By Ammi Midstokke
I have decided that living with trauma is kind of like having emotional fibromyalgia. Some days, everything hurts and all the inexplicable tender parts feel raw and confused. The pep-talk literature cries out “self-care!” and “boundaries!” but trauma survivors are better known for their coping mechanisms than their mental hygiene.
Cocaine and gratuitous sex being frowned upon in most societies, I have struggled to develop my own set of healthy self-care rituals when everything hurts.
“Have you tried breathing exercises?” The science is there. We all know this works because someone in yoga class said the out-breath in particular stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. I nearly suffocate myself trying to breath out, out, OUT.
“Do you journal?” Are you kidding me? I make Anais Nin look like a polite, illiterate prude. Go to therapy. Check. Sunlight. Check. Exercise. Check. The Best Brown Service Dog. Check.
Still, some days, the wounds won’t close and I frantically seek the cause and the cure. Because just sitting with it would be ridiculous. Just feeling the feels, accepting the tragedies and truths along with the miracles and resilience is too much.
That is when I most miss the coping mechanisms and maladaptive behaviors and blissful ignorance.
It is also when I observe that self-care, while good and well and essential, is not the same as community care. It is when I know that the worth I can’t find in myself can be found in others, in service, in the humor of my child.
“I’m riding the trauma train today,” I say.
“Choo-choo!” she cheers, as she wraps her lanky arms around me and hands me a tissue.
Then there are the people who take me on long runs, invite me over for a sauna, buy me lunch, and gently encourage me back out of my head and into my heart. It is my community that has been and continues to be the most powerful medicine.
It’s not just the yoga classes, but the compassionate teachers and shared struggles with everyone else who can’t stand on their heads. It is not just going to therapy (good god, so much therapy), but the competent and genuinely caring practitioners that lay the tracks for that train I’m conducting. It’s the baristas that remember that I am allergic to almonds, the patients that inspire me with their courage, and the friends that love and accept me just the way I am — striped overalls and all.
So yes, self-care, but not because no one wants to care for us or no one can. Not because we ought to isolate for protection. Our self-care should include the creation of a community that helps us care for ourselves; filled with humans (and brown dogs) who keep us afloat when we forget how to swim. And those people should come supplied with chocolate and funny movies and hugs. Of course, the latter will need to wait until social distancing is not in vogue anymore.
Ammi Midstokke is an author and nutritionist. When she’s not writing and saving the world with vegetables, she’s washing her hands.
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