First published here on Medium, 10th April 2020
I’ve resisted writing a post the past few weeks because, honestly, I didn’t quite know how to put into words what was happening with the world or how I felt about it. I felt my instincts of protection, preservation and hyper-vigilance all surface at once and it took me right back to a time not so long ago (those that know me or read my blog will know about my journey with postnatal anxiety and depression). When a state of alarm was announced in Spain on the 14th March 2020, I didn’t panic straight away — ever the realist; I just hoped it would soon be over.
Four weeks later, unsurprisingly to my close family and friends; I’m still trying to “live my best life” within the confines of our small 75m2 apartment; using the time to create some kinds of structure for my little boy and better the skills I have for my future self. But, I wanted to write because on the days I’m not okay, (as I’m sure is the same for most around the world right now); I sink into questioning my westernised sense of entitlement. With more than enough to eat, a healthy child, healthy family, a comfortable and warm home, access to healthcare should the need arise, and no major reasons for financial panic just yet; (the sensibility of my Virgo star sign means I have already done the math and can make beans on toast look like a Michelin star meal), why do I find myself honing in on a human factor many of us don’t always recognise or acknowledge, despite all of these aspects in my life that are considerably certain — vulnerability?
I’ve mentioned Brené Brown in previous blog posts, but there is still nothing else that has resonated with me quite so well as her 2019 Ted Talk documentary ‘The Call to Courage’. Brené Brown, is a social researcher, public speaker and research professor and has spent her working life trying to understand vulnerability, empathy and shame. I won’t go too far into the details; I mean, we’ve all - I’m sure, got time to watch something to help us reframe our perspective right now. Around a year ago, it really gave some meaning to my feelings about life, my life purpose and my experience of motherhood. Even if nothing else of purpose is on our agenda, (loungewear is the new LBD in my house), you can find it on Netflix — you’re welcome!
Even in the best of circumstances, we can feel vulnerable and not know quite how to deal with it, or what it is. So imagine how that might have been multiplied in our current situation. But, is it necessarily a bad thing? A study published in 2000 by Updegraff, J.A., & Taylor, S.E., entitled ‘From vulnerability to growth: Positive and negative effects of stressful life events’ states:
‘Taylor’s (1983) theory of cognitive adaptation conceptualizes individuals as active agents in restoring psychological equilibrium in the aftermath of a traumatic life event. According to the theory, traumatic life events initially take their toll by challenging people’s sense of meaning, their sense of mastery, and their self-esteem. As a result, people are motivated to restore their self-esteem and sense of meaning and mastery by the production of self-enhancing cognitions (Taylor & Brown, 1988). For example, a sense of meaning can be regained by understanding why a traumatic event occurred and what its role in a person’s life will be, and a sense of meaning is typically produced by either a causal attributional search or a rethinking of attitudes and life priorities.’
The reality for me is that I am pretty tough and resilient. I’m thankful for the tests in the months prior to this lock down. Moving country, being an immigrant (I don’t like the use of the term expat, but that’s a different story), and becoming a first time Mum. I had to make a choice at a certain point to take that pain and turn it into growth. The definition for trauma in the Cambridge Dictionary online is ‘(a) severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience’, similarly, Google tells me its ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.’
I don’t know about anyone else, but I can identify with some of those emotional states over the last few weeks and have recognised this experience as trauma. Not with a view to cause more panic or anguish for those that might not have characterised it as such yet; but ultimately to be transparent about how I feel so that others are able to be as well. I have so many friends and family in the UK and Spain really questioning why they’re feeling unmotivated, or like they’re “not doing enough”. I want you to ask yourself, by whose measure? If there is anything I’ve learnt from my years working with different community groups; regardless of the social and emotional barriers they face, there isn’t a one size fits all approach in how we process vulnerability or experience trauma. But if you choose to, there can certainly be an opportunity to grow from it.
So instead of feeling bad that you’ve worn the same clothes two days in a row or haven’t used your exercise freedoms (those in countries with fewer restrictions). Can we practice acceptance, that what we’re currently facing may be outside of our control, but what we can control is the way we spend the next hour in our safe space, our homes;(pyjamas or a free MoMA art class are both wins in my book). And ultimately, will you invest in positive opportunities for growth on the other side of this?
Updegraff, J.A., & Taylor, S.E. (2000). From vulnerability to growth: Positive and negative effects of stressful life events. In J. Harvey & E. Miller (Eds.) Loss and Trauma: General and Close Relationship Perspectives (pp. 3–28). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-Routledge. https://updegrafflab.org/files/6713/3886/8310/UT-00.pdf
Definition of ‘trauma’ https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/trauma