Friday, April 17, 2020

Pandemic Joyride

So there’s obviously a natural emotional response that makes sense when in the middle of a global pandemic, right? Some of us lost jobs (or businesses), we’re broke, we can’t pay rent, and we’re stuck at home with the mainstream media escalating our already mounting anxieties making us think that maybe we’re all gonna die along with everyone we know and love.

If I’m being honest, there’s probably a few people I secretly hope will get sick and never recover; but that’s a different blog. 

All kidding aside (I might not have been kidding about that last bit), it’s a tough time emotionally and it’s actually made worse, if you can believe it, by the fact that triggered emotions bring to the surface other associated emotional traumas. 

I’ve come to affectionately (sarcasm) refer to these extended triggers as “emotional threads.” 

When one of these emotional threads gets triggered it’s like someone got a hold of the end of a string burdened with old tin cans and they’re, infuriatingly, shaking the shit out of it causing such a ruckus you can’t think straight. Except in this case the string is your emotion and the cans are all your unprocessed emotional baggage associated with that emotional trigger so what it really feels like is someone kicking you repeatedly in the gut while they scream in your face that you suck and nobody likes you after stealing your milk money.

So in light of this emotional joyride we’re on, I thought I’d share my very own emotional experience with you because we’re all bored and I thought my story might make you feel better about your own. If this plan backfires and it makes you feel worse because your life experiences have been infinitely suckier than mine, I apologize sincerely in advance and may I recommend ice cream and netflix as your next stop on the covid-19 isolation train?

So far, my Pandemic Triggered Emotional Thread, PTET (I just made up that acronym!  I’m so proud) looks like this: 
The destabilization and economic collapse caused by the pandemic triggered an initial emotional response of anxiety for me because I’m terrified of not having enough food, or money to meet my basic needs. This in turn triggered the associated emotional thread caused by every experience I ever had as a young human that created this deep seated fear of not having enough. 

For instance: (my first big can on the string as far as I can recall) when I was 11 or 12 my sense of security at home fell apart when my mom and dad had an argument and my mom left for 2 weeks, taking my two little brothers with her, but leaving me and my sister behind. My sense of familial security was shaken like a sapling in a hurricane leaving little behind but a broken trunk and scattered branches. 

But at least I still had a roof over my head, under which I baked the loneliest pumpkin pie on the planet for Thanksgiving which I burned the shit out of because I forgot it in the oven and then ate anyway, by myself. 
But the most fundamental element of my home, my mother, had in my mind abandoned me. 

(Second can on the string) A year or so later, what was left of that figurative sapling, representing in this case my remaining sense of basic security, was ripped out by the roots and mercilessly butchered and left for dead when I was thrown out of the house at the very mature and capable age of 13. I was hungry and confused trying to process emotions far beyond my capacity while  hunkered down in a shithole apartment with a bunch of other lost (mostly teenage) souls. 

Fast forward a few years and after a wild ride of shitty apartments, living on the streets, shelters, dumpster diving for food, a short stay with a teacher from my junior high school, and some depressingly poor decision making regarding $3 and bag of sugar,  I was living back “home” and, surprise, I was pregnant at 15. 

(Another can on string. This is like the twelve days of christmas except depressing) 
When I was 7 months pregnant with my son (now I was 16 years old because I had a birthday in which I, regrettably, attempted to eat my weight in vegetable fried rice) I was sent to stay with a friend of my sister’s who was in college at the time. I slept on the concrete tiled floor of her dorm room pretending I was fine there despite the fact that my softened tailbone caused excruciating pain and sometimes made it impossible for me to move or get up, but I never complained, about that or the fact that I was starving (maybe literally) because I had no money for food and didn’t dare ask for any.
I had baked some bran muffins at my mom’s house prior to leaving  and those lasted me a few days so at least I was regular if not well fed.

It never occurred to me that my needs mattered. Why would they? I had already learned unequivocally that my mom didn’t care about me enough to stay with me when I was 12, that I didn’t deserve to live at home when I was 13, and that my parents weren’t obligated to provide for me in even the most rudimentary ways. 

My sense of self worth was basically non-existent so I was grateful that someone cared enough to let me sleep on their floor and that I wasn’t, at least, sleeping on the streets. 

We normalize abuse and neglect when we don’t know any other reality. 

These experiences are just a few of the cans on the string of this heavily burdened emotional thread, but along this same emotional thread are every other experience I have related to the anxiety that comes with wondering if I’ll have enough to eat, a roof over my head, and emotionally whether anyone really loves, or wants me. 

So Imagine again the string of cans that this time represent your own emotional thread and realize that this pandemic is shaking the everlivingshit out of that string too. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted and it’s okay if you need a break. 

The triggering of emotional threads offers an extremely valuable opportunity to engage with the emotions, our false perceptions about our self worth, and to write a different version of the same story from the perspective of an adult with mature analytical skills. But the intensity of the emotional bombardment can be way too much and it’s important to be compassionate with yourself and give yourself permission to feel like shit sometimes. 

Personally, I am giving myself permission to feel however I feel in the moment, asking my amazing partner who has the patience of a god, to be patient with me even when I freak out and sob in the kitchen because he used a cup of our dwindling supply of rice for turkey soup that I can’t eat because I don’t eat turkey and there is no rice at the grocery store because everyone is hoarding the fucking rice even though half of them don’t know how to fucking cook it! 

If all we do for ourselves during this pandemic is acknowledge the validity of our emotions and give ourselves a moment to just experience it for what it is through conversation, writing, napping, reading, crying, exercising, painting, or ranting in a blog before diving into the next episode on Netflix, that will be a step in the right direction.