Trigger warning: childhood abuse, suicidal ideation, and trauma.
My husband Matt has become quite accustomed to my complex PTSD symptoms. And he’s grown even more adept at supporting them over the years. He knows to give me space and hang out with our kids when my eyelids won’t stop fluttering or my arms flail around uncontrollably. He jumps into action if I need his calming voice during a panic attack. When I start to go down the rabbit hole of a trauma-induced shame spiral, he’s evolved into the most trusted and compassionate anchor I didn’t know I always needed.
Matt is basically the human version of a therapy dog, and I no longer feel guilty about leaning on him as much as I do. Now more than ever, I am so damn grateful for our partnership, because it is helping me deal with the unexpected triggers of being a trauma survivor living in a real-life global pandemic.
I experienced ongoing childhood abuse for most of my early life and have been working tirelessly for the past few years to recover and heal. But the coronavirus has completely upended my mental health progress. It’s left me in a regressive state of panic and shame and has taken the wind out of my sails. Last year I wanted to end my life after coming to terms with a surprising complex PTSD diagnosis. And this year, I just want to survive this chaotic and overwhelming self-quarantine without going back to that dark place.
Thank fucking goodness for antidepressants, virtual therapy, and comfy sweatpants.
If you grew up in trauma like I did, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. I’m right here with you, slogging through the COVID-19 mud and wondering when the hell we’ll all be getting back to some semblance of normal. While there is certainly no shortage of fear-inducing articles about this virus, we desperately need more information about how to handle a pandemic while navigating a trauma-based mental health disorder. If you’ve been digging deep to break down the unnatural feelings of battling perceived threats every day, your internal navigation system will most likely be going haywire right now. Hell, even my husband recently admitted that he’s feeling pretty damn close to how I am, and he doesn’t even have complex PTSD.
It’s understandable for anyone to be experiencing a natural level of anxiety at the moment. These are uncertain, life-or-death times. But for those who grew up in abusive or toxic homes, this temporary stay-at-home limbo may be especially triggering. Being seemingly safe in the confines of your house can lead you to feeling trapped just like you did when you were a young child unable to shield yourself from harm. Going to the grocery store may give you the shakes as you grapple with the worry of something going horribly wrong. And being around your kids 24/7 will assuredly lead to exhaustion and overwhelm that can exponentially aggravate your mental health symptoms.
We need to start talking out loud about this shit. We need to know that it is fucking okay not to be okay right now. More than ever before, we need to give ourselves a damn break and realize that no one is coming out of this crisis unscathed.
I’ve been in therapy for almost six years now, and I know full well that mental health progress is not linear. I’ve been prepped and ready to deal with the occasional missteps in my journey, and even welcome them with open arms. Self-compassion is key when you are trying to reparent yourself, heal from trauma, and separate fact from fiction in your mind. But I liken these most recent days to being shot backwards out of a canon without a goddamn parachute. We are all lying scattered on the ground, desperately trying to pick up the pieces without getting too close to each other. We may have protective face masks on, but our feelings are undeniably leaking out of us the whole damn time.
Our world is going through a collectively traumatic experience, and this is really fucking hard.
I’ve got a few things in the trusty recovery toolbox that have helped me get through the curveball of reemerging complex PTSD symptoms, and I hope they will help you if you’re struggling.
I give my scared inner child regular pep talks and lovingly remind her that I’m not going anywhere. I practice forced deep breathing until my body follows suit. I let myself hyper clean like a motherfucker to manage my crippling anxiety. I stay gentle with myself if I occasionally need a couple glasses of wine or to ugly cry in my closet for the tenth time on any given day. I say kind things daily to myself in the mirror. I take showers when I can, swap naps with my husband, and ease up on work if my kids are going non-stop — a luxury I’m grateful to have. I make sure to get fresh air daily, and I look up at the sky often. I laugh with my kids every chance I get and have eased up significantly on their screen time. I also treat myself to the ultimate form of self-love that exists – rubbing one out – whenever the kids are occupied enough and the mood strikes.
Basically, I have lowered every single expectation, softened every single standard, and made room for every single mess (both metaphorical and literal) in my home at the moment. And it has made all the fucking difference.
If you are struggling with your mental health right now and old symptoms are making their way back up to the surface, please seek out immediate support. Whether it’s a loved one you can FaceTime or a therapist you can schedule a video session with, you do not need to be suffering in silence or isolation. If you are feeling so low that you might take harmful steps to end the pain, please call a suicide hotline. I have been there. I empathetically stand with you. And I lovingly encourage you to please stick around for as long as you can.
Please consider following my lead on all of this stuff, folks. You won’t regret it. Making everything feel just a little bit easier while you’re currently self-quarantining the shit out of your life is essential to getting through this. Acknowledging your triggers rather than trying to push them down or avoid them is the key to your overall peace of mind. You are not alone in this. We are not alone in this. And when everything is over, we will courageously keep on keeping on.