PTSD and Grieving the lockdown
By Mike Waine
I want to start by signposting you to an article I came across in my research for this post (read here). This made clear my initial thoughts and some of what I’ll go on to write will be taken from this article – It is a little chunky, so I’ll also try to simplify what is written.
What may not be apparent to us at this point in time is that we are in the midst of a traumatic event. Not everyone will experience this the same way, but we are united in our being caught up in this. There is, it seems, no area of society that is untouched by the impact of this virus.
There has been, naturally, widespread anxiety, panic and fear. Again, this is felt to different extents by different individuals, but as communities, nations and an international community, we are experiencing something that has the potential to be traumatic for us.
Trauma is when we fail to cope with the emotional experience of a stressful and shocking event (definition adapted from article above.) Though, perhaps, we try to downplay our experiences, particularly in light those we see around us who appear to be worse off, there is no doubt that people across our community will be experiencing this pandemic as a traumatic event. Such is the individuality of trauma that each person will respond differently. For some, the symptoms may be understated and fairly inconspicuous, bearing no real impact on our daily lives.
For others, the experience of this trauma could have a more visible and profound effect. More extreme symptoms could, for instance, be developing agoraphobia or claustrophobia, anxieties around physical intimacy or even proximity with others, or even a heightened fear of death.
Some of these may ease as time passes and life returns to something like what we knew before lockdown. For some, it might takes months, others years and others still a lifetime to recover and to learn to manage and cope with their experience of this traumatic event.
It is possible, then, to understand some of the potential longer lasting impacts on people’s minds as being symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is less surprising when we adopt the ‘wartime mentality’ that is being espoused by some in the government and media. The First World War famously encountered the recognition of ‘Shell Shock’, which saw disproportionate percentages of soldiers return physically well but mentally extremely unwell as a result of their experience of war.
It is only logical, then, that there will be many who experience some level of PTSD in the wake of the Coronavirus. Those particularly at risk are the health care workers, who are putting their own lives at risk in order to care for others, who are commonly seeing people in their care suffering or dying and who are constantly confronted with the fear for their own health and safety as they serve.
The recommended means to help with this experience is talking. Talk to others about what you’re feeling, what anxieties and fears you have. One positive of the universal impact of Covid-19 is that it is easier for us to be empathetic! Everyone has a story to tell, and people are more likely to understand as you share and open up about your experiences. If the impact is particularly severe for you, then visiting a counselor or therapist could help you combat the PTSD symptoms.
One further thought I want to consider is the potential to grieve the lockdown once it is over. It
seems bizarre that one might miss isolation and separation from our ‘normal’ lives. That said, we do know have much more control over ourselves than we might otherwise. We are responsible for our own safety and hygiene, our own exposure to risky situations and the demands on us are typically (though not exclusively) now centred on ourselves and our households.
Whenever the end of lockdown comes, I’m confident that there will be elements of what we are now going through that we will miss. We have adapted to the current restrictions and limitations on our lives, and for better or for worse, we have modified our routines to fall in line with guidance.
It is normal, then, that once we have another significant change in routine, we might experience a sense of grief for what we’ve left behind. Perhaps we are speaking more to others than we might otherwise, and will mourn the loss of that time of increased communication. Others will be spending more time at home with their loved ones and, once we are back out and about again, won’t get that amount of potential quality time back again.
Don’t be surprised if we see people experience, or ourselves experience, some kind of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ once the dust has settled!
This is just one potential means of responding to the trauma of what we’re living through now.