel like it, but we’ve got this.

If you’re having trouble working through the fallout of our current climate, contact me

here. Let’s make a