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What 2020, the Political Divide and COVID-19 Taught Me As a Trauma Survivor

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

This past year has been truly difficult for me. Election years in America seem nearly intolerable, with hate and division sewn on both sides that have often left me feeling hopeless and “small.” Many times I feel as though people are talking over one another, belittling others and even engaging in bullying behavior. Admittedly I have, at times, engaged in these fruitless pursuits. But, many more times than not, I end up deleting my post or comments entirely, especially if it gains traction. It just doesn’t seem to be worth the energy to argue as I often wind up feeling defeated and even downright depressed.

• What is PTSD?

This last year has been particularly hard for me. The rhetoric, tension and dysfunction displayed on social media parallel the narcissistic abuse I have been disengaging from in my own life. As with many others, my leisure options have been somewhat limited due to the restrictions placed on our city to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Boredom sets in and I become restless, seeking stimulation online. The division and animosity felt on both sides lead me to retreat again and again, with a greater commitment each time to not “engage” anymore. But, I would be amiss to not share some of the observations I’ve made and what I’ve learned by disengaging.

Ultimately, and even oddly, this year has mirrored so much of what is occurring in my own personal life. I was diagnosed a few years ago with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and this year has triggered my trauma disorder, while at the same time, provided the space and time to address it. The year 2020 has seemingly pushed me to my breaking point and forced me to deal with some of the harder emotions I had tried in the past to “stuff” and ignore. It’s been more challenging to distract myself when I’ve spent more time alone than ever before. As challenging as it has been for me to maintain stability in my mental health, I feel I’ve grown immensely during this time and have actually relied even more so on different and new ways to cope.

Here are some of the ways the political division and the coronavirus pandemic have impacted my mental health and the ways in which I am coping.

1. Becoming more aware of how stress is impacting my physical and emotional health.

This year has allowed me to practice the skill of being more mindful and present. As a result of many businesses being shuttered and having “less on my plate,” I have been able to slow down a bit and take notice of how stress is impacting my body. Being on social media with others during a time of less distraction has allowed me to understand how unresolved conflict and the outward expression of it causes an exacerbation of my symptoms of depression and anxiety. I began making the connection between the unhealthy relationships in my life and the impact they were having on my health. This has taught me to disengage more, not just online, but also with those in my life who are unhealthy for me.

2. Acknowledging when to disengage and practice self-care.

This last year has been difficult to witness. I can remember watching the first presidential debate and cringing. I couldn’t bring myself to actually “look” at the TV. The constant interruptions and “talking over one another” put me on edge and I found myself staring at the floor, almost feeling like I was the one being berated and criticized. I had to turn off the TV after a few minutes, because it was actually unsettling and even triggering to me in the end. Watching the debates kinda reminded me of the calm before the storm in my own life. The times I allowed too much from others, then later found myself swept up in emotion, raging. The constant online bickering also felt like a personal assault to me. The more I realized how toxic the online environment was, the more aware I became of certain negative patterns in my own life. This led me to the process of disengaging and spending more time practicing self-care. This has allowed me to more quickly recognize my triggers and disengage earlier.

3. Acknowledging when relationships are truly hopeless, letting go and redirecting my time and energy to worthwhile pursuits.

The political divide, I feel, has mirrored in ways my own personal struggled with those in my life who often are not interested in compromise, yet still hold some level of power or influence in the lives of those I love. As a person who lives on disability insurance, I do not hold a lot of power in society, and voices like mine can often easily be muted or “drowned out.” The limited scope of power, both in my personal life and politically, has taught me to set stronger boundaries in order to protect and preserve my energy so that I can make a difference where I realistically can. Setting boundaries with myself and others and engaging in self-care, and not feeling guilty for doing so, has been a lesson I have learned during this time. Certain relationships are hopeless. Much like the futile attempts online to change someone’s political opinion, I have learned to just “let go” instead.

Election years are tough. And this past one, coupled with a global pandemic, provided the space, time and conflict to usher in a few “life lessons.” Even though it has been tough, I am grateful for what I have learned. I spent more time getting to know myself and was able to grow emotionally and spiritually during a time of turmoil. Life can be difficult and even painful, at times.

With 2020 behind me, I feel like I have a few more tools in my toolbox as far as knowing how to disengage, set better boundaries for myself and invest in endeavors that provide personal growth and contentment.

What lessons did 2020 teach you? Did you find yourself able to make some changes in your life that helped you, big or small? I definitely feel the past year was a turning point. I’ve turned more toward myself and this has helped me to manage and cope with the symptoms of my PTSD. Here’s to hoping this year brings even more light and self-love to everyone in their journey of healing!

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Originally published: March 3, 2021
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