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It Was Never About The Toilet Paper: This Pandemic Is Triggering PTSD In Survivors Of Trauma

7 Min Read
Health


I close my computer screen, but the headlines remain etched in my mind like the voices of my father and mother when they told me I had to follow their beliefs, or I would not be saved when the fire rained down from heaven When I let in the onslaught of social media and voices of worried friends and neighbors, it brings me back to a frightening time. A time when I grew up with a looming dread of Armageddon. Listening to how people talk about the pandemic has triggered these memories.

I wonder — how many people are also feeling triggered by this pandemic?

The feeling of impending doom, not being sure how to respond to said doom, and the barrage of negative messages coming at us from every direction are bound to trigger the vast majority of people. The constant anxiety-inducing messages are creating a sense of chaos in large swaths of the population. If we don't ease up on lockdown, what will become of our society?

I have held off talking about this as it has been too raw. I needed the time to move through it, sit with it, be with it, yell at it, and then come to make friends with it. I now see the necessity to share my experiences in case there are readers who also grew up in dread of any type of doomsday prophecy, or life-threatening events. I made it through to the other side and am grateful for the opportunity to clarify these triggers.

I wonder — how many people are also feeling triggered by this pandemic?

Those who grew up in households where they never knew how a parent was going to react, may be feeling a familiar fight or flight response. The low-grade full-body tension leads to a sense of "I have to get this right or something bad will happen," which in turn leaves you scrambling for all information possible in the drive to " get it right."

Those who have been through traumatic events like wars, or have escaped from horrific conditions in their home countries to immigrate to the U.S., might also be experiencing a familiar "I'm not safe" feeling. Even though survivors of trauma continue to be surrounded by the same walls which a few months ago felt safe and comforting, they may experience a shift of perception that induces extreme fear.

Those who have experienced any sort of religious indoctrination with a doomsday prophecy" — as I have — could also be experiencing a flashback type of experience triggered by people who choose to view and talk about the pandemic as if it were an inevitable death for all.

Those who grew up in households where they never knew how a parent was going to react, may be feeling a familiar fight or flight response.

For the most part, I love being alone, so staying at home with my cats is not that unusual. And, keeping a distance from people has kind of been a relief; too many people have no awareness of personal space. However, what has been the most difficult is flashbacks prompted by the pandemic. Worse, I have barely breathed a word of it to anyone.

It would be impossible to estimate how many people fall into the category of "flashback re-traumatization," however, I would estimate that upwards of half of the population are affected. A classic flashback symptom is that you experience a past event as if it is happening today. For the war veteran, they may be pulled back to battle, hearing the same sounds and smelling the recognizable odors once again.

In a "pandemic," our brains try to reason that we are "just over-reacting" to the current events. It becomes more challenging to identify a flashback of feeling unsafe or impending doom under these circumstances.

When I feel overwhelmed and want to pull the covers over myself as I binge-watch Ozark (probably not the best choice), I feel like I am taking stuff on from others. What is actually going on are flashbacks of fear and dread; emotions used as brainwashing and control tactics from the cult that I grew up in. There are layers buried in this kind of manipulation tactic, and it can take time to unravel it. Always there, always looming is the feeling that I was never quite "good enough," so I was not likely going to survive (or so I was made to believe).

According to researchers at the University at Albany and the University of California Los Angeles, many forms of memory and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be caused by early childhood trauma in which emotions return via flashbacks, but the memories do not.

It would be impossible to estimate how many people fall into the category of "flashback re-traumatization," however, I would estimate that upwards of half of the population are affected.

Because of this, people who are experiencing flashbacks attempt to feel safe in any way possible. Some seek out massive amounts of data, some stockpile and over-consume, while some feel the need to control others. Each person attempts to regain a sense of control in their own way.

When we can clearly identify where this loss of control is coming from, we can then take steps to correct what is happening. If you grew up in dread of any type of doomsday prophecy or trauma and are finding it hard right now, there are ways you can release your fear.

So what can you do if you feel this way?

1. Say It Out Loud!

Giving voice to the emotions that are rolling around in your mind allows you to feel a level of release. Our brains do a great job of escalating any situation when we keep it in our heads. The act of saying it out loud helps us to hear it from outside our brains. This immediately gives us some perspective on the situation.

So, go to a place where you are not worried about others overhearing you and get it out of your head. Say everything you are feeling and worried about. Remember to keep breathing, and if this process feels overwhelming please seek out the help of a professional. Most therapists, physiologists, and counsilors are working remotely these days.

2. Name It For What It Is

Let's STOP calling it irrational behavior and see it as it is: safety-induced reactions. Stocking up on toilet paper seems illogical on the outside, however it can be motivated by a good intention from your subconscious to keep you safe. Your behavior, be it stocking up, sleeping till noon, or binge-watching Netflix, are all signs that you are attempting to take care of yourself.

Once you can see that, you can choose to alter your behaviors to activities which will give you a deeper sense of "safety." You could opt to go for a walk, imagine giving your inner child a hug and some re-assurance, do some deep breathing, or call a friend. A small change in your behavior can result in feeling safe again, in recognizing that this is not the past and you are okay.

Always there, always looming is the feeling that I was never quite "good enough," so I was not likely going to survive (or so I was made to believe).

3. Resist Temptation

Now that you have given yourself space and time to honor your own emotions, making small changes in your behaviors will help you resist the temptation to make other people feel wrong for what they choose. This sets up the perception of us vs them, and if you have experienced any of the situations named earlier, you'll see that attitude is a huge part of not feeling safe. For many, this means choosing to not open social media and cut out any news sources until you can find your own sense of self amidst the uncertainty. Granted this is far easier to write than to implement.

This is a unique time in history where the world is on pause: creating a space for us to heal our pasts and begin creating the future in a way that works for us. It is okay to remind yourself that you are safe now and to go in and give your inner child some hugs and reassurance.

Be safe, breathe, and together we will get through this.

5 Min Read
People

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top


You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.