About Living in a Time Condensed, Compounding, Collective Trauma
We are living in a time of condensed, compounding, collective trauma.
Trigger warning: this is A LOT.
Wednesday marked the two year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and it is overshadowed by an onslaught of violence. Violence against Black, brown, indigenous, and other folks of color. Violence against queer folks. Violence against women. Violence against children.
Tuesday, an 18-year old child, shot and killed his grandmother, and then drove to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, bearing at least two automatic rifles, and killed a reported 21 people, including 19 second through fourth grade students and two teachers. Children. A Texas Ranger shot and killed the child gunman.
On Saturday, May 5, 18-year old Payton S. Gendron – another child gunman – entered a supermarket in a predominantly Black part of Buffalo, NY, shooting and killing 10 people. The attack was entirely racially motivated as he wrote a manifesto calling himself a “fascist, White supremacist, and anti-Semite.”
Three weeks ago, a draft from the Supreme Court was leaked suggesting that SCOTUS plans to overturn Roe v. Wade later this summer. Regardless of how you may feel about abortion itself, the unintended consequences of this decision are horrific and widespread.
A day before the Roe v. Wade story broke, the United States hit one million COVID deaths.
On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 3942 civilians have been killed, with 258 of them being children; 4591 civilians have been injured, with 399 of them being children. However, the OHCHR specified that the real numbers could be higher. That’s an estimated 8533 dead or injured with 657 – just under 10 percent – of them children.
On February 22, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton directed Child Protective Services to investigate families seeking gender-affirming care for minors as well as the health care workers and doctors providing it. Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton ordered CPS to investigate families and providers for loving, supporting, and affirming children who’s suicide rates are significantly higher without access to gender affirming care. Whose mental health suffers without access to gender affirming care. Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton ordered CPS to potentially separate families that provide love, support, and gender affirming care to their children – children who statistically are at a greater safety and mental health risk without said care. And while there was a brief moratorium on the investigations while some litigation moved through state courts, as of May 25, 2022 investigations are in full swing.
So. Much. Violence.
So. Much. Harm.
So. Much. Dehumanization.
Four or five years ago, I attended a restorative practices workshop in which the trainer described harm and violence as the stripping away of another person’s humanity. Which bears the question: what is humanity – or what makes us human? Specifically, personhood comes from reasoning skills, but humanity comes from feelings and emotions. So harm and violence happen when we fail to consider, intentionally neglect, or maliciously aim to harm or impair another person’s emotional state.
Regardless of whether we are directly impacted by any of the systemic atrocities listed above, we are still being harmed by the threat of them. We are impacted by the threat of COVID. We are impacted by the threat of open carry laws and gun violence. We are impacted by the threat of racism, homophobia, and transphobia. We are impacted by the threat of sexual violence and the knowledge that we could be persecuted for practicing bodily autonomy or by accessing basic reproductive care. We are impacted by the threat of families being torn apart for providing gender affirming care. We are impacted by the threat of a global war if the U.S. does anything other than impose economic sanctions on Russia.
That’s a lot of threats. And because they’ve been coming at us rapid fire (literally – no ill-timed pun intended) since COVID began, there has been no time to process, no time to grieve, no time to rest, no time to heal.
Instead, each trauma sits in our bodies, then another happens, smushing down the one before, then another, and another, without reprieve until we’ve got giant, condensed, compounded lumps of trauma. Our shoulders ache, our muscles freeze, our chests are heavy, we feel physically exhausted yet hypervigilant, our thoughts race: our central nervous systems are fried.
We feel angry. Resentful. Afraid. Sad. Bereft. Powerless. Hopeless. Nervous. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. Frozen. Ashamed.
Sometimes, we cry. Sometimes, we can’t
Sometimes all of this makes us feel so small, and like, what’s the point?
The truth is we are small. There are 332,278,200 people in the United States and 7,945,954,586 people in the world. So yes, we are small. But we are not insignificant. On an individual level, we still make one heck of a difference.
I don’t know how to deal with condensed, compounding, collective trauma. I wish I did. The best I can do is hold space and listen, one person at a time.
I don’t know how to prevent people from harming each other. Or from using fear to justify violence. I wish I did. The best I can do is offer and model non-violent communication and restorative practice approaches.
There’s a lot I don’t know. In the grand scheme, there’s very little I do; but there are a few things I can offer and have found useful in remaining connected and present through all of this steadily growing mess:
The only thing we can ever control is ourselves and our responses to our environment. Stay present and mindful. The impact of your words and actions always outweighs your intent.
Take Dr. Dan Siegel’s advice and name your big feelings to tame them. This returns your power over your emotions and models for others how to communicate what they’re feeling as well.
Hold the people you love a little bit tighter for a little bit longer. You won’t regret it.
Calm your body to calm your brain. Practice Square Breathing. Find a guided meditation that works for you. Go on a walk and listen for different sounds. Returning to your body calms the central nervous system.
Turn off your phone. All your obligations will still be there when you get back.
Work to be vulnerable even though it’s uncomfortable. It’s through discomfort that we grow.
Take risks when you have privilege to spend, and sit down to listen when someone of a more marginalized experience is speaking.
Ask questions to learn, rather than to explain.
Show up as fully as you can while still honoring your needs. There’s probably a reason you’re dissociating – get curious about why.
Remember and honor your – and others’ – humanity.
I’m still mad, frustrated, bereft, and emotionally drained – but a little less so. These feelings aren’t permanent – and neither is the state of the world. So call your representative. Show up for the rally. Write that strongly worded letter. But also, spend your money intentionally at small businesses where it makes more of an impact. Be generous with your love and compassion. Put down your phone and listen when someone is speaking. And most importantly, always do your best to honor our collective humanity.