How can I explain briefly what it took years to learn about trauma? It’s so important to understand the layers. There are so many layers. When you peel back one, you think you’re done, but you’re not. Honestly, I don’t know if there is an end, but peeling off each layer is like taking off a sweatshirt on an afternoon you weren’t expecting to be so warm. That moment of cool air, feeling slightly better.
The good of trauma is it prepares you for your next trauma. It’s like, I’ve done this before, maybe/probably I can do it again. The bad is the familiarity of it pulls you back to your past trauma (PTSD).
It took me a second to realize how much I am mourning during a worldwide pandemic. Mourning comes in layers too. I could talk about the many complicated feelings but I want to talk about just one. I am literally trying to stall as I write this, because it’s hard to face, but here we go.
In the capital T Trauma I’ve had in my life I’ve had to face something very hard for me. And that’s the temporary loss of myself, or rather, how I define myself.
I put my worth in being a person who is passionate, vibrant, and an instigator. Someone empathetic who connects with and inspires people. Someone who is strong and brave. Someone with endless ideas and creativity. Someone who never stops making jokes. Someone who can trust people.
But when I’m in survival mode I am not those things. It turns into distrust, neediness, lack of motivation, physical illness, apathy, and, because I can see it happening, it makes me feel broken. It makes me feel less-than. It makes me feel like a failure. Because if I don’t have myself what do I have?
One of my favorite scriptures (and songs) that comes to mind is from Ecclesiastes (and the Byrds):
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
I have been very lucky in my life and have not had many things that rocked my world. But when they happen, my world is very much rocked. And the pain lasts. But we don’t get to go through life without these seasons of hardship. How would that be fair when everyone who has come before us has? My grandparents lived through so much. My grandma’s family were immigrants, she was abandoned with three kids, my grandpa served in the war, worked hard his whole life. My other grandma lost her husband too soon. Hardship is not unique to our generation, or any generation. It won’t be unique to yours either.
I think we could learn a lot from nature and the seasons. Animals hibernate, plants go dormant, and the come back from that more glorious than ever. We wouldn’t have the excitement of Spring without the lack of color of Winter.
There’s the whole butterfly thing too, are any of us mad that they spend time in a cocoon? No, I don’t even think about it, I just think about how beautiful they are as butterflies. We don’t question the processes of nature but we are always questioning ourselves. We are organic matter, we’re part of nature, not exempt from it.
A wise woman and physical therapist told me, “You can’t heal in survival mode.” They are two different modes. Many of us are in a different mode right now. Our culture asks too much and values productivity too much. We are perfectionists, whether the pressure comes from our culture, our workplace, our family, ourselves, or somewhere else. It’s there.
My heart is broken into a million pieces right now. It’s broken for the world, our country, my community, my industry, my family and friends, and myself. In small and big ways we’ve lost the things that matter most to us.
In the middle of a pandemic are everyday complications and sadness too. And lots and lots of invalidation. I’m already feeling like a lamer version of myself and then have to go through rounds of people/institutions invalidating my feelings. My life is very good, I am very lucky, but I am still a human with feelings.
So back to the song (scripture). I think a time to dance and a time to mourn can be just minutes from each other. I passionately performed my five-minute version of Little Shop of Horrors for my Instagram followers and collapsed on my bed after. I’ve made jokes online, while crying behind the screen. Our season doesn’t have to be month after month of mourning, it’s sprinkled in. There are quiet moments of calm and brilliance and inspiration during the storm, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a storm raging.
So like some of the memes going around say, don’t expect yourself to be amazingly brilliant all the time. It wouldn’t make you human.
But we have to hope. Whether you are religious or just someone who has seen Hunger Games, you know how hope is the key. Today. in a General Conference address. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “We can hope, we should hope, even when facing the most insurmountable odds.” “Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear.” -Bad Guy in Hunger Games.
There are lots of ways to have hope, but it still isn’t easy. One I like is to develop our individual strengths (key word here being our–not just trying to do what everyone else is). We’re always trying to eliminate our weaknesses, but I think we should take time to lean into our strengths. It’s empowering to think about what you can do rather than what you can’t.
And if you can’t feel it now, try to summon trust and hope that there will be time that you will feel yourself again. My hope comes from my faith in Jesus Christ and his Atonement (Happy Palm Sunday). And it also comes from the goodness I see in people and the kindness they extend toward me. It comes from the connection I feel to God and the earth when I’m in nature. From the power I know I have in myself to do good. It comes from the love I feel for people and animals even when they bug me. It comes from the healing I’ve seen in my life and others, both physically and emotionally when it doesn’t seem possible.
There were times I felt broken beyond repair, and they still happen, but I know there are good days, good minutes, too. But we don’t get to hoard only perfect memories. Stop being a hoarder. And go watch Inside Out on Disney+.