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How My 'Trauma Brain' Is Responding to the Coronavirus

As we are facing this global pandemic of the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — and seemingly every aspect of life is being halted or disrupted, most people are struggling with increased anxiety and insecurity. The 24-hour media is both informative and making some skeptical. We don’t know what’s true, scientifically sound and actually happening, and the lack of leadership surrounding the response is frankly infuriating.

For me personally, there’s the anxiety of loss of business, potential illness and quarantine and the well-being of friends and family. But the bigger and more upsetting issue is the disruption of therapy. Both of my therapists are either switching to phone/telesessions until further notice and neither of them are sure these will be covered by insurance.

As someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who struggles with attachment anxiety and abandonment fears, frankly, I’m in complete freak-out mode. I’m attempting to remain logical in recognizing this is a huge stress and inconvenience for my therapists too, but I’m feeling incredibly scared, dysregulated and triggered.

I’m also feeling guilty. I understand this entire situation is a disruption to people around the world. I’m trying to focus on empathy and logic, but trauma couldn’t care less about either of these. Lack of safety and control are two of the things that trigger my hypervigilance the most. When people with trauma get triggered, we often start catastrophizing and immediately begin spiraling downward into PTSD land. 

Some folks are saying:

“It’s not that bad.”

“It’s only temporary.”

“You’re safe.”

“You’re fine.”

“Be grateful that you’re not one of those who are highly susceptible.”

They mean well, but frankly, I find these statements irritating and flippant. My rational brain has told me all of these things, but guess what? My trauma brain is anything but rational.

If I could pass on any one piece of advice right now, it is if someone you love has a trauma history or struggles with PTSD, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), please don’t minimize their symptoms. Understand we aren’t trying to be irrational, we are just feeling scared and helpless. What we need most is empathy, support and someone to listen to us. Ask us what you can do to be there for us. It may be nothing in particular, or it may be something as simple as a hug.

For those of us struggling, know you are not alone, what you are experiencing is normal. It is OK to feel everything you are feeling and, above all, it’s OK to ask those who care about you to help you. You may need more connection with loved ones to help mitigate the separation anxiety you may be feeling about not getting your regular therapy sessions. You may need people to keep their distance if you have OCD and are feeling threatened. You may just need to isolate, stay in your pajamas and binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix to take your mind off everything. Whatever it is, give yourself the grace to weather this situation in any way you need to.

There’s no way to truly prepare for something like this, and even if we are prepared, the reality is these feelings of helplessness are going to erupt anyway. If you are a fellow survivor of trauma and are feeling the same way I am, know you are not alone. Sending you all a virtual hug and support.

Unsplash image by Alex Brisbey