An open letter to survivors in the midst of COVID-19

Once upon a time I had a duck.

Her name was Pricilla.

waterfowl-mallard-young-young-duck-159864.jpeg
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well, she wasn’t actually my duck.

But, she had built a nest in the bushes under our tree, so I considered her mine.

She was a delightful mama mallard, all dappled brown feathers and chocolate chip eyes. My sons were tinies at the time, so we would carefully inspect the nest from a distance, waiting excitedly for the day when the ducklings would start breaking their way out of the eggs and into the world.

Sometimes when we checked Pricilla was there, sitting on her precious eggs.

Sometimes she wasn’t.

Either way, the eggs seemed safe there, under the tree, tucked between the bushes, in our yard.

tilt shift photo of two white bird eggs on a nest
Photo by Mauriciooliveira109 on Pexels.com

Then one day I went to check on Pricilla and the eggs were crushed.

All of them.

Cracked open, contents splayed all over the nest, not a one spared.

And Pricilla was nowhere to be found.

brown eggs in nest
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I stood there sobbing for quite some time, and for days I could not talk about it without choking up.

Now, Indiana’s mallard population was not then and has never been at risk. No doubt such an attack on duck nests is a regular occurrence in the wild. So in hindsight, this was a slightly over-the-top reaction. Breaking the news to my young boys was difficult, but they recovered in minutes, eager to get back to their imaginary dinosaur worlds or Matchbox adventures.

Also at that time in my life, I was in the early stages of working through trauma processing of the childhood sexual abuse I endured for many years, and so I asked my counselor about it.

He studied me with his ever-kind eyes, nodding empathetically as I relayed the horrific duck egg attack. Tears streamed fresh from my eyes. “What is wrong with me? It was just a duck?”

“Could it be,” he said with same sage seriousness he always offered, “that the unwanted attack on Pricilla and her eggs’ ‘innocence and vulnerability resembles the unwanted abuse you survived?”

white egg on brown nest
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

All at once, my seemingly melodramatic and excessive emotions made all the sense in the world.

Fast forward to the pandemic we are all facing.

As my other recent posts have conveyed, I have been having a terribly difficult time processing this virus and the necessary world response to it. The depth of anger and dread and ambivalence I’ve been feeling are as much of a battle for me as the situation itself, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Maybe I haven’t shown it much on the outside, because I learned to fake it a long, long time ago, so much so that I am often able to fake it to myself.

But then I remembered Pricilla.

As survivors for whom PTSD is a lifelong battle, it makes perfect sense that we would have an extraordinarily strong response to COVID-19 and all its ramifications.

We didn’t ask to have our freedom and joy stripped from us as children then; we didn’t ask for freedom and joy to be stripped from us today.

We didn’t ask to be attacked by abusers then; we didn’t ask to be attacked by a violent virus today.

We didn’t ask for the lifelong aftereffects of abuse that cause overwhelming anxiety and dread whenever something real or perceived threatens us; and we didn’t ask for that same ingrained response to overwhelm us in the midst of this threatening pandemic.

We were as innocent as Pricilla and her sweet eggs underneath the shade of that tree before our innocence was stolen and all normal boundaries annihilated; and the same is true today as we learn to deal with a microscopic annihilator of our life was we knew it before COVID-19.

Maybe your abuse was not childhood sexual abuse. Maybe you’ve survived domestic abuse or narcissistic abuse or rape as an adult, or any other unsolicited, extreme trauma.

The PTSD is the same. The PTSD is real. And the struggle you are having to processes and find balance in these awkward and indeed dreadful times is real, too. 

So what now?

To be quite honest, I’m still trying to figure that out.

But I’m trying.

Decades of hard work with my counselor, as well as dear friends, have taught me to reach for “my tools,” those things proven by research as well as my own trial and error that help me cope with I’m feeling especially triggered. Here are some of mine:

  • Get outside at least once a day. Even though we must respect social distancing, we can still walk to the mailbox, walk around the block, or take a walk in the woods. Fresh air and moving our bodies is always good medicine.
  • Make the bed. Maybe that’s all you feel like you can do right now, and that is enough. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something (and you have), and your room will look better, too.
  • Take up a craft you’ve set aside. It’s been a long time since I painted just for fun, and the other day I decided to paint barns, because barns make me happy. Today I intend to get in my workshop and build frames for them. And after that I’m going to paint the upstairs hallway.

And finally,

  • Go to God, even when He’s the last person you want to talk to. I didn’t want to go to church (online) today, but I went anyway, and I learned just like the times I’ve done that in the past that I’m always glad I did. He is quite big enough to handle our anger, our dread, our fear, our ambivalence. He is also quite ready to swoop in and meet you right where you are, to hold you as you kick and scream, to whisper hope to you as you cry, and to love you in the midst of your unbelief and beyond.

What about you, dear friends and survivors?

How are you feeling?

How are you taking care of your souls?

close up photography of quail eggs on nest
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

***

Also, if you need extra help right now, please visit my dear friends at RAINN. They have free counselors 24/7, and so many expert resources and links to connect you to people who know and understand.

OVC_SM_ENG

 

 

 

 

 

Flattening the curve of my heart

“I don’t think I’m handling this very well,” I said to my husband yesterday.

“This,” of course, being the great virus calamity that is before us all.

Oh, I guffaw with everyone else at all the memes. I’m a nurse, after all. An expert at inappropriate and irreverent humor.

 

But lately most nights, around 3 a.m., my eyes pop open and I feel a great dark shadow looming over me, reminding me that this is not a normal night. Tomorrow will not be a normal day. There well be no more normal days again, as we knew them.

 

I don’t want to feel this way. I want to embrace the Pollyanna’s of poets and sages, or sing praise music, or trust the words of other writers and theologians telling us to look for the silver linings in all of this. 

 

Maybe that time will come for me. 

 

But for now, I got nothin’.

 

For now,

this all really sucks. 

There. 

I said it. 

I’ve been telling myself to write blog posts all week, posts to uplift and encourage and bring hope to the midst of this awful ache. That is my mantra as a writer, after all. Words of hope in the midst of the hard.

But I don’t have any words like that in me right now. Even when I dig deep, I can’t find them.

I didn’t want to write a blog post like this, but then I started thinking, what if everyone else really feels like this, too? What if the people writing good and pleasant and hopeful words are making it up, and underneath we all really just feel like this all really sucks?

My cousin who is the best pastor I know (even though he’s never had a traditional pulpit) told me to read a Psalm for a bit of comfort. Good stuff, the Psalms.

But right now, I’m feeling a little more like Lamentations. 

How deserted lies the city,
    once so full of people!

Lamentations 1:1

(The book goes downhill from there.)

 

It’s not in my nature to write about despair without offering the balance of hope. But today, I can’t help it. Any maybe someone else needs to hear that. 

Maybe someone else needs to know that it’s okay if you are mad about moving that wedding you’ve been planning for a year, or not walking across that stage at your college in May, or losing your retirement fund when you’re 64 1/2, or losing your business just when you were on the verge of making a profit for the first time. 

Maybe someone else needs to know it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and helpless that the schools are closed and you have no child care and you can’t call off work another time.

Maybe someone else needs to know it’s okay if you’re feeling constantly on the verge of a panic attack because you’re a nurse like me or a physician or an EMT, and based on the constant updates at work, PPE and Purel make us feel like we’re wielding wet noodles at The Terminator. 

Maybe someone else needs to know it’s alright to be furious about it all. 

I’m sorry I don’t have much more to say than this today. 

I tried a little self-care the last couple of days by bringing out some paint and canvases. My own little wine and canvas party.

I painted a couple of barns. 

And when I looked up, the sun was setting. 

Fire orange and fuchsia pink right outside my back door. 

The sun seems angry, too. 

There’s no crying in…COVID-19?

“Remember, there’s no crying in baseball,” Tom Hanks said recently when interviewed about his experience with testing positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus).

No crying in baseball, indeed.

But this ain’t baseball.

Not even close.

Yesterday, I forgot about my own advice on holding on to hope and pushing fear aside as I reached for the last box of Hot Pockets in the grocery freezer.

I never buy Hot Pockets.

Like, never, ever.

A man rolled his cart past me and we eyeballed each other. I took one look in his basket, full of a variety of frozen burritos that he appeared to have strong-armed in there like a bulldozer, and I set the Hot Pockets back.

I moved on, feeling smaller and more panicked by the minute as I passed the empty freezer cases, past a stray package of frozen eggplant, a frozen, cauliflower crust extra olive pizza, a section of frozen corn on the cob with obvious freezer burn.

On and on the empty sections gaped at me, and I back at them.

No rice.

No beef.

No chicken.

What in the world?

There are no shortages, the press tries to remind us.

This is not a natural disaster, the media drones.

If only everyone takes what they need, they say.

What I need is for my senior college nursing student to be able to take his long-awaited mission trip to the Dominican Republic that is now cancelled.

What I need is for my middle college son, studying in New York City, to come home before they lock down the area or the airports to travel.

What we all need is assurance that we will come out the other side of this unscathed.

No wonder England printed those signs during war times:

Keep calm.

Easy for them to say.

Easy for anyone to say.

Hard, so very hard, for us to do.

What was it Mr. Rogers said? Look for the helpers? We could all use a helper about now, that’s for sure.

But we can help each other.

That’s the one sure thing we do have, right? Each other?

Social distancing doesn’t mean heart distancing, after all.

We can post our own signs of keeping calm, signs like kindness, like patience, like checking on each other.

We can take care of ourselves, too.

Having flown just days ago, I am reminded to put on my own oxygen mask before helping the person seated next to me. That means reaching for the tools I have been taught to use to keep my PTSD at bay,

things like writing and painting,

my dogs,

my family,

and my faith.

In this world, we will have trouble, that much is certain. Life can strip us from much. Plans and markets and governments can quake.

But we can know we are not alone.

And we can love, and love well.

Oh, and we can eat Mexican food. (If you’re local, I highly recommend Luciana’s!)

Take good care, friends.

Take good care.