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Confinement and trauma

A week of confinement: anger, ups and downs, and retraumatization

We have already been in confinement for a week, and today our government has announced the extension of the State of Alert for another 15 days, until 11 April. It is likely that another 15 days will follow.

At the beginning of the State of Alert my reaction was mainly one of anger. Anger at the militarization of life (the military in the streets), anger at norms that do not take into account the reality and the emotional needs of non-heteronormative people (or even of heterosexual people who do not live as a couple): many of us do not live as a couple and have diverse affective networks. Although I fully understand the need for social distancing, for us it is harder.

Initially I tried to keep as much as possible the normality: going to my job (although there was nobody else), doing the shopping in the most normal way possible, and staying at home mainly. Although I don't share that we can't go for a walk alone, and I really need it when I'm down, I need it to calm down and recover. It's not that I would go out for the pure enjoyment of a walk, but for my mental health.

Unfortunately, this normalcy thing didn't work out. On Wednesday I had to stop my work, unable to concentrate on anything. That's why on Thursday I arranged to have lunch with a friend. It was wonderful, having a few hours of normality (although illegal), and it helped me, at least temporarily. However, on Thursday afternoon came another downturn: we had a video call between friends, but I had to leave it soon as the fact of doing it by video and not in person threw me even more down. On Friday morning I was already in a bad way. I had to cry for a while, without really understanding why. Pain? Sadness? I felt it was more pain, but from what source? I took a walk through four pharmacies to get my hormone treatment (since December a large part of the hormones (estrogens) are missing in the whole Spanish state, and I already had to change the medicine, and again I had problems getting it), and it also helped me to calm down, and I spent the rest of the day at home, unable to do anything.

On Saturday I felt better, at least able to read, although not much else. I also spent some time making a vegan pizza and other food. In the afternoon I had some calls (simple mobile calls, no video) with some friends, and I felt quite calm.

Today, Sunday, I had another powerful downturn at the beginning of the morning. Thinking about the (virtual) assembly of my climate justice group I started to cry. I couldn't bear to see my friends and colleagues on the screen alone, when we usually hug each other when we see each other. I understand perfectly that it cannot be, but I could not bear the idea of the virtual assembly.

I left the house towards the river, still crying at times. Luckily, there were no police. I was not in a mood for a kind answer, nor for lying and pretending to have any other need than my mental health, and the need to sit by the river to cry and calm down. I probably sat there for at least half an hour, gradually calming down (very little). The rest of the day I spent at home doing nothing. Unable to read or do anything. I listened to music. I took a bath. I was bored. I was and am emotionally unbalanced, too shaken up. Sadness. Isolation. Anger. Pain. I find it difficult to identify the cacophony of my emotions, and even more so where they come from.

I'm thinking about my childhood and adolescence, and about the trauma I carry with me from this part of my life. The feeling of isolation, the lack of affection, the lack of physical contact (except for my mother, from whom I could not tolerate any physical contact. I hated her and still do). I understand now that I quickly enter the pattern of fear of abandonment, of being abandoned (I lived it strongly last Christmas), but this time it is not this. I understand that no one is abandoning me, that it is the circumstances.

On the other hand, I usually do well to be on my own, if I have chosen to be. It is obvious that now I have not chosen to stay at home, although this has also changed: as one of my flatmates has symptoms of COVID-19, she has to isolate herself in her room. This also changes my assessment of the risks, i.e., as the probability of catching it is now high, so is the probability that I could pass it on to someone else, which I don't want to do. With this I accept that for now I can't see another person, unfortunately (but I won't give up a walk when I need one).

There is still a very large black hole from my trauma, and I don't know if the source of the pain is in this black hole. Although I felt isolated from other people many times, especially during my childhood and adolescence, I don't know if this is really it. Obviously, I feel the isolation, the social alienation. I feel the lack of physical contact, the lack of hugs, strong hugs (and I had to learn to first tolerate and later enjoy the hugs). I think my emotional state has something to do with the lack of hugs, but at the same time I doubt that this is it. There is something behind it that is stronger.

There is a pattern that I have to change. But to change it I have to identify it. Some friends recommended that I also see the positive side of confinement: less pollution, CO2 emissions are down, animals are returning to places previously occupied by us human animals. Already with my mind I find it difficult to see the positive - I quickly turn to the negative: the probable application of the schock doctrine when confinement ends, the "need" for economic recovery in capitalist terms (growth), social demobilization, more poverty, more racism, more authoritarianism. Hopelessness already predominates at the head level, and in any case the positive aspects do not reach the emotional level.

I feel despair. Perhaps this despair has something to do with the despair of my childhood and adolescence, when I had no hope and simply tried to survive? Surviving in the context of a toxic family, unable to see me, to understand me, to respond to my emotional needs, and instead threatening me with abandonment. Some "friends" who became my worst bullies when we were in a group, bullying me for not complying with male norms. For many years I didn't see any way out, and I was simply surviving, without hope, and trying not to feel anything. I survived, but I was severely traumatized.

With the confinement, the cancellation of major mobilizations for climate justice, my own isolation, despair returns. A deep despair. And even deeper despair, as I see no options for action. And my prognosis for later is even worse. I lack the strength to keep up, and I don't know what to do. I'm going crazy.

I don't know if all this makes sense. I don't understand myself, beyond the despair.



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Article | by Dr. Radut