What I heard in the therapy office (paraphrased to protect confidentiality) and in life the first three days after Donald Trump was announced to be the President elect:
(Statements in red are symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD)*
“I can’t come to therapy today because I feel sick. I don’t think I can go to work today- how will I get any work done?”
(You may keep very busy or avoid seeking help because it keeps you from having to think or talk about the event.)
“I lay wide awake in bed next to my sleeping child thinking ‘how will I keep her safe? How am I going to keep her safe?’”
“I couldn’t get to sleep and then I kept waking up in the middle of the night feeling like I was in a nightmare.”
“I was very short with my children this week. I knew it was because of the anger/sadness/grief that I hadn’t processed, but it kept coming up suddenly in a huge wave, like a tsunami.”
(You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. You may have a hard time sleeping.)
“I watched as more and more states kept bleeding. I kept seeing the image of this over and over in my mind.”
“Every time I see his face or hear a news report with his name, I leave my body.”
“I tried to go for a walk to ground my self, but there was a man right next to me on the sidewalk and I was afraid to walk in front of him. I was afraid of being grabbed or attacked from behind.”
(You may have nightmares. You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback. You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event. This is called a trigger. News reports or hearing someone’s name are examples of triggers. Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place.)
“I really thought we were going to shatter a glass ceiling, but apparently the only vaginas allowed in the white house are the ones being f*cked.”
“I feel so angry, but I find myself apologizing all the time. I’m afraid of how angry I am.”
“I thought slavery was over, but apparently it is not. I thought this was a land of diversity, but apparently this is the land of white-ness.”
“When we recited the pledge of allegiance at my son’s school, I started sobbing: One Nation? With Liberty and Justice for All?”
“As I ride the bus, I look around and I wonder: can any of these people be trusted? Are their hearts breaking, too? Are they afraid of being deported?”
“My daughter came home from school asking if her Spanish speaking teacher was going to have to leave the country.”
(The way you think about yourself and others change because of the trauma. This symptom has many aspects, including the following:
- You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships.
- You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.)
*From the PTSD VA website:
There is a lot of healing to be done. Many people in this country are starting to dive into finding common ground or looking for ways to “decrease the splitting.” Because I work primarily with women, many of them sexual assault survivors (one in three women in this country has been sexually assaulted or raped), their voices, bodies, and experiences need to be heard, believed and validated as they are right now. That is part of the healing. Anger is valid. Rage and terror are valid. Fear is valid. Shame is valid. Sadness and pain are valid. In my experience of recovery, bypassing the feelings doesn’t do anyone any good. If you don’t feel, you can’t heal. I will get back into inspiration and action soon, but right now, if you are still struggling and wrestling with emotions, I am with you.
In the meantime, here are some grounding practices that can help when you are experiencing anxiety/fear/PTSD:
Mindfulness practices such as deep, diaphragmatic breathing, counting your breaths, can help bring your nervous system out of “fight or flight” and back into your parasympathetic nervous system. It is from this place that you can “rest and digest.”
- Somatic awareness practices
Soma refers to the body. Practices such as pushing weight into your feet on the floor (if you are sitting) or progressively tensing and relaxing muscles in your body (ex: tense your facial muscles, then relax, tense your shoulders, then relax, tense your hands, then relax, and so on through your whole body) can help bring you back into your body if you dissociate. Walking can also help your psyche and your emotions “move” out of feeling stuck and into processing and beginning to heal.
- Talk to a Safe Person
If you are struggling with PTSD, professional counselor/therapist/Psychologist can help you. If you are feeling trauma (but may or may not have PTSD), a friend, colleague, family member or support group can help you feel less alone.
Many people have been struggling with overwhelming feelings this week. You are not alone.