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How My Trauma Brain Reacts to COVID-19 Restrictions

Just for the record…

I do care about other people.

I do think it’s our responsibility to take care of each other.

I do believe we need to take extra precautions to get this virus under control.

And I do believe COVID is real.

All of the statements above are 100% true.

And yet…

Every time new COVID-related restrictions are mandated, I feel a surge of panic shoot through my veins.

I still have to consciously remember to breath.

I still have to fight the instinctual urge to run or “fight back.”

I still have to remind myself that I am safe.

Needless to say, this dichotomy has caused quite a bit of inner turmoil for me over the past year. And I’m sure it’s been difficult for those around me to understand as well.

Because it doesn’t make sense.

But that is what trauma does to the brain. My over-the-top emotional reactions to the pandemic restrictions actually have very little to do with the current situation at all. But my “trauma brain” remembers the last time we felt this way and instantly goes into protection mode.

Reactions such as:

Feeling panicked…

Not being able to breath…

Feeling unsafe…

Wanting to fight, flee or freeze…

These were all absolutely appropriate at the time the traumas occurred. Those were cues from my brain telling me that we were in a life/death situation and quick, drastic measures needed to be taken if I wanted to survive. That was my brain instinctually doing whatever needed to be done to keep me safe and/or minimize harm in that moment.

Because of that, my brain learned to respond to anything that even slightly resembles the original trauma (feeling trapped, controlled, caged, voiceless, powerless) with immediate life-saving strategies. My brain is trying to protect me. It’s trying to save my fucking life!

The trouble is that although the current situation stirs up the same feelings I felt in the past, this reaction does not make any sense in the present!

I know that no one is trying to control me.

I know I am not being locked in a cage.

I know these restrictions come from a genuine place of care and concern for the well-being of others.

And yet… my immediate response is still to fight, flee or freeze.

I can’t even begin to to explain just how unsettling, messy and confusing it feels to cognitively know the truth, but still have my body respond as if I am in danger.

Am I “crazy”?

Have I lost touch with reality?

These are questions I legit ask myself… because, on the surface, it doesn’t make any fucking sense. Please believe me when I say this kind of misfiring in my brain is just as (or even more) frustrating for me as it is for you!!

It’s not as simple as reminding myself “that was then and this is now.”

I wish it were that easy.

I wish I could just turn it off.

I wish cognition trumped instinct.

But a traumatized brain doesn’t work like that.

We’re now in the tenth month of this pandemic and I still struggle to remain in the present when I’m triggered. I’ve gotten better at it… but rewiring the brain doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a lot of time and a lot of effort! The process of noticing the reaction, regulating the nervous system and then responding differently has to be done over and over and over again.

There is no quick-fix.

I know a lot of people are irritated, angry and even disgusted with those who struggle to follow COVID-restrictions. And I really do understand why others become so upset over a response that appears to be a complete lack of care, compassion and respect.

And maybe that truly is the case for some. I’m sure we all know people who think only of themselves with no regard for the common good.

But it’s not true for everyone.

And it is not true for me.

I imagine it’s just as difficult for you to be patient with us while our brains catch up as it is for me to be patient with myself.

I don’t like it.

It’s not a comfortable place to be.

Watching oneself react inappropriately to a situation that I know is safe, good, and right is difficult to say the least.

I guess this is just my way of asking others to consider the possibility that there is more going on than meets the eye. It’s incredibly hurtful when assumptions are made about my moral character when I don’t seem to be as supportive of quarantine, masks and social distancing as others. Because I am — and I practice all of these things.

My trauma brain is just loud.

It’s persistent.

It’s illogical.

But I am not a bad person.

I do have a heart.

I am doing the work.

I am putting in the time.

I am doing my best.

I am healing.

So to all those that are quick to judge…

Please try to be patient.

Try to be kind.

Because I promise you this, we’re trying too.

Photo by Flavio Gasperini on Unsplash