How can we not feel like our heads are spinning with all the news we hear? Right now America has refugees being locked up and treated poorly, growing white supremacy and fascism, increasing “natural” disasters but refusal to curb reliance on fossil fuels, loss of women’s clinics and rights in several states, frequent mass shootings, and increasing homelessness and poverty. As well as a President who says horrible things, makes threats and seems to lack compassion. It’s overwhelming and many days I have the thought “This is awful! I can’t take much more.” I know I’m not alone because I see all the people screaming out on Twitter. It is a throbbing mass of desperation turned into outrage.
Feeling constantly on guard, threatened, angry, helpless, anxious, worried, and fearful is a state of TRAUMA. I experienced physical and mental abuse as a child and have been diagnosed with PTSD so I can tell you there are maybe differences in the severity or the immediacy of the threat, but the tendency to want to detach from reality, be numb, or go into a daze is the same. I currently have many symptoms of depression: loss of interest, no appetite, dark or hopeless thoughts, not being able to make myself do things I need to do, not caring about appearance, brain fog, etc. But… it’s not depression. It’s dissociation. And it’s pretty understandable if you may be dissociating too
Our emotional lives these days are exhausting. I hurt knowing that mothers in the detention centers don’t know where their babies are. I feel a twist in my gut every time Trump is accused of another rape. I feel deep aching sadness at every shooting. I fear for the safety of AOC and other brave women who are speaking out. I feel empathy for flood and fire victims. I worry about friends who are struggling. We all are pretty emotionally drained.
Doctors are quick to put people on antidepressants and anxiolytics when this state of wanting to “make it stop” may simply be a survival mechanism. I’ve been on one psychiatric med that made me into a zombie and another actually caused me to have a nervous breakdown and I lost my job as a result. So don’t think these drugs don’t have serious consequences. Try them if you want, but understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with you. You are NOT mentally ill just because you feel down or gloomy or empty. You are human and complex and whole. You struggle because you care. And that open heart is a beautiful thing. It is a strength, even when it hurts or seems hard. Keep the heart open because even in the pain, we can can see beauty. Marvel in how much you have endured and surmounted. Even if you can’t see it right now, try writing about it in a journal. And soon you will realize it again.
You can argue with me that dissociation requires treatment, and perhaps it helps some. But the pressure of thinking that you have to fix the way you’re feeling just makes things worse. After earning a masters degree in counseling to try to figure myself out, I can tell you that most therapists and doctors know very little about the layers of reality that people in Trauma can experience. Yes it’s possible to be numb but also be in a subconscious state of anxiety. Anyone who has gotten drunk to try to numb pain or drown thoughts knows that you can feel good but still have an underlying layer or layers of subconscious states of worthlessness, worry, insecurity, doubt, and any number of other things. Apparently there are heavier drugs that completely mask the “shadow self” which explains why heroin, meth, and other drugs are still so prevalent. In my opinion, it’s not a “disease” to be addicted to drugs or alcohol. It is simply a desire to cope and feel better.
I am a strong proponent of the idea that out thoughts create our feelings and our state of mind. This concept of “thought” also includes subconscious thoughts and deeply held beliefs, not just the current thought in our awareness. So, those of us with deeply ingrained limiting beliefs such as “the world is scary” or “people will harm me” have a higher reaction to negative news and events. I have done a lot of hypnosis work on my insecurities and limiting beliefs, but they are still there. Rather than try to make them go away, I accept that they are my dark or shadow side. Like night and day, we all have light and dark sides. It is okay to have mood swings, negative thoughts, ugly states of mind and unpleasant sensations. But unless you psychotic, these things will pass eventually. Life coach Rudy Kenard says “mental health is our default state.” It may not feel like it when we are in a funk. When I feel down, I want to fix it, do something to make the darkness pass. And then this adds to my anxiety because it seems like there is something wrong with me. For decades I actively hated my mind for having such unpleasant recurring thoughts and memories. I tried to change my thoughts to “positive thinking” but the dark thoughts came back immediately. I was at war with my brain and it was awful.
Buddhist teachers say instead of fighting our moods and thoughts, to watch these changes in thought and sensation, letting them flow through us, rather than attaching to the desire to feel good all the time. Ironically, it is the desire to be happy that leads to a lot of suffering because we are constantly seeking to fix or improve ourselves. And beating ourselves up when we aren’t making progress or we are stuck in a state of dissociation that can seem like depression. Now that I’ve learned to just watch my thoughts, know they are just thoughts and not who I “am” and expect they will pass, I find that they do change much quicker and now I experience more positive thoughts and feelings. Even if I still am somewhat dissociated.
If you are experiencing something familiar, please know you are not alone. Many of the people lashing out on social media are doing so because the anger and righteousness feels better than acknowledging the pain. If you are dissociating, give yourself credit for being willing to face the true difficulties and complexity of existence and society. You may feel bleak or hopeless. You may want to cry and no tears come. You may know that you need exercise but you can’t get off the sofa. It’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make yourself do some of the things you “should” do. Just get through the day the best you can. And if you can, help another do the same, or at least be understanding that they are struggling too.
You can get through this. If you feel lost or overwhelmed, there’s probably nothing wrong with you. You are coping. And I’m holding space for you.
Legal disclaimer: I am not a doctor or therapist and I am not recommending that anyone forgo medical or psychological treatment. If you are thinking about harming yourself please call a crisis hotline or go to a hospital immediately. If you feel out of control and may hurt others, also seek help.
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