Day 60 – I Hate This

Photo credit Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

It is Day 60, also known as May 14, 2020, and here is what I hate about this.  About Isolation.  I have said before, I am one of the lucky ones.  I have a nice place to stay, am not facing potential eviction or starvation, and I live with someone I enjoy being with.  I am married to my very best friend.  It doesn’t get better than that.

But having gone to graduate school to become a mental health counselor, then taking continuing education courses and doing my best to stay abreast of the latest developments in trauma treatment, I would really like to be able to make more use of my knowledge.  And above all, I would like to be more available to my clients.

Online counseling is a growing field, and I have not grown extensively with it.  Of course, I did not see this coming.  Or did I?  I have heard for years that we could get brought down by a pandemic, and I felt that was probably true.  I mean, we all know there are gene mutations and we have had other viruses crop up.  My first memory of that is Parvovirus in dogs.  That was followed by MERS, SARS, Ebola in humans…  With these viruses ultimately controlled at least to the point where they did not threaten the entire American population, I convinced myself this was for medical people to deal with.  So I didn’t think further, in the sense of not considering how a new and unstudied virus could impact day to day life.  I knew all about quarantines from times gone by, yet neglected to think it could happen to us.  In 2020.

And here we are.  I can still learn more about online counseling.  I have the tools:  FaceTime, a Zoom account…and my telephone works just fine.  I have been outspoken, though, about my preference for face to face counseling, and that preference has not changed.  My clients have expressed similar feelings.  Though a couple of clients have taken me up on doing a couple of phone sessions, they are mostly showing zero interest in using technology for their sessions, preferring to just wait this out and see me then.  That is fine with me; I would likely make the same choice.

The problem is exacerbated in a way I did not predict:  The stress of living with this pandemic creates emotional problems for everyone.  Though this may be an oversimplification, it appears to me that everyone is either isolated and bored, or has a minimum work week of 80 hours.  There doesn’t appear to be much in-between.  It is definitely taking its toll.  And just when everyone would like to talk to their counselor, assuming they have an established counseling relationship—that counselor cannot see them face to face due to the risk of spreading disease.  After all, many people have the virus and are asymptomatic, so we never know if we could be infecting someone, and that would certainly violate the directive of Do No Harm.

Here is what I can do:  I can remind you that if you are feeling stressed or if you are having trouble focusing and/or getting things accomplished, this is a normal reaction.  If you obsess on hearing every little COVID-19 story, this is also a normal reaction.  Probably just about everything you may deride yourself for is a normal reaction.  This is a traumatic situation, after all, and trauma responses vary from situation to situation as well as from person to person.

If you are feeling extreme depression or anxiety, and/or an urge to hurt yourself or others, please go to your nearest emergency room.  Or at least call a hotline.  Or call me.  (Disclosure:  Since I don’t have other people backing me up, you may have a wait time before I return your call.)  Some people will be pushed past their limits by this crisis.  Do not be ashamed if you are one of them.

There is an excellent Centers for Disease Control web page, cdc.gov, with info about dealing with COVID-19.  It gives the Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, or texting TalkWithUs to 66746.  Also, since domestic and intimate partner violence increases during these crisis times, please be aware of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (also listed on cdc.gov), at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.  

You do not need to be ill or have someone close to you suffer from COVID-19, in order to be affected.  This is a worldwide crisis, and being affected by it does not make you a weak person.  Repeat after me:  “I am not the problem; this crisis is the problem and I am doing the best I can.”

Are Trauma Memories Ever False?

Traumatized

I’m terrified!

One issue I come across, a lot, is abuse. And abusers frequently work hard at convincing their victims that their memories are false. Kind of like a person who intentionally trips you as you run past, then makes a big show of helping you up while commenting the entire time how they really tried to prevent the fall. A gymnast could begin to question his or her sense of balance.

This is frequently referred to as “crazy making,” the serious effort to convince you that you didn’t see what you know you saw, hear what you know you heard, or experience what you are absolutely certain you experienced.
When it comes to traumatic memories from further back in time, there is controversy about their accuracy. This controversy works like crazy-making: the victim cannot recover from a trauma that they are being told did not occur. A refusal to believe someone who is reporting severe trauma and/or pain leaves that victim without an ally.
There is even a False Memories Syndrome Foundation. According to wikipedia.com, numerous members of this group have actually been convicted of abuse. The Book The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis states that “If you feel something has happened, it probably has; details may vary but the essence is there.”
Jennifer Freyd, Ph.D., author of Betrayal Trauma, talks about how the body remembers traumatic events. She mentions research in which children who had suffered early traumas they did not recall, were put in a room full of toys, and acted out exactly what had happened! (Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D. also has significant research in this area of body memory.)
This Foundation has led many to believe there is actually such a thing as False Memories Syndrome. According to the recently released DSM-V, which has been criticized for excessive diagnoses, there is no such diagnosis.
This creation of a phony syndrome has made it more difficult for professionals and their clients to collaboratively resolve traumatic events.

NFL Jovan Belcher murder-suicide

Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide has struck a nerve that I cannot ignore. It was called a tragedy, but it was far more. I’m amazed it wasn’t called out as the crime it was. The Washington Times carried

an article citing this type of violence as an NFL problem.
Most sports figures are not violent. With the huge amounts of money in the world of professional sports, however, there is way too much temptation for management to gloss over issues involving players’ behavior off the field.
Way back in 1994, I was horrified to learn that O.J. Simpson was suspected in his ex-wife’s murder. Though I don’t follow football, I had thoroughly enjoyed O.J.’s antics in the Naked Gun movies, as well as his appearances in the Hertz commercials with an old woman yelling “Go, O.J., Go!” I saw the public face he and his handlers wanted me to see. Imagine my shock to learn about the real O.J.!There are 9-1-1 tapes of Nicole Brown Simpson’s pleas for help when O.J. threatened her, including once when he broke down her door. The police failed her, probably because of O.J.’s fame.
Fast-forward to 2012. How many times did Jovan Belcher threaten his girlfriend prior to killing her? Had she just told him she was through with him? Had the police been called on other occasions? Did his coaching staff have knowledge of any of this? Did the coaching staff WANT to have knowledge of any of this?
No person should be protected from the penalty for abusing another, ever. Sports figures should be held to the highest standard, as part of the job involves their superior strength. This will never change until team owners and managers stop putting their bottom line above the protection of victims.

Childhood Memories

Childhood Memories
When I think of my own childhood, many things come to mind: the tree branches I used to see outside my window on summer mornings, making baskets from cockleburs, bedtime stories from my father, the fireplace that was in my parents’ bedroom. There was a staircase that curved at the bottom, a huge kitchen, and cats. Always cats.

We had a tree house that was only a platform, and one day it collapsed under my sister and her best friend. The house was heated with a coal furnace, meaning the winter nights got awfully cold. I got sick on a couple of vacations, and on one our car was broken into. Police came to our house one night after my next older brother was harassed and run off the road by a motorcyclist.

As you can see, some of these memories are good, some not so much…and of course many fall Childhood memories and traumasomewhere in between. But there are plenty of memories.

Most of us have the good fortune to be in relatively good possession of our own history. If attempts at recalling your own childhood come up empty, it is possible you were traumatized in such a way that your own mind blanked it out. Repressed it. Because it was too much to handle at the time it occurred. Your body, however, does not forget.

I am not suggesting that every time you forget a detail from your childhood, there is a problem. The red flag would be if, for example, you can’t recall a single thing from your second and third grade years. Nada. Not where you lived, who your best friend was, nothing. Unless someone fills you in. But not from your own memory. That’s a clue that something scary may have occurred during that time.

If you start having strange dreams, or unusual reactions to otherwise innocuous occurrences, like for example you jump every time you hear a horn honk anywhere, or you flinch every time someone runs in your direction, or any of a host of other unexplainable reactions…do not discount it. Work toward accepting that whatever happened to you, happened. And realize that if this gets in the way of your day-to-day life it could be time to seek help.

None of this is your fault; it’s just reality.

Here is the good news: Once you begin to recall and deal with the uglier parts of your past, energy will be freed up and you can be in better control of your present life.