A Worldwide Traumaversary

Things are looking up, why do I feel bad?

By now it is not news that many of us have experienced mental health challenges over the past year. For most of us, every life domain has been affected in some way by the pandemic and by social unrest: physical, mental, social, professional, financial, and even existential. Even those who somehow escaped the worst of the harm have been affected. For those still experiencing loss, violence, work and housing instability, illness, or financial crisis, there is a clear reason for ongoing distress and symptoms. But lately I’ve been seeing that even those whose lives are beginning to stabilize are discouraged because they are experiencing a fresh wave of symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Many times when someone comes in with unexplained symptoms of depression or anxiety, I ask what was going on this time of year last year. And very frequently, it turns out to be a leadup to the anniversary of a traumatic or painful event: a “traumaversary.” Experiencing a resurgence of symptoms at the anniversary of an event is also known as “anniversary effect.”

As the saying goes, the subconscious may experience all times as one, but it sure keeps an accurate calendar. This makes sense from a survival standpoint. Part of trauma response is an attempt to save us from further traumatization by avoiding similar situations. The subconscious may tell us, “last time I was in this situation, something harmful or threatening occurred, so be on the lookout for danger!” Whether consciously or not, we remember situational cues such as what time of year it was, the quality of the light, the smell of the air, the temperature, what seasonal events were happening, what landscape we were in, and numerous other aspects.

What we are seeing now is a mass-scale traumaversary. A year ago we were all plunged into a worldwide nightmare that went from bad to worse, and from which we have largely not yet recovered. Contagion, social strife and violence, financial crisis, medical nightmares, and other sources of fear and powerlessness, if not outright terror. And we are still incurring losses.

You may not even realize how much you’ve been through! This mental health status chart can help you to assess how you’ve been affected. Were you feeling worse than you realized? Are you still in red or orange? Are you moving towards green?

Thriving, Surviving, Struggling, In Crisis
Credit: National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

The fact is, we have been through mass trauma on an unparalleled scale. In part because internet access has allowed us to share everyone’s moment-to-moment feelings and reactions all day, every day, all over the world. In one sense that can be good, because it validates our experiences to see others having similar reactions. But in another sense, immersion in everyone else’s trauma can increase your own trauma. Also, having to go about everyday routine as though things are “normal” can make things worse.

What can we do about traumaversary?

For any kind of trauma, recognizing when symptoms may activate is very useful. Many times we do not recognize why we are feeling bad until it’s already been going on for a while, or perhaps even in hindsight. If we know in advance that a certain time of year may be especially hard, that can help to reduce the severity. Not knowing what’s happening can make it worse.

Anticipate symptoms and stressors

What kind of symptoms are you experiencing now? When you think back, are they similar or related to what you were experiencing last year? Is there any pattern to when they occur, such as being at home, at work, around certain people, doing certain activities? Here are some common symptoms I’ve been seeing:

Discouragement: pushing so hard, for so long, and although there is hope for improvement, it’s far  slower in coming than we may have hoped.
Burnout/malaise: stress is cumulative, and it takes time and energy to heal from it. Many have not had the opportunity to recover from each day before the next day comes, let alone the opportunity to recover from a year’s worth of constant stress. It’s hard to stay engaged and interested without stress recovery.
Exhaustion: many are exhausted from unceasing exertion: physical, cognitive, and emotional. We may be sleeping a lot more, not feeling restored after sleep, and too drained to participate in our usual tasks and activities.
Impaired executive function: forgetfulness, loss of concentration, unusual time perception (speeding up or slowing down), difficulty planning and implementing activities. Not being able to “get things done.”
Dissociation: losing track, losing time, spacing out, not being present, feeling numb, feeling unreal or that the world is unreal.
Hypervigilance: being easily startled, easily woken, heightened anxiety.
Sleep issues: insomnia, exhaustion, hypersomnia. While many have gotten some relief from the insomnia of the past year, hypersomnia is still prevalent. It’s not surprising considering the cumulative stress and burnout we’re experiencing!

 

 

Find ways to support and care for yourself

Recognizing how much you’ve been going through may already be enough to mitigate some of your symptoms, because they will feel less inexplicable. This may also make it easier to allow your reactions instead of telling yourself you “should” be able to function. Acknowledge to yourself how hard this has been and continues to be! We can’t truly heal from a trauma that is ongoing, though we can find ways to cope.

Remember the basics of caring for your body:  sleepnutritionexercise, and social interaction. It’s unreasonable to expect yourself to feel okay emotionally if your basic needs aren’t being met. Go through each one and see what can be improved, even in a small way.

Also, allow yourself to experience enjoyment! Sometimes when everything has been terrible for a long time, we feel wrong or guilty enjoying anything. But joy helps us to stay mentally healthy and balanced. It doesn’t mean you aren’t serious or you don’t care about others.

Back to “normal”?

There is hope and solid progress towards restoring a robust and healthy society. But life has changed forever in some ways. Sociopolitical rifts have become stark. Lives have been lost, homes have been lost, jobs have been derailed. And most of all, safety has been lost. In truth, we are all vulnerable to illness, we are all vulnerable to violence, we are all vulnerable to want and instability, but the past year has made this truth concrete to many who felt safe before. We can’t put this back in the box. These are real losses, and if grief comes up, it’s okay to allow it.

One sure-fire approach to help restore your own sense of agency and safety in the world is to contribute to making it safer for everyone, whether that means protecting others simply by following pandemic guidelines, supporting causes that help the community, or speaking out in helpful ways. You’re still part of a living, hopeful world that many people are working on improving. ❤

 

Intersectional Life Counseling and Psychology offers remote video sessions for PA residents, as well as SLIDING-SCALE RATES FROM $72. Please EMAIL if you would like to schedule or have any questions!

We All Live in the Same House

Dear Friends,

I know this is a stressful, even traumatic time for many. Uncertainty increases anxiety, and there is so much uncertainty. Discouragement worsens depression, and there are many discouraging events. Fearsome news and social targeting increase PTSD symptoms, and there are fearsome events and targeted attacks happening, up to and including violence.

So I will not say “everything will be fine regardless of the outcome.” Because there will be many uphill battles regardless of the outcome, and those in marginalized groups will be bearing the brunt of those uphill battles. The lid has been ripped off a great deal of ugliness in our society, and the ugliness will not go back into that can regardless.

So instead of saying “everything will be okay,” I will say, what really keeps you okay will remain intact despite the outcome. Because what keeps you okay, what has kept you alive so far, is people taking care of each other.

Electing supportive, fair government is ONE of the ways we take care of each other, but it is not the only way. Sometimes it is not even the most important way! Remember, power comes from the people. That means you!

You, and supportive family. Close friends. Colleagues. Fellowships and congregations. Mentors. Neighbors. Even people you don’t know personally, working to keep things together and moving: Postal and delivery workers, health care workers, grocery workers, movement members, clergy, poll workers! Thousands upon thousands of people like you are invested in keeping life going and helping others be okay, too, regardless of what happens in any election.

We don’t get to choose what arc of history we occupy, only what role we play in that arc. You are living through historical events that you did not choose. So let this radicalize you, rather than lead you into despair (–Mariame Kaba).

Survive, help others survive, thrive, help others thrive. ❤

Intersectional Life Counseling and Psychology offers remote video sessions for PA residents, as well as sliding-scale rates from $70. Please EMAIL if you would like to schedule or have any questions!

“May Her Memory Be a Revolution”

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

 

❤️

 

Centering Marginalized Voices as Spiritual Practice

Image: Jennifer Hosler for Messenger

From Pastor Belita Mitchell and team, Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren:

Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren ‘Black Lives Matter’ Statement

 As followers of Jesus we stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters enduring racial violence and systemic oppression. We denounce anti-black racism resulting in police brutality, mass incarceration, and unjust legal systems that disproportionately harm black and brown people. We denounce the evil “principalities and powers” at work in our world that seek to kill, steal, and destroy people made in the image of God. 

As a congregation we commit to doing justice and peacemaking in the way of Jesus. For the times we as a church have been complacent about the suffering of others, we confess our complicity. By God’s grace we repent and courageously align ourselves with the Spirit’s activity and the Messiah’s reign on earth. And in obedience to God we seek to set things right where every valley is lifted up and every mountain is made low. Jesus teaches us how to struggle against oppression through his example of standing in solidarity with those who were considered ‘the least’ and ‘the last’ in his society. And because Jesus affirmed that poor people’s lives mattered, that Samaritans lives mattered, and the lives of those crucified by Rome mattered, we affirm that black and brown lives matter too, and are precious to God. 

As a congregation we commit to deepening our faithfulness to Jesus through holy listening, through intentional learning, and through discerning congregational public action. As a congregation we commit to creating intentional inter-generational space where the stories of our black and brown brothers and sisters are received with love. In line with God’s upside-down kingdom, we will encourage marginalized stories to be centered while inviting those in the dominant culture to step back and be slow to speak and quick to listen. Specifically, we will make space for this congregational practice immediately after we return to worshiping together in our building.

  • As a congregation we commit to deepening our understanding of the history and present systems of racism in the United States, as well as the complicity of the western church in the legacy of white supremacy. We will study the history, our present society, and the theological implications of racism and its ties to the church. Specifically, our congregation will begin with Jemar Tisby’s “Color of Compromise” video series. We will follow that up with ongoing learning. 
  • We will grow in our understanding of what it means to be an intentionally and actively anti-racist church. Finally, we commit to taking public action because we are called to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Just as Jesus spent most of his time out in the streets of Galilee serving and living in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable we too seek to take action that makes the Jesus story visible to those who have their backs against the wall.
  • Specifically, we commit to ongoing discernment as a congregation about what public actions, community partnerships, and organizing efforts in our neighborhood we will participate. We know that faith without works is dead and discipleship requires a love willing to respond to the suffering of others. We pray for a prophetic witness that pleases God and participates in seeing justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. 

Harrisburg First Discernment Team & Pastor Belita Mitchell 

(Harrisburg First CoB is located on Hummel St in Harrisburg’s South Allison Hill neighborhood which is comprised of the largest concentration of low-income families between Philadelphia & Pittsburgh.) ~

You can watch Jemar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” series too!

 

“When we truly know justice, we will truly know peace.” ❤️

 

 

*Installments of the peace-building series can be found here:

Belita Mitchell

AntiRacism Links and Resources from Workshop

Includes videos we watched in the workshop, book lists, recommendations for action, materials for youth, and much more! Thank you all!

_______________________________________________________________________________________

The emotional impact of watching white people wake up to racism:

Medical professionals bias tiktok:

“Dear fellow White ladies” video:

White progressive backlash:

“This google doc was thoughtfully put together for white people and white parents. Read, teach your children, others, and more importantly yourselves. Do NOT rest on the laurels of black people and expect them to continue to do the work for you.”:

DC physician’s Detroit childhood Girl Scouts experience:

How to show support to Black colleagues:

For White academics:

Your Black colleagues aren’t okay:

“Dear White People: this is what we want you to do”:

“White folks wanting to help? Here’s your one freebie”:

Thread of reading list recommendations from Victoria Alexander:

The Anti-racist book list:

Book recommendations to share with young readers from Kathie MacIsaac:

Someone said I did a racism, now what?

What to say when someone says something racist or bigoted in everyday situations:

Image credit: Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc @AndrewMIbrahim
Becoming Anti-Racist: Fear Zone, Learning Zone, Growth Zone

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Race Action Workshop Saturday 6/13

Saturday, 6/13, 10:00 am:

This workshop is aimed at helping White women (trans-inclusive, NB-inclusive) to understand and work on their own racism/ gain understanding of systemic racism. (Women of any race may attend, but Black and Brown women may find it remedial!)

Emphasis on movement perspective of connection, cooperation, safety, kindness, trust, and inclusion, rather than the western-masculine model of critical and exclusionary activism.

WHAT really is race?
WHY is race hard to talk about?
WHY is “White women” a charged term?
HOW does feminism fit in?
HOW can we heal racism?
WHAT can White women do to help?

Presented by Dr. Liz Yaelingh-Scoffins of Intersectional Life Counseling & Psychology

$25 (or request scholarship if needed)
BIPOC may attend for free using the code: BiPOC
20% of proceeds will be donated to the BLM cause (TBD).

Register Here: http://www.ombabycenter.com/race-action.html
Zoom link will be provided in a reminder e-mail prior to the workshop.

 

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Why Should White Women Teach White Women About Racism?

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(Comedian and National Treasure, Sarah Cooper)
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Sometimes people–invariably White people–question why I should be the one to teach anti-racism to other White people. For the most part, I believe this is a good-faith question brought by those with good intention regarding unpacking their own racism.
However, what it usually tells me is the questioner has already not been listening to BIPoC people at all. If they had, they would have already heard the following words hundreds of times.
Not every one of the following posts is from a Black person, but many are.
Read them now and understand why.
Read every one!

Regarding those last few tweets, it’s fairly common to see White people wanting to be absolved of guilt by having the forgiveness or approval of a Black person or people.
However, this is merely placing more emotional labor and weight on those who are already suffering from oppression, to make yourself feel lighter.
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Working through and unlearning our conditioning into racism is hard work, sometimes painful, and always a lifelong process. You can’t authentically work on your own psychosocial dynamics if your motive is to “look better” to someone else or gain their approval.

Furthermore, no matter how hard we work on it, no one owes you or me absolution. That’s not how this works. Become better because it’s the right thing to do and will make society better for all of us.

(And lastly, why don’t you know any Black women?)

PS: Whatever you do, resist the urge to do a “not all White People,” –no really, do not do a “not all White People.”

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Know Justice, Know Peace

2020: Not Done With Us Yet

Look at this: future universities will have entire specializations in the study of the 2020s.

Turbulent times with great disparity in who is affected are likely to lead to social unrest. Medically, financially, socially, emotionally, and legally, marginalized groups have been dealt an incredibly disproportionate blow by the events of this year.

The killing of George Floyd was a tipping point. We all have a choice now. Will you contribute to peace? How are you using your voice?

How can I contribute to peace?

By contributing to justice. By combating injustice. By helping when you can help. By educating yourself. By understanding the context in which we all–not just any one of us–live. By helping others to understand as well.

Reverend Belita Mitchell (First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg) on peace-building in 2014.  First video in a series*.
“How are justice and peace related in your thinking or your experience?” (5:00)

If you are someone in a dominant social group, there is no need to burn or break anything to make yourself heard. Authorities and media attend well to peaceful protests from White people.

2020 Minneapolis Anabaptists

In fact, you don’t even need to take to the streets. Just speaking up when you hear unjust or racist words spoken is incredibly helpful. (Here is a very helpful and practical list of ways to speak up against bigotry in many settings.)

When we truly know justice, we will truly know peace. ❤️

*Additional installments of this series can be found here:

Belita Mitchell

Are You Old Enough to Remember the Idealism?

I’ve heard that a number of you played roles in or watched Godspell as a musical number at your youth groups or summer camps. I never did. But I did see the movie as a child and we had the vinyl album at home, which I’m pretty sure I wore out memorizing the songs.

At the time this movie came out it was considered very hippie and almost heretical, though by today’s standards it may seem pretty tame.

Have you ever really listened to the words, though? Do you get them?

When wilt thou save the people,
Oh, God of Mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns but men!
Flowers of thy heart, O God, are they.
Let them not pass, like weeds, away.
Their heritage a sunless day,
God save the people!
Shall crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, O Father,
That men shall toil for wrong?
‘NO!’ say thy mountains,
‘NO!’ say thy skies.
Man’s clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.
God save the people!
When wilt thou save the people,
Oh, God of Mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns but men!
God save the people, for thine they are,
Thy children, as thy…

 

❤️

 

Black Moms Are Grieving; Are You Listening?

A widespread crisis is a risk to all, but it will always have worse effects on those who are in any marginalized group. Tynisa Walker has a son who is 15 and autistic. She fears for him daily, but especially now that there is unrest. She is pleading for his life.

Maya Richardson has some good mental health recommendations for Black people, especially Black youth who may be newly exposed to the threats and dangers of living in this society:

If you are White and you don’t know where to start with understanding race issues in America, you can start here: Someone Said I Did A Racism; Now What? A Guide

You might also consider watching When They See Us, currently available on Netflix.

❤️

Hands Antiracism 3