Everything is not normal: COVID and trauma

It’s that feeling of waking up in the morning and for a few moments nothing is wrong. Everything is normal, quotidian. But as you brush your teeth, it sweeps over you. Everything is not normal.

For me, a knot in my stomach gets tighter as I wake up, as I begin again to cope with reality.

It happened when my mother died. It happened when I was diagnosed with cancer. And, it’s happening now.

It’s the way trauma works. Moments wash over you. The wheezing of a ventilator. The sound of a doctor’s voice over the phone. The feeling of an unmade bed or an IV in your arm. Moments that may seem inconsequential to others but that pound reality into your brain.

For me, it was the NBA that did the pounding. I was watching the Denver Nuggets and the Dallas Mavericks play when news broke that a Jazz player had tested positive for COVID-19. Just after the half, as I remember it, the NBA had decided to suspend the season beginning the next day. The Jazz and Thunder were set to play after the Mavericks-Nuggets, but the players refused to play and the season stopped.

Whether it begins again isn’t clear. ESPN is airing classic games, tonight the Pistons smashing the Lakers to win the 2004 NBA championship. It’s a weird thing to watch.

Old games, old players—a reanimated Kobe Bryant for one—old announcers, but new ads. Every one seems to mention COVID in one way or another, but ESPN’s ad did me in. It ends with the tag, “Sports. We miss it, too.”

Out of the blue I burst into tears, just sobbed. Though I love basketball, I wasn’t crying for a missing playoffs season.

I found myself thinking, “I want to feel safe again.”

And that’s what all of these traumas have in common for me. Each in their own way is traumatic in itself. But it’s the aftermath that does me in. It’s the feeling that the ground will no longer support me. Not the earthquake itself, but the aftermath of destruction and the threat of aftershocks.

If you lose one person, you can lose another. If you get cancer once, you can get it again and worse the next time. If COVID brings the world to its knees, then the next pandemic might end it all.

As I have learned, life comes back to normal a moment or two at a time. It moves forward and slips backward. Some days a little momentum builds and then everything stalls, moves in reverse.

It takes a long time to move through the worst of these things. Especially when they’re still in motion, still wounding, still threatening.

Here’s wishing that you and yours are well and that you’re finding a way to face each day with hope.

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