Past Trauma Pop-Ups. How Rude to Show Up During a Pandemic.

Past Trauma Pop-Ups. How Rude to Show Up During a Pandemic.

They keep saying these are unprecedented times. And that’s true, but what they mean by that is that these are unprecedented times as a collective whole – for the world, our country, our states. There’s never been a worldwide pandemic in our lifetimes with this kind of ability to travel nationally and internationally and thereby spread the disease with a more feverish ability. And that is scary and truly unprecendented.

But it’s not completey unpredecented for me. I have lived through something that tore my whole world apart. I have had my world view shook. My reality changed overnight. My routine torn apart. Sure, comparing one family’s loss of a mother at a young age isn’t the same as a worldwide pandemic. But it is something that can be described as traumatic.

I saw this post from @findyourshinethearapy back when the pandemic was just strating to ramp up and it said, “If you’re a trauma survivor and are frustrated by how (well) you’re coping right now, it may be important to acknowledge that the very survival mechanism that feels unproductive to you now, is the same force that has allowed you to survive everything you have in your life up to this point. Your survival brain is working hard and, if you are reading this, it’s done a pretty good job.”

I found another that said if you’re feeling weirdly calm it could be because chaos feels familiar to you. These posts made me stop in my tracks a little. I haven’t been pissed, per se, that I have been acting pretty calm during this pandemic, but it did seem odd to me that so many people were so rocked by it.

Of course, this made me a little retrospective. I hadn’t really considered that my trauma had made me into the person I am now. I’ve always thought that this was just who I am. I was born this way and the moment I found my mom after her first seizure that day before school was sort of a turning point – a light bulb moment if you will – when I realized that that’s just how I am in a traumatic situation. Under pressure, I stay calm. I did in that moment and I have moving forward, but I sort thought that was just how my family dealt with these kind of situations. Not much you can do but move on is our unofficial family motto. That day some 16 odd years ago, it was like I went into survival mode. And it feels like I have for this situation as well. 

I mean, in theory, there’s not a lot else one can do in this situation. I can just stay home and not panic…which I’ve been doing. Buy a tie dye kit. Start new routines with special takeout nights on Fridays and Saturdays. Paint a new watercolor once every other week. Create content for Instagram/blog. Start a TikTok.

But I also realize this is a bit of a mask. I have always been the one who when something bad happens to try not to dwell. I try to walk right through it. Keep myself busy. Projects make me feel better. They are how I cope.

It’s too early to sit in my feelings about how this pandemic brought up old feelings of trauma, but it’s good to at least acknowledge that it might be something I need to address with a professional in the future. Right now it just means writing a blog post. Connecting with my family and sister to be with people who went through the trauma with me. And to just be. And breathe.



15 Years

It’s been 24 days since the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death and I’ve had the draft of this sitting on my desktop since then trying to figure out what to say to convey how I dealt with my grief. I knew I wanted to acknowledge her anniversary somehow and, in my mind, the best way to do that was to write a post about how lately I’ve really felt like I’ve been working through my grief. In the simplest terms, what I originally anticipated this to be was a love letter to myself. Kind of like, HEY Guys, look at me, I dealt with my grief and now I want a pat on the back!

But that to me seems laughable now. It’s funny right that you can have such a clear vision of how you are feeling at any given moment and think you will continue to feel the next day and the day after that, but then just a few days later I’m like, “wait, did you actually deal with your grief? No, you don’t deserve a pat on the back.”

In all honesty, I don’t think I fully dove into my grief ever. I’ve been chipping away at it over the last 15 years as I found the strength. And that’s the thing about grief, right? It’s different for everyone. Mine was a slow burn and honestly something I probably won’t ever get over, but something I will learn to burden me and less and less so eventually it doesn’t affect my relationships and how I live my life.

In the past, I let my grief dictate a lot of how I lived my life. Some aspects made me, in my opinion, better. It made me want to grab every opportunity I could. A friend wanted me to visit her in New Zealand? Yep, doing that because I might not be able to do it ever again. Should I bungee jump? Yes. Should I skydive? For sure. I am really proud that I have literally lived my life to the fullest, but that does have its drawbacks…like zero savings in my 30s and packing on pounds because I should definitely treat myself to that milkshake because who knows if I will ever be able to experience a milkshake again. It’s a slippery slope.

My grief also was detrimental. It made me guarded. I felt like I needed to be strong. For whom? I’m not really sure. Maybe for other people around me so they didn’t have to be made uncomfortable around my grief? But that strength meant numbing the pain and that meant closing myself off to relationships that were scary. Scary relationships were ones that could be ripped away from me – particularly romantic ones. A lot of my “relationships” right after my mom passed were with people who were unavailable – they had girlfriends, they were long distance – in other words they were fleeting. They couldn’t hurt me because they weren’t going to be around long and I knew that.
I was watching Poldark lately, which if you don’t watch and you’re into BBC period dramas then you ABSOLUTELY MUST, and the main character said a really interesting quote to another character whose child had just passed away.

“To be strong is weakness. Tears must fall.”

The quote really hit me in the gut because it made me realize that I had been trying to be so strong that I was actually not feeling the pain. To feel the pain is actually the stronger action.

Since then I’ve tried to change in small ways to let that weakness and grief through. One is to be able to talk about my mom. Even 15 years later, talking about her makes me really emotional. Surface level things are easy to chat about. She liked candy apples. Her birthday was in September. She had a David Yurman bracelet exactly like that! It’s harder to go deeper. I’ve recently started dating someone and I find it especially hard to talk about my mom with him. I think I’ve realized it’s because I’ve really never met anyone since she passed away that I would have wanted her to meet and it’s really hard for me to come to terms with the fact that she never will meet him. Sitting with that grief and actually letting myself grieve the fact that she’s not here for that is something I probably would have grazed over in the past, but I’m trying to truly let myself sit with that sadness now.

Another small change is just having a year of NO. I know most people have a year of yes, but I’ve actually had probably too many years of yes. I am constantly overdoing it and I need to scale back. One way, in particular, is with friendships. After my mom passed I had a hard time of letting any friendships sort of fade and fizzle out. I didn’t want to lose anyone else so I kept people around that maybe I shouldn’t have. My goal this year is to maybe be a little less social, let those friendships fizzle that should have naturally fizzled a long time ago. Inner circles don’t need to be 50 people deep and that is something small I am working to fix over this year.

Also on the docket, spend more time with the people who do really matter and who have been there for me through it all. They are the people it would really hurt to lose and I need to remember that.

My journey with grief is far from over and may actually never be over, but I am proud of how far I have come. If you had known me in college, you would know things are a lot healthier over in this noggin these days. I’ve let the grief soak in below the surface more and I will continue to in 2019.

I guess I will take that pat on the back after all.