Can we call it ‘collective trauma’? Or is each individual’s case completely different? Is it wrong to complain about lingering stress symptoms connected to the coronanvirus during the last eighteen months of pandemic when so many people have died: their grieving relatives and immeasurable loss paling your own problems into significance?
I don’t know. But despite (or because of) the glorious autumnal weather we are having in Japan at the moment and the bustling return to normality (the crowds! oh my god people streaming in droves into stations and department stores and restaurants and bars up from escalators in numbers that are frightening to the senses; the trains packed to bursting, people talking animatedly and energetically to each other – always masked, though; always masked; a definite excitement in the air; in some ways wonderful; case numbers almost suspiciously low; vaccination rates super high), but simultaneously: I feel overwhelmed. And I find it difficult to suppress it.
Things have been good. My work situation is the best it has ever been: my main school now, where my desk is, is a calm environment with gentle, intelligent genteel colleagues I like and get on well with; the students vaccinated, the lessons going well. Weekends with D are what I look forward to – always fun, going out somewhere, exploring, being spontaneous, laughing a lot – or else just relaxing at home. My creative side may not be at its peak, but I feel inspired and connected. Part of me is well and quite happy.
The other is a fractured disaster. The last week has been terrible.
At the company health check last Wednesday – I had (stupidly) managed to ‘get out’ of the one from last year citing Covid concerns – I was diagnosed with very high blood pressure – the higher (systolic) number – (I am always too blinded by panic to notice the lower one) at 167, my heart, arhythmical. Despite feeling all of this going on subliminally for a while, it has still come as something of a shock. I wasn’t really expecting it. In truth, these mandatory mass medical examinations, while good in a sense – paid for the company, and given the ridiculous hours that many Japanese people work, very necessary – are a great source of clammy unpleasantness for a neurot like me and a cause of stress in themselves, leading to an automatically higher blood pressure-reading simply from the circumstances I find myelf in. While usually in business attire, ties and jackets, in this season, maintaining a dignified distance and saying your konnichwas and sayonara, on this day you are suddenly reduced to a common herd: all the men with their shirts hanging out and white undershirts visible, lining up like bleary-eyed livestock to shunt from station to station like cattle; the individual – but all perfectly visible to all – areas where have your height and weight measured – (mortifying); your eyesight and hearing checked; blood tests; a ‘waist’ check – like a tailor’s from hell – ah yes, it has increased this year, hasn’t it? – a perfunctory ECG-lite that lasts about a minute; a chest-x ray: everyone queued up waiting to get into the portable x-ray machine outside the front of the school; it is stressful, and by the end of it all I was sweaty, internalized, and glandular; still with a full evening of classes ahead of me, palpitating.
With a sore throat rapidly taking hold and a feeling of pressure in my chest, I did manage those those evening’s lessons, but suddenly knew that I would not be able to go in for the rest of the week. It felt like an immediate impossibility. Going to the local doctor’s the next day – less than a minute from my house, extraordinarily convenient – the heart number, to his alarm, was 176, rather high indeed; he immediately put me on blood pressure medication (my parents and sister are hypertensive, so this is in the family – I am not sure why I have ignored the signs in the past). Again, though, and sorry to be so critical (and for ‘oversharing’), the procedure, and way of doing things themselves add greatly to the stress content. It is strange that in a country that is the zenith of discretion in so many ways – so polite, so unobtrusive; never an uncomfortable question about your private life, so wary of offending – when it comes to the medical system, there is no privacy whatsoever. My doctor is a charming and ultra-optimistic man – almost too much so; sometimes forcedly gregarious; he bought three or four copies of my book he was so excited about it and the Vogues; I once took a bottle of vintage Joy round for his wife, who was apparently delighted; he never has a day off and is responsible for an entire community (sometimes when cycling I see his car parked by the roadside; he will be within, trying to snatch a few moments for himself on the way back from one of his house calls;; a very different expression on his face as he stares in a daydream). Though he speaks in rapidfire Japanese, I usually manage to understand the essentials and respond in kind – I just wish there weren’t someone sitting directly outside the door, hearing every word. It is needlessly humiliating.
To expand: in Japan, at doctors’ clinics, there is a system where, as in most countries, you sit in the waiting room for you turn to go to the doctor’s office. Here, however, when your own examination is approaching, you are ‘moved up’ to the seat directly outside his or her room (why?) The voice of my doctor – booming, enthusiastic – carries itself out already to the people sitting quietly, driven slowly crazy by the over-loud virtuosic Chopin and Liszt piano works on the in-house stereo (wild etudes and sonatas which I’m sure get people’s hearts beating much faster through sheer absorption); should you have an embarrassing or delicate issue – be it gynaecological, psychological, bowel, no matter how cringeful, you can be 100% sure that all of the diagnoses, directives and conversations between you and your GP will be overheard by every single person in that particular clinic. I hate it, and – correct me if I am wrong – surely it is different in most countries? My colleague from Hong Kong says he also finds it humiliating the way everything is done without a modicum of privacy when things are being discussed on the teIephone at work: I am sure I remember in the UK going into a confidential doctor’s office where no one outside could hear a word. But then where I am from originally, is not an intricate, often impenetrable, culture of collectivism.
I was ordered by my doctor to go to the closest electronics store and buy a blood pressure reading machine. It had never occurred to me that I might ever need one (even if we know that I fly off the handle, and my alter ego is the incendiary Burning Bush – I am also a fire sign, a raging Sagittarius – so perhaps all of this could have been expected). By this point, though, I could feel my heart pounding rapidly continually, a flutter of palpitations that I was becoming more and more hyperaware of, feeding into itself in a cardiac/neurological loop de loop. At Yamada Denki, the sweet female assistant demonstrated the various appliances available on her own arm, and D measured his own blood pressure to see if it seemed to be about right. His is sometimes on the low side, and 112 seemed correct.. When I tried it, mine was 220; when we got home, around 195.
All of this is new to me (naively, I have hardly ever thought about blood pressure before), but as I am sure you will know, over 129 is considered the beginning of a problem; 150 officially hypertensive, and 180 a hypertensive crisis which can lead to a heart attack and stroke. 195 is off the charts crazy, and I had this continually, in the morning and evening, for about three days. I could hardly think straight. Going in to work on Wednesday I spoke to one of the heads and was told I should go home; thankfully a colleague came with me to the hospital yesterday for a proper check out; electrocardiogram; blood tests, a lengthy and very thorough ultra sound scan; and I was told that essentially my heart is in the right placeI but that I should definitely continue with the medication; make the obvious lifestyle changes; avoid stress. When I got home, my reading was 157; still high, but not a heart-thundering disaster (presumably); clearly, a lot of this is anxiety-related.
I can so easily trace the source. Fourteen months of working in often windowless classrooms unvaccinated; being on crowded trains for hours at a time in the same situation, when already claustrophobic, and in situations where infections were spreading in schools (the ‘cases’ reported in Japan were never the actual numbers – only tiny proportions of the population were ever tested at one time; the situation always more dangerous than the government was making out); knowing that the students I was teaching had classmates who had the virus, was psychologically untenable for me, which is why I came crashing down with vertigo in March – it was as if my mind just simply couldn’t take it anymore. It shut down, and then went into a relentlessly spinning orbit – an absolutely horrible experience that was the worst of my life. My deep hatred of being closed in; of being trapped in enclosed spaces, has been exponentially aggravated by the corona crisis: I can get in lifts/ elevators, albeit uncomfortably, and can get on trains – so am obviously not a total basket case who can’t function. It is manageable. But for example, when I try to imagine sitting on a plane back to the UK – (by the time we get to go back – probably next year in spring or summer now that quarantine regulations here are easing – it will have been three and half years since we have been able to see our families); if I try to visualize actually sitting in a plane seat, and being strapped in for twelve hours, my whole being – physiological and mental – rejects it as total impossibility. Similarly, when the new Bond film came out recently on theatrical release – I have a thing for the Daniel Craig series and am desperate to see the latest and last one, No Time To Die, on a big IMAX screen; just sink into it; see a proper FILM again: although I had talked myself into going to the cinema one Monday afternoon, and had a definite plan to (it will be alright! everyone will be masked! they will be social distanced! there is air filtration!), when I woke up on the day in question I knew immediately that there was no way in hell that I was going there; absolutely no way. I just couldn’t do it. The though of sitting immobile, masked, for almost three hours in a room full of strangers made me scream inside.
I don’t know if I am putting myself in an overly vulnerable position by writing this piece. Maybe I shouldn’t be plastering my own personal troubles all over the internet for public viewing, particularly when I know that people have suffered so much more because of all of this – Bolsonaro accused of genocide in Brazil now that enough evidence has been gathered that the president of that country seemingly deliberately let the virus spread, in the process killing over 600,000 people ; I needn’t mention the US equivalent, the mere mention of whom can send my cortisol rocketing; – the UK has its own official enquiries into what went wrong with our response and the catastrophic consequences. I can put all of this into a global perspective. There are people I know with long Covid; people are still dying even if we are possibly through the worst; this is a huge topic that will not be going away anytime soon. Almost everyone has been affected in some way. Suicides have increased dramatically here among young working women; anorexia for young children has increased 60%. I am not ‘feeling sorry for myself’. But I also know exactly how I feel. And I think both my parents coming down with the virus recently – they are now basically recovered; I sent my mother some essential oils for her birthday this week to help ‘retrain’ her nose the way perfumers do who have lost their sense of smell – and the blood pressure fiasco this week, have suddenly brought everything back to me personally in intense, heart-racing focus.
So I would like to know: what are you own thought on all of this? Is the term PTSD in this context a gross exaggeration? Do you think that huge swathes of the human population are literally traumatized? If so, what will be the treatment? Just natural healing, over time? Is it healthy to talk about it? ( I personally think that it is: the suppression of trauma can lead to psychosis). What is your own personal experience? How has all of this affected you personally in terms of your lifestyle, fears, emotions? (I get flashbacks, and can feel the spikes of cortisol stabbing in my blood when I think about certain things);or have you already started to put it behind you? I am not going to dwell on all of this excessively on here, and will gladly get back to rhapsodizing over scent; we have already drastically cut down on fat and salt (I think we do basically eat pretty healthily to begin, with as we both love vegetables and fruit more than anything else; it is the ‘extras’ that are the problem); bought some new exciting blood pressure lowering health foods, and will be cutting back on alcohol; there are plenty of things to look forward to (presuming I don’t topple to the ground clutching my chest with a face like an organic beetroot) ; I am fine. And now that the panic seems to be over, for the time being (Japan does seem to be doing extremely well compared to a lot of places) I will just resume my life from next week, pop the pills; and try not to think about it.
How about you?
69 responses to “PTSD”
I feel you. Absolutely. Thank you for being so open hearted. I, too, am in the midst of trying to make sense – of similar sensations and reactions – for which I feel guilty, somehow. I need to find some way to make peace with myself, and the world. And to learn how to forgive. Starting with myself. And working outward. Peace to you, and all in this world and those surrounding us.
Thank you so much for this reply.
There is indeed so much anger, so much stress and fear that has passed through our minds and physically in our bodies that it is no wonder that there are shattering remnants still circulating within our blood streams. Which might sound unforgivably over the top, but I think this is true.
You have voiced my thoughts about the pandemic and resulting collective trauma. I definitely feel it. I try not to let the fear take over. Meditation and yoga help. Be safe and stay healthy.
P.S. I have your beautiful book. It’s just gorgeous. 🙂
That is lovely to hear. It’s funny – when I wrote it, I intended for it to be an immersive escape into another dimension rather than a realistic ‘perfume guide’ – perhaps the timing was good.
Thank you for commenting. This kind of post leaves me feeling a bit out in the open, but I feel better already for voicing some of the panic I have been experiencing.
You (usually) only have one heart.
I think my longish comment may have gone to spam purgatory!
Mine have been nuked too!
Your comments or your blood pressure levels?
That is so frustrating.
If you can bear to leave a truncated version I would be very appreciative. I really want to hear other people’s opinions and feelings about this.
My very long post also went into spam purgatory!
NOOOOOO! I want to read it. Let me check now.
I just wrote a long post about my experience, but for some reason it did not post, even though I filled in all the obligatory questions afterwards. Now I am too tired to type another long post. Hopefully, it will make eventually post.
Sorry this has happened. I wonder this comment here is visible though?!
AAAAGHHHHH. It all just adds to the stress!
Oh I do sympathise! I have what they call “white coat syndrome” and my blood pressure shoots up whenever someone threatens to take it. Hugely anxious as a result (I think) of having cancer some years ago with lots of chemo etc. The pandemic and our extensive “lockdown” here in Sydney has been horrible and I think we all went a bit mad. While it’s scary getting out and about again it is also joyful. This sounds really trite but have you ever meditated? It does help and is calming if you can get over the initial scepticism. Do let us all know how you are coping.
Thanks for your advice and concern. Right now I am just at home watching Netflix and feeling relaxed – but I know exactly what you mean about white coat syndrome: in fact, I assumed in the past if my BP was high that that was what it was. At least I know now, anyway, and can move forward (I know exactly what you mean about joy and its opposite; I am not manic depressive or depressive by nature – just very highly strung and over the top. I think meditation would probably be a good idea.
It sounds as if you have been through it yourself too, to put it mildly. I am glad you have come through it and that Australia is regaining some semblance of normality.
And haven’t we all gone a bit mad (or very mad), over these last two years?
My comment has disappeared as well..weird!
I left a long and sympathetic comment….it’s gone but the short comment went through OK. Maybe there’s a word limit.
I need to look into it – but tech stress is the last thing I need right now! One longer comment has come through – was that the one?
Yes….it just took time for the post to show. Another thing that really soothed me during lock down was taking really long walks (with my dog but I know you aren’t keen on dogs) in the park near home. Walking is kind of meditative and you have some great walks around your area. I know this because we visited Kamakura when in Japan and loved it. The thought of getting on a plane is nightmarish right now but I am sure we will all travel again one day.
Walks and bike rides in Kamakura are heavenly: I have put up some pieces recently with pictures about our mini adventures over the summer – and the feeling could hardly have been more serene. I love living here.
Glad you came to Kamakura!
I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. You bring a lot of joy into our lives with your writing. You’ve helped lead me into a new and fascinating (albeit rather expensive) world. Stress affects my health too, although in a rather different way. People have mentioned walks, being in nature, yoga, meditation. Breathing can calm the system too. A therapy called therapeutic tremoring is meant to deal with PTSD and is easily learnt. I limit how much news I see. I read headlines and some articles — but I don’t overdo it and I balance it with calming, affirming things — which in my case is photographs of nature, Youtube videos of people driving through snowy landscapes, perfume blogs and vlogs, BBC comedy shows. Whatever works. Sending love.
Hi Susanna. Thanks for replying and for what you say here.
I think a lot of this is simply a delayed reaction to the compressed horror of the lengthy period pre-vaccination : you deal with it at the time but even though you feel elated by the protection you have received, it is still there underneath. I think it will be better from now – just a bit of cardiac melodrama that will pass over. The PTSD label I only used tentatively as I know that the full on real deal – people affected by war etc, is inexpressibly worse. Still, I think that everything can be incremental, and that a lot of people probably are suffering from a ‘milder’ version of this: the UK medical staff overwhelmed in hospitals, for example. The situation there is appalling. In comparison, Japan has been business as usual throughout, just masked – but even then, when you knew it was extremely likely that the virus was circulating on the train back in the summer, but the windows often weren’t open, and you could physically feel the weight of all the breath of the passengers in the carriage, it was enough to lead to severe mental stress.
At the same time, I know several people who suffer from clinically diagnosed anxiety, and it is very different to what I experience. I don’t wake up panicking or feeling anxious; I am not consciously anxious most of the time, if you know what I mean. Still, the breathing technique does sound useful in case of people with panic attacks.
On a positive note – I haven’t yet seen the beginning of the series, but I thought No Time To Die was amazing! There’s a funny subtle Japanese design thread throughout. I personally was riveted for the whole 3 hours. In the theater. We sat close to the screen, to feel cloistered off from the rest of the crowd, ate popcorn with masks dangling at our ears. It felt safe.
My city has free rapid test centers that I have been making liberal use of, all is well so far. I’ve not slipped into such a level of comfortability that I’m ready to fly again, but I take my mask off during small group therapy and in groups of vaccinated friends.
My biggest concern as an American(ugh), is the covid deniers and anti-vaxxers, the selfish, ignorant, senseless ideological heel-digging just purely revolts me. I know there are more pressing issues at hand but almost half of the population here having an entirely different experience of the past two years is just too Twilight Zone for me. I totally hate it.
I think PTSD is a totally applicable term. Coming from a mental health framework, it does get tossed around a lot, but I believe it’s really true in most cases. The body keeps the score. We as a world will be reeling from this for decades to come. It was hard enough to eke out a living seeking justice and pleasure before, the structural effects this pandemic has had will be absolutely huge. At least in the US something positive to come of it seems to be a new firing up of a workers’ rights movement. Lots of people are questioning the abusive terms of minimum wage labor, and renting. Big shifts happening, but the polarizing nature of the internet stresses me too.
I’m just trying to enjoy the turning of the seasons, Lumiere Blanchd, and my new indie roll-on that smells like Horchata.
Ok, more to say actually. No issues commenting here!!
The cruel part is that what really heals people is community, unity, shared experiences. It’s torture to not know for sure if and when shared merriment and connection will be safe. What people need is to really be able to share things and take refuge in eachother, and that’s what puts us most at risk. We, as a global society, don’t really have an agreed upon container for processing all of this grief, repression, and intensity.
I feel fortunate that I will be participating in a big All Souls Parade this weekend. We are close to Mexico and I am of Mexican descent. It’s going to be a large, masked, outdoor parade, with floats, puppets, painted skulls, everything. I honestly feel like I’m going to walk in that spaced out crowd, and just cry. And love every second of it.
I’m so sorry to hear about your health issues, as a deeply anxious person I relate. I hope the self-medicating journey can be fun. Something that helps me is the STOP skill – scroll down a bit here and it’s a pink graphic: https://psychotherapyacademy.org/dbt/distress-tolerance-skills/ My therapist taught it to me and I can’t use it often enough.
I feel like imaginative fire signs do indeed have a high propensity for spinning out of control if unchecked… I do totally love it when you go off though. It’s like getting to read a close friend’s diary, even though we haven’t met. I cruelly got some sub-$300 flight to Japan deals in my inbox last month. What abysmal timing, I couldn’t even dare to dream about next year.
‘I do totally love it when you go off though’.
This has made my day – and makes me realize I was right to write my vascular high tension bullshit on here and then press press.
Enjoy the parade; going back to Bond again, that was how Spectre began – in Mexico City (where D and I have been); it is a bit Mexico-Lite in terms of costuming etc but I LOVED that beginning and the helicopter in the Zocalo. Thou must indulge
Brilliantly expressed (and nice to see you).
I think what you write about here, all the frustrations, is absolutely right: it becomes part of the sediment of fury that makes it way unfortunately into the cells of your body and adds to the buildup. If I had been in the UK or US I don’t think I could have taken it. The general docility here in terms of obedience and just getting on with it with your head down, while exasperating at times (windows! open them!) is far better than being in a situation where people are attacking you for wearing a mask or whatever. No no – I couldn’t have stood it.
I am glad though, as you say, that some changes are coming out of it all; let’s hope they gain real traction and don’t just peter out. I think that things couldn’t go entirely back to the way they were before though as there has definitely been a shift in consciousness.
Also – you know what, I AM going to go to the cinema to watch No Time To Die. I don’t know why I love the silky high tech luxuriance of those films that have the same story each time, but just do. I imagine the Billie Eilish theme sounded completely amazing in the cinema. I must go!
You know what, the opening animation is incredible too!! I’m absolutely sure there is a perfume comparison to be made here – Contemporary, ultra high budget take on a classic, you know it’s manufactured to artifically hit all the base emotional notes but it’s still great fun every once in a while.
And yet (or ‘for this reason’) we queue up and pay to go and see it.
I can’t wait.
So the brief summary of my long, nuked comment is: 1) I’ve had similar hypertensive crises and it’s scary but manageable with the right medication; and 2) I agree, millions of people are feeling some kind of PTSD from this pandemic. Naming that is the first step toward healing!
Added observation: Here in the US, where our so-called leaders in 2020 let hundreds of thousands of people die, there are equally high numbers of children, let alone adults, who have lost beloved family members including their primary caregivers. We’ll be dealing with their PTSD alone for years to come. Then there is the utter failure to protect vulnerable elderly people, now in clear focus just as the first Baby Boomers approach their eighties. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention, imho.
A great way of putting it. And I agree. I have had times recently here, when I have said ‘what a stressful year!’ or words to that effect and people have replied with ‘why?’, as if nothing has happened. I am furious with foppy mopflop, ‘hilarious’ buffoon Boris Johnson for being such a cavalier asshole and playing with the lives of so many people in the UK; so many things, actually, but ultimately, even while acknowledging these feelings, we shouldn’t give in to them and let them kill us.
Thanks for the advice re the hypertensive episodes: all of this is completely new to me and came as a shock (hence this ridiculously hypertensive post). I guess I have just joined the high blood pressure club, but as you say, it can be managed, and we have already been eating differently for a week and enjoying it.
I am grateful for the chance to be able to just splurge like this on a public forum and then be able to have such intelligent and thoughtful, empathetic conversations with people like yourself.
Your post was a totally understandable reaction, I was terrified the first time I had a hypertensive crisis. I’ve had a couple since but less severe, and not in a couple of years.
This is great to hear, and the fact that it can be brought under control. I think the whole thing came as a total shock.
Did you have to make any drastic life changes, or was the medication the main reason for making this manageable?
Mostly medication! But it took a little time for my doctor to hit on the right combination to bring the blood pressure down to normal, then she later added a statin to manage cholesterol. My family, though we’re on the thin side and eat healthily, have a history of high cholesterol as well as blood pressure. And I did make some other changes, like reducing sodium as much as possible and taking steps to reduce stress. Starting my blog was part of that, actually, that’s why its original name was Serenity Now. To be honest, one of the most helpful changes was that my former toxic boss left, and my new one was much better. Some other toxic colleagues have left too, since my original episode. So I still do the same challenging job, at the same place, but with better people.
My own experience was that stress and anxiety were major contributors, but there were also specific genetic, physical factors at play.
Exactly the same as me. It is in my DNA, but I also objectively and empirically suffered huge stress with my work/daily situation (like so many other people). In my case, in the same way that your colleague situation improved, mine has too – vastly, except Fridays, but my contact with them is minimal and I can stand it (and I love the students).
I already feel the current ‘crisis’ has passed its peak: I am glad you have managed to deal with yours as well.
We most certainly will be dealing with the after effects and collective trauma of the pandemic for years to come. I am worried because having access to mental health care professionals is such a privilege, and, quite bluntly, most of the world is not privileged to have this access. Couple this with the climate crisis (world leaders are hesitant to tell the total truth of what’s in store for most of the world in the next few years–they probably don’t want people to fall deeper into an emotional abyss, to panic, to add to the trauma)…well, it’s just not rosy.
I have been extremely lucky during the pandemic (and I express gratitude every day for my luck).I viewed my isolation and my move to the countryside of Brazil as a much needed respite from the world, from my constant need to always be out and about….it was good just to slow the hell down. Last year I flew back to the USA to visit my Mom because she had her gallbladder removed and I wanted to help her recover. I had a panic attack at the airport. But everything worked out. I just got back from another visit, and, again, everything worked out. I double masked on the plane and in the airport. No biggie. (And it wouldn’t be me unless I added some innuendo: I love seeing men in masks, just seeing their eyes….it’s intense….). I think visiting the USA and realizing I can travel safely while following protocols gave me a boost of confidence, a feeling that, yeah, I can get through this. Brazil was wrecked by covid earlier this year, but cases are low now (The city of São Paulo is near 100% of first dose vaccinations in adults).
I hope your blood pressure will stabilize. I recommend a vegan diet. I removed all animal products from my diet and I was able to get off thyroid meds. I love your posts that are candid; it’s like I am going though it all with you.
Thank you very much for saying so and for all of this. I am glad that you are ok – the situation in Brazil has been so awful according to what I have seen, even if I can imagine the sociability and upbeatness of so many Brazilians providing an energizing counterpoint to any misery and trauma.
It’s good to hear someone talking about travelling as well; that you have actually done it and got through it.
Hopefully (despite the impending armaggeddon of the end of the earth), things will in general be getting better from now on but I agree: the mental aftershocks and debris are to a large extent almost inevitable.
I will try an abbreviated form of my comment again. I am very glad you are getting treatment for your hbp, it’s a serious condition.
As for the pandemic, I know this sounds melodramatic but it’s basically ruined my life as I knew it. I panicked after the horrible lockdown last year and sold my condo in Montreal, thinking I needed to head for the woods. After having a hideously awful experience buying a house in Vancouver Island, I find myself in a house I hate, far from my best friends and the city I love. I desperately want to move back but my husband is saying no. So now I have to decide whether I want to risk ending my marriage to get out of the situation I’m in, or knuckle under and stay in a place I’m unhappy. There is nothing but anxiety and depression swirling through my body. The world is so changed I don’t know if it will ever be the same again. I feel lonely, depressed and trapped. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell right now.
My god Tara I am glad you did repost this, even if it is very distressing to read. I can imagine doing something similar; claustrophobia is a major force – I can totally understand feeling you needed to get out of the city in that situation and making an impulsive decision (one I think I was encouraging you to do at the time, if I remember correctly – sorry!), and then regretting it. Hating the house you live in is a nightmare. Is there no chance you will come to like it? If not, it is not impossible that you will, as you say, need to make some drastic decisions. I hope it all gets better. This sounds like a horrible situation to be in.
Well, as you actually ask for our—the readers’—opinion; and as your post is titled PTSD; and as you are telling us that you’re not well; and as I’m German and not well versed in the fine Anglo-Saxon art of passing over such things elegantly and humorously; my answer would be: no.
No, I wouldn’t pop a pill & carry on with a stiff upper lip. My suggestion would be—as the husband of a psychotherapist—to seek counselling, start psychotherapy, or perhaps psychoanalysis. For a profound person such as you, with your immense capacity for introspection, for evoking concise emotional moments (of elation, of despair, of rage), I believe that would be the far more promising choice than going the way of repression.
Please forgive me if I am too blunt.
Not at all. I love your honesty and your way of writing. And I agree. I am totally pro-therapy and psychoanalysis and would love to see someone at this moment, just to get it all out and on the table (you know me too well: repression is an impossibility for me, which is why I had to just tell my boss at work and ended up in tears because of it all and then ended up going home). Right now, it is too expensive for me to have face to face sessions with a counsellor and I am still not happy about travelling up to Tokyo (two hours there and back) to see someone; I don’t like the idea of Zoom therapy though either. I know how utterly bored and exhausted I was when doing lessons on that (at least three times more tiring than a face to face lesson), and with me blabbering on about windows and god knows what, I know that the psychotherapist in question would be zoning out the other end and I couldn’t stand it.
I will definitely consider it though (and have been: I don’t want this dangerous maelstrom swirling around my chest cage any longer).
How have you been affected by all of this?
How have I been affected? Emotionally, I was very frustrated, bitter and at times very angry at local incompetence for not making the shots available (I’m talking about the first six months of this year). And I’m totally fed up by the masks, though of course I always wear them. Ever since I’ve been double vaccinated I feel safe and therefore I am totally fine: I feel no anxiety whatsoever, no anger anymore. And as soon as I’m offered a booster, I’ll take it.
Here in Germany, as elsewhere I believe, 90% of the people hospitalised due to Covid (thus severe illness) are not vaccinated. And those who die in hospital, 90% again—I believe, haven’t fact-checked this though recently!—are persons who weren’t vaccinated. Of course saying this, I’m aware I’m not thinking about long-Covid or side effects etc, just mortality.
So, all in all I’m cognitively fed up, I’m worried about the societal effects of Corona (rampant conspiracy theories; crumbling faith in democracy; scenes of rage and hatred), I am shocked on the impact on children and their wellbeing. But emotionally, my wellbeing, I’m fine;, and as my employer offered home office from day one and I have been receiving my pay-check without fail, I feel rather privileged, to be honest.
You sound completely sane and balanced, even when imbalanced by what has been happening. This is great to hear (I believe you are very sage). I, too, as I have written on here, have felt an overwhelming sense of relief since vaccination, and generally little anxiety, which is why this sudden spike and blood pressure drama surprised me (and why I called this very hastily typed out piece PTSD, as I was wondering how much of what you are talking about – anger, rage, etc, fear, is still somehow ‘stored up’ in the cells – in my case the blood pressure ‘revelation’ causing some kind of minor nuclear meltdown (now partially resolved, I must say. It is much closer to a normal reading this morning).
I like your separation of ‘cognitively’ and ’emotionally’, by the way – that is a great way of looking at it; in my case I would have to add a ‘neurotically’ as well for specific triggers like feeling trapped.
It’s been studied that people can empathize much more easily with individuals than with large numbers of people dying or suffering, because as horrific as it is, the scale also makes it abstract. As a friend has often reminded me, your feelings are always valid. You are not in survival mode, so the next layers of emotional experience come into focus. As you mentioned elsewhere in the comments, you have only one heart!
A beautiful way of putting this.
And you are right about the abstract horror of hundreds of thousands of people dying; it is impossible to visually or emotionally quite feel it except as a faceless mass. I worry about coming across as a self-obsessed fool in this post, but just writing it and then interacting with you and other people on here is very therapeutic in itself.
How have you been impacted?
Being vulnerable is in itself brave and something I have trouble doing – hopefully you have had enough times getting reactions of “I’m relieved I’m not the only one” when you write your feelings that the worry goes away.
I’ve been relatively lucky that most people I’m close to have not been affected too badly, and I’m surrounded mostly by sensible people who follow the science and avoid putting each other at risk. My company and many others have mandated that all employees must be vaccinated (with reasonable accommodations for necessary exceptions). Many restaurants and businesses are demanding proof of vaccination before allowing customers inside. But I realize that in general, it’s still a long way to go.
Good that you are in a decent organization (I am too, though actually – everyone was really nice the other day at work about it all).
You are right, though – we are still in the midst of it all….
Hi Neil, so sorry to hear about your hypertension. My wife has just been diagnosed with coronary heart disease so I know how scary it must be – anything that threatens the heart is awful, on a physical and metaphysical level. There is a lot that can be done though so please investigate all avenues – and I feel sure that what you personally have been going through has brought it to this level of acuity. With the pandemic and climate change it feels like the world is going to hell in a handcart, while everyone ‘in charge’ cannot take it seriously. That creates a huge amount of stress – the amount of anxiety people are exhibiting has gone through the roof. I have just retired from the NHS and my wife still works there – staff are in burnout.
Thank goodness for the internet and places and people like you, where we can talk openly and honestly about what we are all going through. As the saying goes ‘when you’re going through hell, keep going!’.
Thank you so much for what you write here: and despite my embarrassment at revealing my hypochondriac meltdown in public, I am also very glad that there is an open space where you can just say what you think. Newspaper and Internet articles can be fascinating and enriching, but they often come through a ‘filter’ of editorialized regulations or with an ‘angle’ – I myself just thought fuck it, I am writing it. I am thus very glad that people don’t think I am a total dick for doing so and that it also benefits other people.
I have been reading about the burnout in the NHS. It sounds absolutely dreadful, and Boris’ blithe tossed off comments or rule changes etc (what the hell was ‘Freedom Day’ like? I can just imagine your wife’s expression); everything they have done to just throw caution to the wind, with the very predictably resulting surge in cases, must be beyond exasperating for anyone working in the health care industry. Whether she had heart problems before or not, they will certainly have been hugely exacerabated by the workload and the stress. What can you do to minimize this?
What you say is true, though. If a person WEREN’T feeling stress at the moment, I would almost worry about them. So many layers of it, from existential to daily living; the global cortisol readings in the blood from this year must have been cataclysmic.
Oceans of stress hormones.
Sorry to hear about the blood pressure. Perhaps just focus on one day at a time and not worry about going to the movies/flying etc. Give yourself a break. Everyone deals with things differently. Get your blood pressure down, that will alleviate some of the worry, then everything else will fall into place.
Good advice. Thank you.
We are about to go out for the day in Yokohama and I can’t wait.
I’m sorry to hear about your situation. You and I are two extremes. I have an extreme low blood pressure, 86 -65/56. Every time the nurse is scared away by looking at the reading. I remember so well this spring, the assistant was afraid of reading aloud my blood pressure to the stress test supervisor. She kept asking, what is the number? I told them the truth. I have low blood pressure. Is it something wrong? The nurse replied, well, you’re still breathing. I don’t know if I inherited this problem from my parents. Maybe you can try to lower your sodium intake. I don’t pay too much attention to my blood pressure. It seems fine to me. I think people worry about me more than I do to myself. By the way, I had a big fall in the street 10 days ago. My lips got a big hit and it almost cracked my front teeth. Anyhow, I recovered. I’ll do the New York Marathon tomorrow. By the way, I watched No Time to Die at an IMAX theatre, my first movie in theatre after/during pandemic. I like Daniel Craig as James Bond. I wish I can give you encouragement. I’m trying to live as usual, though I lost my long-term beloved coworker during the pandemic. I think he will be happier to see me live like a normal person and bless me good luck. Good luck to you too.
And to you! And I am very sorry to hear about your co-worker. That must be very hard to deal with. I am glad your fall wasn’t more serious – I am megaclumsy myself and this could happen at any time…
As for blood pressure, perhaps you are right (and in fact, I hadn’t even considred it before until last Wednesday.). In fact, when I was in hospital five years ago, I remember – and this will sound a bit unbelievable but it is true – I actually slowed my blood pressure down with my mind. Really. They were taking daily readings, and on that day I decided to just breathe really deeply and CONTROL it. They said it was perfect, so since then I haven’t really thought about it.
I have a colleague whose blood pressure is about 70 – another co-worker was saying he is ‘half-dead’ or a zombie: it’s almost funny that you and I are so different in this regard; like rivers flowing at rapidly contrasting rates.
I believe your amazing experience about blood pressure. Yes, I was called Zombie cos of my blood pressure. I finished the Marathon safely. 🙂
Well done. I envy you. Since my leg surgery almost five years ago I can walk, but running is now a physical impossibility. I remember what it felt like, though.
どうも ありがとう ございます 。
I can’t run and never did it before. I had a spinal surgery five years ago. Then I was trained myself for 3 years to do marathon by race walking that has less impact to my body than running.
Amazing that you have accomplished this. Good for you.
Caught a cold at the office yesterday. Staying home now with my hot ginger tea. 🙂 I hope you feel better. I do enjoying reading your article. By the way, thank you for recommending the book from Samantha Scriven.
It’s a fun read. Good for staying in bed with a cold. O Daijini
Privacy does not exist at all in South Asia. Expect to have your most intimate medical info shouted and discussed overtly all over the doctor’s office, hospital, & pharmacy. Better lock the bedroom and bathroom door unless you want a parade coming through. I have 2 deadbolts and a security bar on my bedroom door.
It’s very odd, Nepalis will insist on being let in the house. They won’t ask or wait to be invited in like we do in western countries. Even strangers’ homes. They will push on the screen door & demand to be let in, actually saying, “Let me in!” Or, they’ll just barge into the house and walk around gawking. If I refuse to let them into the house they will ask puzzled, “Why?”
Yesterday, I had an nonmasked Nepali teenager ( girl 19? 18?) damned near climb on top of me as I stood at the register trying to discreetly punch in my PIN at the local Miniso shop. This is commonplace. As in India, queuing and social distancing never quite caught on here. I am certain we are in for a huge Covid surge again after this festive Diwali season ends on Monday.
I am feeling a bit depressed after this 19 months of angst & ennui of Covid. I am getting out of bed everyday but colors seem dimmed and emotions subdued. I do think it is PTSD as in slowly but surely our adrenals and positive neurotransmitters have been drained by steady diet of outrage and overwhelm this last year and a half of Pandemic.
Yes. And you have had the damn thing, to boot (are you now 100% recovered, by the way, or does some of this malaise stem from that do you think?)
‘A steady diet of outrage and overwhelm’ this last year – how perfect. So naturally, we had not way of avoiding being affected emotionally and in psychically.
I feel we will bounce back though, don’t you? Nepal sounds culturally completely fascinating: with the house thing, there must simply be an assumption that there are no barriers between people (or something): mi casa tu casa – or is that not it? Japan is completely the opposite in that particular regard; going round to someone’s house is very special, and absolutely by invite only. Hospitals, though…I don’t know; D was saying yesterday, ‘don’t you think that it is because you are almost to blame for being sick and therefore must act chastised and much ‘lower’ than the doctor?’ I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but perhaps he is right. Still, the medical service itself is good here, even if you feel like a sad sack while taking advantage of it.
I don’t think I suffer the brain fog that so many afflicted by Covid complain of. My brain seems no foggier than normal? As someone who worked for 15 yrs in the US healthcare system/disaster, I’m just so tired of the insanity and spectacularly bad policy choices of world health leaders. Nevertheless, we made it through with only about 5 million deaths worldwide, (original projections were 5 million to 150 million). We will bounce back, humans quickly forget just about everything.
I’m not sure where the disdain for doors and lack of personal boundaries comes from in Nepal. It seems to be a rather child-like mindset but
I also think this is a stage that all human cultures go through. Most rural homes don’t have attached doors and chickens, sacred cows, and various livestock wander in and out as well as random snot encrusted toddlers and fellow villagers. I recall visiting a mock-up 5th century Anglo-Saxon village in Suffolk years ago, lots of similarities to a rural Nepali village so I would assume our ancestors lived much the same way.
Maybe they were happier; who knows. I am so neurotically secluded half the time. I sometimes wonder if far more communality is ultimately better for us (even though I couldn’t actually tolerate it).
Hypertensioin is such a scary thing. I am so happy you are starting medication to help bring the numbers down to a healthier place. Heart troubles always terrify me so much, do watch things.
As far as PTSD, I feel my life is forever altered and I will never live in quite the same carefree way I once did. I am beyond angry at anti-vaxxers, and covid deniers. I feel they are putting my health, and the health of so many others in jeapordy and do not give a flying fig. I absolutely hate people who refuse to wear masks. I have serious breathing problems, and I still manage to wear a mask for hours on end when I need to. I am beyond furious with so called “leaders”, who put their agendas before the common welfare of the people, and the foolish people who blindly follow them whithout using their own brains. I am beyond pissed at the entitled, self-important, people who only think of themselves and not of any of their fellow human beings. Who do not care about their communities, friends, nor even families it seems, in their quest to express their freedom and “rights”.
The fact that I do not go out of the house, except to go to doctors appointments, for fear of being around someone who is not vaccinated, and I could end up with break through Covid. This is my world
I will never be able to go back to just enjoying life again, until this virus is truly under control and I do not have to worry that it could kill me, even though I am fully vaccinated, with the booster, because I suffer from immunity issues. This is the new “normal” that my life is.
I don’t know if I truly have PTSD, but I have anger beyond belief and disappointment beyond measure.
Oh how I sympathize. And thankyou for your honesty. But we can’t let these feelings maraud our minds and bodies for too long as it will just be too damaging.
I am overall in a happy-go-lucky mood most days, so I don’t dwell in a negative place. I just know the reality that is the world at the moment. Plus, I bake yummy treats, that always brightens things up. I made homemade macarons the other day, that made everything better😊
This is kind of how I feel as well. The other day, someone on here was mentioning feeling cognitively negative but emotionally positive. If you think about how things are, you feel like shit, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy the other spheres in your life. I think it is good to be able to separate them to some extent, even if, obviously, they are inextricably linked.
I also have to take meds now, because I had tachycardia after visiting hot springs in Italy and had to go to the emergency room in the next hospital after driving there for an hour over dark streets in the Tuscan hills. Quite sobering experience. Now I take some Betablockers for heart rate and latent hypertension, exaggerated by a post covid Syndrom. Life sucks! Please take your meds and try to relax, anxieties don’t make this better
Dear Neil, so sorry to hear about your medical adventures, and I really hope you’re feeling better now. I’ve had blood pressure of 220 during my pregnancies and I know the horribly fluttery, panicky feeling it produces. Meds (and births) fixed it. Not suggesting you have a baby; but I do do what you mention, try to trick my mind into calming down. I still do it at medical check-ups each time, and it seems to work. I think of a beach in Hawaii (corny…). My Omron wrist monitor has been a trusty friend, and a blood oximeter (thankfully never used) has provided reassurance during Covid. I went as far as to buy an oxygenation machine. I thought my neighbours and relatives could always use it if I did not….I guess that was all part of trying to gain a sense of control over something we cannot control. It helped the mind (and one day it may actually help a person). There’s not much more privacy at my GP here in the UK than you report; but I’ve lost my shame. I had lots of embarrassing (and painful) experiences at hospitals in Japan; your doctor sounds lovely, though. Thank you for writing about your feelings and experiences; clearly, you’re not alone, as you manage to express what so many of us are feeling; and reading a “fuck it” piece is refreshing! Not that you don’t manage to stay sensitive and thoughtful throughout, too. How do you do it?? I hope you get to the movie. I haven’t plucked up the courage yet, and am in the middle of trying to stop berating myself for that. I did go to restaurants twice in the past month for a big birthday and a big anniversary, and I’ve got a 90-minute flight coming up soon. Have to stop fretting about that and just take all the precautions. I do sympathise with all your feelings. Take care – don’t berate yourself. We all have to cope with things in our own ways, and you’re a help to others to boot.
And you are helping me in return. Thanks for this. x