Let me first confess: I have it good...but I donʻt feel it.
I grew up with a stable family in a safe, comfortable suburb in the U.S. I now live in a comfortable apartment in another safe, comfortable suburb in the U.S. I have a challenging work life and a sweet cat to cuddle as I stay in place.
And yet Iʻm fearful. Iʻm anxious. Iʻm discouraged. And I know I must make space for this expression of trauma.
In this part of my life, as I reach middle age, Iʻve learned about trauma... from personal experience and from working with a trauma therapist. The American Psychological Association reports that 50 percent of all people will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Well, now all of us—every single one of us on this planet—are experiencing a collective traumatic event.
What does that mean? What Iʻve learned is that trauma is more than "a state of mind" or a "psychological condition." Itʻs a full body experience, and you canʻt ignore it. You canʻt talk yourself out of it. It reshapes your brain and your body. It inevitably changes the direction of your life, in good and dangerous ways.
With all my comforts, Iʻve experienced a series of traumatic events. My mother died from aggressive lymphoma just after I turned 30. I was lucky to be loved by her and to appreciate her as a person in early adulthood. I was by her side for the final week of her life, because I wanted to be as close to her as possible up until her last breath. Itʻs a choice I donʻt regret for one second, but there are memories of that time that haunt me. Some I have never shared with anyone.
I also navigated progressively painful endometriosis, an illness that is misdiagnosed or ignored by the medical community around the world. I was lucky to have access to a compassionate expert who could explain that my pelvis had frozen in place as scar tissue built up, which explained the worsening pain, my inability to enjoy sex, and the fact that I could not get pregnant. The solution was a total hysterectomy. I received the best care in the world, and I was also left bereft without children while struggling with the wild change in hormones that is surgical menopause.
Until I began to understand what trauma is, I assumed I was wallowing. I was taking for granted my privileged position. I needed to suck it up and get over it. I needed to move on.
But the truth is that my whole being changed, and not just because of a surgery that fundamentally transformed my body. The series of traumas rewired my brain. They triggered painful physical reactions and joined menopause in reshaping by body. As a result of trauma, I had no idea who I was. My identity was a mystery to me and I was adrift.
Which brings me to the present day. With trauma-focused therapy, Iʻm transforming again, but in a way in which I can center myself and find clarity, especially in accepting that parts of my identity are still a mystery.
As I look forward, from the vantage point of experiencing this worldwide trauma, my vision for the future is one where we as a community of women create the space to recover from trauma, no matter what it stems from. That space is global. It is safe. It is a place where we acknowledge each otherʻs pain, loss, and expressions of trauma. Hopelessness. Generalized anxiety. Chronic pain. Distrust. Discouragement. Hyper-vigilance. Exhaustion. An ever-present sense of danger. A constant sense of failure because we canʻt "suck it up" and "get over it."
If we can create a space where trauma for all is recognized and cared for, then we will all be stronger for it. We will all be closer, bonded by empathy. We can carry the collective weight of brutality, discrimination, disenfranchisement. We can help each other navigate hurdles of all sizes and fully embrace achievement of all sizes.
Iʻm calling for a cadre of trauma-informed leaders. We know women are powerful and resilient. We know we can push ourselves to the brink to make change happen. We know we can endure any horror while fighting for others. But do we really have to lead that way? What if we as leaders gave ourselves and our communities the tools to recognize trauma and made it a top priority of leadership to treat it first?
I think we would be more resilient, more creative, more supportive, more forgiving, more hopeful, more persistent.
However we approach leadership in the wake of 2020 and the pandemic, we will need to face trauma head on. Maybe this is the moment when we can prepare rather than react.
So take a moment with me. Where is trauma living in your body? Can you imagine its shape, its color? If you read this, leave a comment sharing what trauma feels like to you...and letʻs hold it together.