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A quick thread about trauma, because maybe if I write this out I’ll be able to sleep. #COVID19 is a pressure cooker of trauma: a set of circumstances that trauma researchers call “inescapable shock”, where we are overwhelmed and afraid AND unable to get out of the situation…
Our brains are amazing at keeping us functional while we get through trauma. We have all these built in ways of shutting down terror and pain to be able to Get Shit Done and Run Away From Lions, but when the lions are viruses and we can’t actually run away we can get stuck!
Dissociation is one of the ways our brains keep us safe in scary circumstances. It’s a kind of hardcore compartmentalization where you don’t feel “in” your body. The “flow” state that folks chase is a positive version; but when you’re scrolling through #COVID19 that ain’t flow.
Dissociation has a couple of sub flavors that it’s worth calling out, because they are so distinct: depersonalization and derealization. Again, these are ways our brain tried to keep us safe and functional when we are totally over our emotional and experiential limits, as now.
I first learned about depersonalization in the summer of 2017 from a blog poet by @ZJemptv about how trans folks experience it around gender dysphoria (links:… ). I had just left a horribly abusive relationship, and then got mugged. That spring was a lot.
(Side note to that particular ex’s new wife: if he ever says so much as an unkind word about your body, you’re not alone, and he hasn’t gotten better. I’m so sorry.)
Zinnia’s blog post gave a name to what I’d been experiencing: depersonalization is the feeling of moving through the world as if you’re an observer of yourself. I experienced it as if I was walking though life with that over-the-shoulder POV you have in video games. Unsettling!
It’s not the gentle compassionate witnessing that mindfulness teaches; depersonalization is alienation and distance. Like you’re in the hypervisor but cant quite get back into the OS. It’s a detachment from your own sense of identity, and a loss of self.
Derealization is similar, except instead of detachment from your self, it’s a detachment from the world. That feeling like you’re watching a movie about this horrible scary thing we’re all going through? That’s trauma. That’s derealization. You’re not alone in feeling this.
(Unless you’re watching Contagion, in which case that’s actually a movie, it just happens to be wildly similar to what we’re dealing with)
So hey, how the heck do we get through this?
The two things I know about not getting stuck in trauma are these:

1) social support reduces trauma’s stickiness. That’s what I’m doing here, in writing this thread. Talk about the struggle with your beloveds, with your friends. Be real that it’s hard. Because it is.
2) find ways of making yourself feel physiologically safe. Remember the lion at the start of the 🧵? It’s a metaphor from @emilynagoski & Amelia Nagoski’s brilliant book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle”. We need activities & rituals that tell us we’re safe…
Because the lion we’re running from isn’t going away anytime soon. These rituals can look like: Exercise. Laughing. Dancing. Hugging someone (within your quarantine zone, for now 😭). Positive social interaction. Tensing all your muscles and the releasing them, even.
So definitely read Emily & Amelia’s book for more on processing stress 🤯

Get real in the groupchats & zooms & hangouts & facetimes with those you love. The tiny invisible lions 🦠 we’re all running from will be around for a while, so let’s help eachother get through it 💪
Two more pointers if you want to go further down this rabbithole: the polyvagal theory & the refs I this tweet, for one of the physiological theories of how trauma settles into us:
& this long and complicated read on trauma:
Ok I’m really going to sleep now. Stay safe, friends ❤️
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