by: Dr. David Cross
I like newspapers, and my favorite newspaper is The New York Times. A few weeks ago I read a column by David Brooks, titled “Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus.” In it, he touched on the core principles of our work at the KPICD. In just a few words, he captured the essence of trauma and connection. Or at least he did so as much as anyone can capture the “essence” of such a complex topic in just a few words.
At the end of his column, David Brooks posed two questions, and readers were encouraged to submit written responses to each. The first question was, “In what ways are the coronavirus and isolation affecting you psychologically?” The second questions was, “What are you doing to stay mentally well?” I started to submit a response to each, but then backed off, realizing that these questions had started an avalanche of thoughts and feelings and questions within me. I realized it would take a few days for me to process this, so I closed my iPad and got busy with the day’s work.
As I reflected on the avalanche of thoughts and feelings prompted by those two questions, the one thing that I kept coming back to is this: Why am I not completely overwhelmed by the coronavirus, and all the pain and suffering and fear it has wrought? I am a compassionate person. I feel the pain and suffering and fear of the sick, of those helping the sick, of those who are afraid of becoming sick, of those who are losing their businesses, of those who are isolated, of those who don’t know how they are going to feed their children, of those who are losing their homes, of those who simply don’t know how they are going to cope. When I think of these things, I cry. Literally. If I think about them too much, I have to take a walk. Or do something.
I am not saying this because I am special, because I know I am not. I say this because, despite feeling the pain and the suffering and the fear, I am still able to do my job. Why is that? I can think of four reasons. Two of them I am sure you already know, for there is lots of talk about them, in the news, in the newsletters, and on the news. The first reason is that my life is connection rich: I am rich in family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. The second reason is that I regulate my intake of the news, especially the “bad” news – I refuse to wallow in it.
The third reason, perhaps not so obvious as the first two, is that I know how to “Keep calm and carry on.” Howard Bath calls this “coping,” Angela Duckworth calls this “grit,” Alan Sroufe calls this “Resilience.” Again, I am not saying this because I am special, because I know I am not. And I am not even saying this because I think coping, or grit, or resilience are important (they are), I am saying this because the capacity for coping/grit/resilience is a gift. It is a gift that was given to us by those who raised us, and we should be forever thankful. But here is what really makes me cry (and I am crying as I write these words): The most vulnerable among us were never given that gift, or the gift they were given is not enough to overcome the harsh realities of their existence. And what does the coronavirus mean to them?
The fourth reason hits closer to home, for those of us who are part of the TBRI community. What I came to realize while pondering the two questions posed by David Brooks is that I have been here before. As bad as the coronavirus is – and we have perhaps yet to see the worst of it – those of us engaged in the healing of trauma have been here before. We have been witnesses to the traumatic aftermath of all sorts of tragedies, ranging from interpersonal events such as domestic violence, human trafficking, and child maltreatment, to communal events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, genocide, and mass shootings. And the point is not that we have become jaded, because I know we have not. The point is that we know the terrain, and – most important of all for understanding why we are able to continue doing our jobs – we have a sense of purpose. In thinking this through, I have come to realize that – as a card-carrying member of “Karyn’s Army” – what I do matters. It matters because I am one of many taking on the gargantuan task of healing trauma in all its guises. I can watch the news, figure out how I am going to get my groceries, and then I can sit down and do my job. And it matters. And the same is true for you. Let’s carry on together.