Hello Gentlefolk of Every Persuasion,
Brief update before I dive into the meat of the post: I have successfully petitioned to be furloughed at the company for which I work. The choice (or lack of choice) was to commute into San Francisco from Oakland or apply for unemployment. After three days of calling HR hourly, sending follow-up emails, and hearing radio silence in return, I am now successfully unemployed.
Commuting into San Francisco for me would mean either taking Uber or public transportation. I have asthma. It’s never been really such an issue for me, but in light of current events going back to work on-site didn’t feel safe. So I made a fuss and got furloughed.
If anyone has insight as to the legality of asking employees to return to on-site work during shelter in place, please let me know.
Anyway, that’s not the main topic I wanted to write about today. Instead, I want to write about trauma.
I have had my share of trauma. Not the most by any means, but an amount. I have also frequently been in the position of supporting someone undergoing trauma. This has included domestic abuse, sexual assault, death of loved ones, mental health battles and now, most recently, the collective trauma of COVID-19.
I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist or even particularly brilliant, but from my experiences with trauma there is seems to usually be an initial period of numbness. Depression is, in many ways, an extended and over-intensive numbness. This numbness is our body/mind trying to protect us from the pain.
And it’s right.
We can only handle so much pain at any one time, and as far as I’m aware there is no award for who can handle the most pain.
When we are faced with too much pain, too great an amount, the initial step our body takes is to clamp down around the pain and anesthetize. I think about the image of a fox caught in a trap. (Apologies for the thought, this is just where my brain goes.) In order to survive, the fox’s body cuts off feeling to the paw allowing the fox to gnaw off its own appendage. In more recent days, trap-setters have begun padding the traps so that the nerves are not severed and the fox can still feel the paw.
We are not a fox in a trap, though. We are human beings facing an enormity of pain – both personal and collective.
My argument – if I may have one – is that we can focus on the interplay between functioning and processing.
I don’t like the word “balance” here because for me it has never, ever been balanced. I’m in the camp of 90% functioning to 10% processing. My brain will shut the pain up real tight, throw me into a depression (which I am very accomplished at hiding), and most of the world will have no idea that anything has happened at all.
In fact, sometimes I’ll struggle to cry about things that I’m actually very, very sad about. In my therapy, I’ve been working on simply allowing myself to feel what I feel. That is cutting through the “functional numbness” and letting myself process.
It’s hard. I don’t want to feel pain anymore than anyone else wants to feel pain. But I recognize if I don’t feel the pain, then I run the risk of losing the entire appendage. When I’m emotionally shut-down, it means I lose both the pain and the joy.
I’m not saying you need to sit down and feel everything all at once. Again, there’s only so much a person can withstand. I just think working with the interplay between processing and functioning is important. And maybe airing to the side of more processing when possible isn’t such a bad thing. Especially right now.
That’s all I have for today.
Hope some of it made sense.