Some reflections on trauma and Covid

Some reflections on trauma and Covid

We have been through a collective trauma. YOU have been through a trauma. It began around a year ago and, though we are starting to see the light of the tunnel, our body and mind store the trauma and the changes in worldview it has brought. As we gain more distance from it, we will better be able to understand its form and magnitude.

I suggest taking the anniversaries and social media reminders as opportunities to walk through 2020 day by day and remember where you were. What do the memories bring up? Where do they take you?

I'd love to hear your story of the trauma of Covid, or what you've been doing to process it, in the comments here.

I will be posting a number of reminiscences in the coming months.

My story

(Trigger warning: description of the start of Covid and lockdowns)

For me, Covid began to impact my life in late January. When Wuhan was locked down, a small group of us started talking about what seemed quite likely to happen to the United States and the rest of the world. Frances Haugen and I started the Coronavirus Discussion Space (currently on perma-hiatus, a great space to explore if you want to relive March for trauma-processing) and Frances worked tirelessly through February and March, along with some incredible moderators like Ethan Currens, to provide a quality source of information, news, and speculation about Covid (enough thanks can't be given.) I spoke a lot with Dan Lin-Arlow and Matt Bell about what was going to happen.

It felt like our group was in an alternate reality. As the world went along as usual, our minds were in what felt like an incoming tsunami, with the potential to kill our families and friends, wreck our supply chains, cause civil unrest, and more. (In retrospect, it gives some insight into what it must be like to be in Qanon.) The people around us thought we were a bit crazy and alarmist, and I found myself constantly moderating my speech when speaking to others to not sound crazy.

We were processing the idea that things were about to radically change, and it felt like an interminable calm before the storm.

And then the storm hit the shore.

There was a moment of relief as the news media began to sound more like our internal monologues, and then the ominous horror as the world we feared seemed to leap from our minds into reality around us.

I wasn't sure how bad things would get. Would people fall dead on the streets of San Francisco, like in the videos coming out of Wuhan? Would the ICUs flood over and doctors have to decide who gets to live, like in Italy?

What's the doubling rate? The data was so shoddy we had to guess at it. The exposure of today will show up in 10 days, so through the month of March I was extrapolating 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x into the future. 10 days was interminably long to wait. How could something be moving so quickly and so slowly at the same time? A tsunami in slow motion, and where would it go?

We were focused on the downside and our outlook was pessimistic, and this perspective dominated the emotional landscape. There was so much we didn't know, and it was possible to assume the worst.

The shock of March was similar to the shock of a major life event: moving, losing a friend. We were perpetually recalibrating as the ground moved under us.

I took heart watching people step up \u00e2\u0080\u0094 warriors. Frances, Erica Blair, and so many others. On the battlefield, as the bullets whizzed by in slow motion, my gaze drew to those who were standing tall, faces set in grim determination, hands on their spreadsheets or group admin tools or Zoom links, projecting confidence and shepherding us through these changes.

I talked to my parents a lot. As I wrestled with the possibility of their mortality, they didn't believe me and had to be strong-armed into buying supplies like masks and toilet paper. The possibility of their mortality felt all too real, and it felt like I had become the parent.

I remember one conversation with my dad. Each day I would call and ask my parents to stop leaving the house, and each time they would shrug it off. Something shifted and seemed to click into place. My dad stopped telling me nothing bad was going to happen and instead asked, voice tinged with fear: "how many people are going to die?"

Through it all I was piloting our company as it got off the ground, working long hours. Our release date (we thought) was 3 months away. I got a drink with one friend who'd been helping me fundraise. "Lay off your staff," he told me, "conserve your cash. Bad things are coming." I didn't know if we were going to survive, how we would operate, how we could raise money, or how this would change our business. I was ready to give up at many points in March, but the thought of laying anyone off during this insanity caused me to press forward.

In May, our house had a conversation about opening up a little bit. There was almost no Covid in the Bay Area, and we hadn't known anyone who had gotten it in 2 months, so they suggested doing some hangs. The idea threw me into a panic as we discussed it.

I asked Frances for advice, and with her usual insight she said this to me: "You've been through a trauma. We all have. You need to process it."

I was sitting in my car. My body was wound tight into a ball, filled with frustration at my roommates I allowed myself to feel it, overwhelmed with fear. I sat there and felt.

A lot has changed since then. We've learned to live with this virus (physically and psychologically) in many ways that were hard to imagine back then. Uncertainty has been replaced by data and the unfolding of events. But that frame from early on remains locked in place somewhere in my brain. That's what trauma does.

How do we heal this collective trauma? I am more confident that my friends will look it in the face and process it, but our nation is not one to feel its emotions. How do we create spaces for grief and collective processing, especially as the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter and grief becomes safer to feel?

I would love to hear your experiences of trauma in this past year, and how you think we can process and heal together.

When we embrace again, may there be many tears. <3