If we don't acknowledge and address the trauma, it will soon address us.
I caught on by the fifth day of not being able to fall asleep until after 3am that something was going on. After weeks of conversations with peers and friends about the recent protest and sharing resources to support the movement and the families of those murdered by police, I needed time. I couldn’t stand another viral video of racists abusing, manipulating, and killing innocent people, so I decided to take a break from social media. That is when it started: The crying for seconds at a time, the lack of appetite, not wanting to get dressed, the irritability, fear, rage, and sadness all making an appearance in tiny spurts throughout the weekend. I’ve felt this feeling before one morning in college. It wasn’t until I crawled downstairs to the dining hall later that night, that someone told me that I was experiencing a trauma response that was expressing itself in my body. I had no idea and just stood there as the reality washed over me.
Here we are.
We cannot, in this crucial moment in history, afford to forget to honor the weight of what we’re experiencing and address it. We actually don’t have a choice in the matter, as I didn’t have a choice, no matter how much Sleepy Time tea I drank, to actually rest and fall asleep. As soon as we take that moment to sit in silence, clean our homes, or contemplate how to pick up the pieces and move forward, the weight will come over us and we will feel all the feelings we didn’t have time to feel. They will show up in various ways and places in our bodies and we will need a response, a language, a way to comfort ourselves and our spirit so we don’t take this trauma into the next chapter we’re all being prepared for. But first we have to acknowledge and accept what we are going through is traumatic.
It wasn’t until I made space between me and the world that I realized that New York City’s experience of the pandemic was vastly different than what others went through. I felt the need to understand and embrace that weight so I could let it go and actually get some rest. New York being named the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US meant that one day I went into work nervous and left a few hours later the same way not knowing when I was going to come back and riding on a train full of potential coronavirus carriers. Every cough was a warning. It didn't seem long before nearly a thousand people were dying from the virus every day. And that was just the morning news, and then the morning news was over and the day was supposed to continue. One of my friends made it into that count one morning, yet work kept coming and I still needed to eat, shower, get groceries, and check in on family three thousand miles away to make sure they're safe. Eventually, there were too many deaths for the hospitals, funeral homes, and morgues, so bodies piled up in trucks, some refrigerated, some not. COVID-19 showed up in grocery stores and mailrooms, while essential workers and frontline workers were dying either by the virus or their own hand. Empty streets in the day and the ambulance sirens that ran through the night became a reminder that things were not normal and they never will be again. The USS Comfort arrived, big and mighty behind morning briefings. Days and days of questions and new information contradicting the old information we were leaning on to feel safe. My world kept getting smaller and smaller with bigger unknowns and more desperate prayers. We all went through a version of this.
This is trauma.
Now, 100 days after New York’s first coronavirus case, I am feeling the weight of the pandemic along with the tsunami of racism, unrest, viral videos and comments, and federal and local reminder of America’s pastime passion: racism. A new level of hopelessness, powerlessness, and rage comes into play now, as the death toll announcements change in tone and become debatable. I am now called to the streets while taking into consideration a virus that is disproportionately killing Black and brown people. More videos and comments are shared depicting murder, abuse, blood, and violence by police officers. Again, work is essential and walking to the grocery store is still needed, but the target on my back is now illuminated and I am afraid for my life. They really want to kill us all. More victims come to the forefront from all walks of Black life. The covert strategies by police and that powers that claim to be become overt and boisterous. Every conversation I have with a white person is on pins and needles, as I find out where they stand. The community erupts in all directions wanting to meet, grieve, organize, destroy, and rebuild towards something better. All the while, some of us are grieving alone and trying to protect our humanity all in the same moment. And still, the job hunt continues or we try to keep the one we have. We continue to pray and meditate on the light that awaits us on the other side but we are so tired at the same time.
This is trauma.
2020 will require revolutionary, multi-dimensional, multi-generational healing, as we take time to shower, cry, disconnect/reconnect, or just get through the day or night, we might welcome the beginning of this process and the reality of the trauma will settle in and make itself known in our bodies. We will be called to respond to it in the best way that works for us and this will not be easy. For some of us, the loss is closer than we can imagine. But we do not have to do this alone. Especially for Black people who are fighting for their lives on multiple fronts, the healing to keep our work sustainable might not be as loud as the call to act and the humanitarian crimes against us. I want to make the call to heal louder than the pain we know all too well.