On empathy, trauma, and tragedy in the body
Last Friday, my therapist told me there has been a complex PTSD diagnosis in my chart for a long time. How long? I asked, but she didn’t really answer. As you know from reading this newsletter, I feel all sorts of ways about pathology and DSM categorizations of healthy human responses to feeling unsafe or threatened. I asked questions. Are you sure? I’ve known for some time that I still carry trauma in my body and that becoming a mother has brought much of that pain to the surface. But to have my experience confirmed by a professional felt validating, like stepping outside into the light after too long in a windowless room. I squinted.
Just days before this session with my therapist, some disturbing news about a family friend hit our home—the kind of tragedy that feels unconscionable, un-processable, because of its scope and brutality. The news involved gun violence and has been traumatic to take in, but much more so for another person in my family. All of this has left me with many questions regarding how we process trauma that feels sustained and slow and cumulative—as happened to me growing up—versus big cataclysmic events we experience by proxy—the kind that are more legible as Trauma, and felt more deeply and intensely by someone else.
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