This is such a strange time to be a human. As the memes tell us (and memes don’t lie), 2020 has been a weird and scary year. I’m not going to go through it all, because I know you all have lived through it too, but when you actually sit back and reflect on what we have collectively gone through so far this year, something that you cannot deny is the resilience of our human race, while at the same time recognizing how broken we are as a result of the battle. We have as a society gone through something that could be considered a global (or at least national) complex and traumatic experience. For better or for worse, everything from the death of Kobe Bryant and the impeachment to the experience of covid-19 and now the national riots in response to the death of George Floyd are being experienced in such rapid succession that it is impossible for us to heal in between. To me, the scariest part of all of them is the divisive wound that all of the events, every single horrible thing that has occurred in 2020, has created in our nation. So many of these events could have been opportunities to heal and come together. Would it not have been a refreshing alternative to have come together and fight or grieve something horrible together instead of breaking us further? A therapist friend of mine said that she doesn’t like the phrase “silver lining” but likes to refer to the ability to find something good in bad experiences as “unexpected positive outcomes”. I have spent many a night praying and hoping that this, (insert horrific event here) this will be it, this will be the thing that brings us back together. Then, I wake up in horror seeing as I pick up my phone that that prayer was not answered and instead things have somehow worsened.
So here we are, as a nation, broken, divided, traumatized, struggling to find a path to healing. Our hearts hurt out of concern for our fellow human – dying from a disease that attacks their lungs, or dying simply for the color of their skin or for standing up for those who are judged by the color of their skin, or even for being prejudged as one of the “bad ones” of the police community even though we know that the bad ones are the exception not the rule. None of it is right. Even just writing that, my heart feels like it is shriveling up in sadness while simultaneously wanting to explode in anger. That my friends, is how I experience empathetic anxiety. A feeling of what to do, what can I do, how do I express my voice and concern without being attacked by one person for my stance or offend someone else at the same time. One of the most common responses to trauma is the feeling of not being in control anymore and I can tell you fully and completely, so many of my emotions feel out of control and I can bet that many of you are experiencing the same thing as well.
I cannot write this piece without acknowledging my privilege. I know in so many ways that I am part of those who get to experience this from a seat of privilege in the world. I am white, I am educated, I have been able to continue to work through the pandemic, I grew up in a home where food was never scarce and loved flowed freely and abundantly. I get to watch the news from my home that I own, on my nice TV. I get to feel safe while I experience the empathetic anxiety I am experiencing. I have to recognize that although the experience of this year seems to be so heavy that I cannot bear any more, that the weight of those who do not get to experience it all from my seat of privilege are bearing even more.
Now, you all know, one of my most important recommendations through everything with the pandemic was to take time outs, to turn the news off, and to stop going on social media as much in order to avoid the posts about the numbers of deaths, the people who are seriously sick, the fears involved in the projections of what may be going forward. To me, with something like covid-19, that made sense, but for what is going on our world right now, I cannot sit here and make that recommendation to you. I’m with you, I am even myself battling the want to tune out and avoid the news right now, but I know the responsible thing to do is tune in. I think with these current events, we need to force ourselves to experience the discomfort and then reflect on what it is these events are building for us. We will lose our humanity and empathy if we choose to turn our heads or put them in the sand. This morning even, I was talking about this a bit with someone and I reflected that George Floyd’s family does not get to tune out. His 6 year old daughter doesn’t get to distract herself with her dolls, his mother doesn’t get to go for a walk and turn her pain off. So, we need to lean into this discomfort if anything is going to change.
So I am going to end this by talking a bit about my religion and faith, but please do not take this as a religious post (as I know even being part of my own faith group is a privileged one that I am not going to try to impose upon anyone else and that religion in and of itself is one of the greatest dividers on this earth). I am Catholic and was raised in a Catholic family where my family was lucky enough to be able to send me to Catholic school. To be honest with you all, I actually have not gone to a non-Catholic school since I was 4 years old. I have read the bible, listened to the teachings of Jesus, sang the songs, and learned about all of the messages that as Catholics we should live our life by. I can reflect back even now to times where we awarded the kind students in our school with “peacemaker of the month” titles as our school tried to teach us about being kind to others. When it all comes down to it though, everything boils down to the golden rule. All the teaching, all the bible passages and all of the hymns, everything came down to that one message. As I continued in my education, I found that most religions almost always bring it back to the same thing too. So, as we move through this wild and scary world, as we try to make sense of it and as we try to figure out what our role can be as we move forward during such a strange time of uncertainty, let’s try to all collectively remember this - that we are all in this together, we are much more similar than we are different and most importantly - Love your neighbor as yourself.
I have been practicing therapy for over 10 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.