When I first started going to therapy at 19, I had a pretty good idea of the traumas I wanted to excavate: divorce, parental addiction, eviction — the “big T” traumas that are easy to define in a word.
I used to think the only reason to go to therapy was to talk about trauma like this. I sat in the offices of half a dozen therapists, balling wet Kleenex in my hand and sipping on lukewarm chamomile tea in paper cups, while trying to get them to talk about these big things and changing the subject whenever they wanted…
Though the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t officially added to the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-3) until 1980, psychologists have known about the very tangible negative physical and psychological consequences of trauma for centuries.
“Some experiences imprint themselves beyond where language can speak.” These are the words of psychiatrist and trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk. This is also the experience of many health care workers ensnared in the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I just can’t… can’t find the words… there simply are none,” whispered a doctor friend working in a hospital in New York City’s viral epicenter. We were Zooming — both of our backgrounds dark. Through the screen’s dim glow, I watched her head fall into her hands and rock back and forth. Her shoulders slumped forward, and she started to shake.
The greatest coronavirus-related risk America faces right now is from the virus itself, and the deadly disease it causes, Covid-19. There’s no drug or vaccine, the United States has a shortage of ventilators, and there’s not enough protective gear for health workers, putting those tasked with caring for the sick at the highest risk for infection.
But after a vaccine is developed, or cases are treated and isolated so that further spread can be contained, there will be lingering and persistent mental strain and trauma among those who survive.
A boy and his baby brother hide in a forest for months, sleeping in a hole dug underground. They must keep silent to avoid attracting the attention of the soldiers who have invaded their village; but one day, the baby starts crying and won’t stop. Terrified, the boy tries to hush his brother, holding him tight, but the baby cries and cries. The boy holds him tighter and tighter, desperately trying to make the baby stop crying, trying to save both their lives, but his brother won’t stop. Until suddenly he does. …
Lea began experiencing severe physical problems shortly after she was raped. Years later, she suffers from intense and untreatable nerve pain that has worsened throughout her adult life and from regular migraines thought to be related to PTSD.
“I have survived sexual assault and harassment and experienced them together,” Lea said. “I suffer from idiopathic dysautonomia, neurological damage that causes my neurons to misfire or misreceive information. This means I interpret many sensations as pain… Everything from itches to simply having a body puts strains on my neurological pathways.”
Research into Lea’s condition has found a connection between physical and…
Traci Powell experienced a personal epiphany while watching the Disney movie Frozen.
A nurse practitioner from Florida, Powell had long struggled to keep memories of her childhood abuse at bay. As a way to cope, she organized her life so that she never had to develop intimate relationships: She conceived her children via an anonymous donor and padded her schedule with nonstop work, further graduate school, and volunteering. But it didn’t help.
Powell was increasingly plagued by flashbacks, and began having panic attacks. When on a tram entering the park at Disney World with her best friend, she was seated…
Kate Mroz-Weinstein suffered a few aches and pains after she picked up distance running to relieve the stress of writing her doctoral dissertation. Yet despite the discomfort, she eventually got so good at it that she qualified to run the most prestigious road race on the planet: the Boston Marathon.
That race was just four weeks away when, on the morning she was to defend her dissertation, Mroz-Weinstein went on a seven-mile training run to clear her head and heard a snap.
Her sacroiliac joint — where the lower spine and pelvis connect — had come out of alignment, her…