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Feeling Calm in the Midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic Might Be a Trauma Response

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As the coronavirus (Covid-19) — a new virus that attacks your lungs and respiratory system — makes its way around the world, I feel unusually calm in the midst of the panic. Hypervigilance (defined as a state of increased alertness) is my “normal,” so I casually stocked up on necessities weeks ago, long before the shelves cleared out and panic-buying set in. Because of my trauma history, I’m used to thinking about worse-case scenario situations. I do it on the daily. So, right now, I feel calm, because I know I’ve got this.

As someone who lives with complex PTSD (C-PTSD), emergencies are easy for me. Recently, my young daughter had a medical emergency. I was four hours away. My husband and I had just hiked in the snow to a remote location, eager to spend a couple days in the quiet winter forest. It was also much-needed chance to reconnect with each other. The last few weeks had been especially busy, and my C-PTSD brain was barely hanging on as it was. I was exhausted in every way, and this trip was the carrot I had been dangling to ensure I would get the rest I needed. It was a healthy gift to myself and to us as a couple.

I had one bar on my phone, which was enough to push the message through that our daughter was in the hospital and they planned to operate in the morning. So, we packed up, threw on some snow shoes and hiked out in the dark. My brain was on high alert. I was straining to not think about the mountain lion I encountered on my last trek in. After driving on narrow highways full of oncoming high beams piercing my migraine, we arrived at the hospital at 2:30 a.m. We made it. My daughter’s surgery went well, and after a few sleepless nights sharing a hospital chair, we took her home.

Here’s the thing about high-stress situations. For someone like me, they feel good. My brain is wired to spring into action for emergencies. In spite of the pain, I handle them well, and they make me feel alive. The boost of adrenaline that goes with it give me energy and makes me feel like I can do anything. It wasn’t until the following week that I crashed. Hard.

It was the middle of the afternoon, after all the excitement had passed and my daughter was back at school, when I collapsed on the couch and didn’t move for several hours. The deferred aches and pains of pushing too hard flooded in. The fog of depression and disappointment over canceled relaxation plans drifted over me. Anxiety over facing another busy season without a break poked and prodded away. My husband handles emergencies well, too, but he didn’t crash like I did. Once again, I was reminded that my brain is different from his brain. I needed to take better care of it.

Most likely, this anticipation of Covid-19 will end in a crash for me, too. Knowing this, it’s important to acknowledge that even though I’m feeling OK now, this is a challenging time. The acknowledgement itself is healthy progress. When I crash, I’ll be tempted to run the old tapes that go along with mental and physical exhaustion. “It’s not that bad.” “Other people have it worse.” “What are you complaining about?” “Just suck it up.” I need to have a plan now, not when I’m in the thick of it, for how I plan to better care for my mental and emotional needs.

It’s just as important to anticipate self-care strategies to aid in times of crisis as it is to have enough soap and groceries. Some of us don’t have an off switch. Instead, we power down by blowing fuses. If you’re like me and you know you handle extreme situations well, use some of that extra adrenaline to put a care plan in place today. Your future self will thank you. 

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GettyImages photo via Popmarleo

Originally published: March 13, 2020
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