Here’s a quick public service announcement. As a person diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) I’m starting to notice certain patterns with people as we exit the worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals seem to be more irritable, avoid on guard for danger, self-destructive. Irrational, angry outbursts are very common. Have you noticed that, too? I’m no doctor, and if you think you need help, definitely get checked out. What I want to suggest considering is that these symptoms may be a clue that you have PCSD, and it’s okay if you have it.
What’s PCSD? Post-Corona Stress Disorder. It’s the mental, emotional, physical response to surviving a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 has ravaged our concept of what civilization is, what society is supposed to do for us. It’s traumatic to realize how long many of us have been walking without a safety net, and how much longer many of us will be. It’s affected us individually, collectively. Empty wallets, and empty spaces at the dinner table. It will take us a long time to understand the true cultural impact of COVID-19.
Let’s be clear, I’m not a doctor. I’m not speaking as a medical professional, I’m just a guy who sees things. When the world’s actions scream ‘I’m in pain!’ it’s hard not to overhear. I could be wrong about all of this; actually, I hope I am. PTSD isn’t fun to live with, and I would imagine something like PCSD would be, too. Thing is, we don’t get to pick our life. As John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.’ If you feel like you’ve experienced some trauma because of what’s happened in the past fourteen months, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned along my healing journey.
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s okay if you have PCSD. No, seriously. That first little rule is often the most difficult to accept. We don’t want to see ourselves as damaged, that’s understandable. In fact, you shouldn’t see yourself as damaged at all, but rather battle-tested. You’ve made it, you’ve survived! That’s a reason to celebrate, not condemn! Some PTSD survivors report a level of denial on their condition, but if you’ve got PCSD, there’s nothing to deny. We’ve all been through a terrible test, and we made it out the other side. Be kind to yourself, don’t expect perfection. This wasn’t a game to win, this was a war to survive, and you did: Go, you!
One other important thing to remember: one of the reasons COVID happened was because people were looking for a quick fix, rather than the right move. In your healing journey, you’ll meet many well-intentioned people telling you to buy a book, attend a seminar, take non-medical drugs. I view all of these people as a cultural hangover from our pre-COVID era. The global pandemic taught us again and again: Quick fixes lead to slow-motion disaster. My hope is that our culture will experience a shift away from Band-Aid, ‘all you have to do is …’-type fixes.
In the meantime, be aware that these people exist and do your best not to be one, yourself. Don’t worry if being kind isn’t a natural instinct or it doesn’t happen right away. I’m still learning how to do it, myself.
Talk With Others
I’m not going to suggest something dumb and oversimplified like: ‘get help.’ What I will say is that by talking with others, knowing that others relate to your experience, can be very healing. While PCSD is just a word I made up, PTSD is not. There are many, MANY, free resources out there and you may find some of them valuable. Don’t worry, no one’s asking for you to stand up and talk. DailyStrength has an online support group you can lurk in, read about others’ experiences with PTSD. There are others, too.
Learn and Practice Healthy Habits
I had a lot of trouble with this one; learning and practicing healthy habits. My background was about ‘never let them see you sweat,’ ‘man up,’ and other abuse-promoting mindsets. Being kind to yourself isn’t just about accepting that you’ve been through trauma, it’s also about accepting that you deserve good things. Years ago, I’d see people who ate healthy, worked out but weren’t body builders and mentally check out. At the same time, I secretly admired them. What gave them the peace and motivation to just be healthy because they wanted to be, not because they wanted to prove a point to someone? The answer, simplified, is that they learned and practiced healthy habits. Small ideas, with universe-changing consequences.
How do you learn and practice healthy habits? It’s easy, just do it. As they say in the gym, the hardest lift is lifting your butt off the couch. Just try something today! Go outside, breathe some fresh air. Walk for five minutes, organize your sock drawer, lay out your workout clothes tonight for your first early-morning workout tomorrow. Read and experiment with lifehacks – make your world more organized, calm, and fun!
Some people use mindfulness, deep breathing, or meditation. I’m not suggesting anything in particular, just like I wouldn’t suggest a single cardio exercise for everyone. You have to find what works for you. Try one or two, see if they work. Give yourself a week for the effects (if any) to kick in. If they do, great! If they don’t, pick one or two and move on.
I’m not here to give you a new life, or a new mindset, in a single blog post (See ‘Band-Aid fixes,’ above). But living with anxiety is something I know something about, so I wanted to share with you on this beautiful Wednesday morning. As long as you’re breathing, you have a shot at making things better.