Spoiler Alert: This post may ruin the season finale of A Million Little Things for you if you haven’t seen it yet!
I have to admit I’m in a position of incredible privilege relative to the quarantine. I have a tiny house on wheels to myself (well, with 2 cats who let me live here), on a huge wooded lot, with nearby-but-not-too-close neighbors who all care for one another like family. This Saturday we’re having a community garden building day. Our existing garden was just fine for me last summer, but more neighbors want to participate this year. The fence walls have been penetrated by droves of rabbits, sections have become overgrown with invasive weeds. We decided to build a spiffy new structure with raised beds, since none of us are getting any younger. We’re ramping up the garden production this year to ensure a steady, safe food supply through whatever the near future brings. We hope to grow enough to help support our local food bank.
It’s not normal life, though. I miss my friends. The last person I hugged (on March 6), my friend Kris, is ill with COVID 19. I don’t have access to most of the medical care I depend on to function at my best, and I don’t know when I’ll get that back. Worst of all, I can’t go across the border and see my friends there. My summer is about bike touring in southwestern BC. Even my home training rides are changed, with no destination stops, and I stay close enough to home that I don’t need to stop and use a public toilet.
People are on edge. The tone of discussions on Nextdoor.com gets nasty so fast, I don’t go on it anymore. Some Facebook posts are the same way. The politicization of the pandemic makes me crazy. Someone said my state governor is “power hungry and needs to be stopped.” What does that even mean? He’s trying to balance the tanking economy with protection of life, and it’s not an enviable place to be in. Remarks like that don’t help anyone. Suggesting that methods to stop a pandemic are right- or left-wing ideas is just nutso. People are fearful, perceiving things in a skewed way, and responding in kind.
This audience is probably more on edge than most people, and that’s saying something. As my friend Heather Thompson pointed out, the decisions about who gets priority care in triage situations are being made by healthy people, and we don’t have a seat at the table. I, for one, feel helpless and devalued. I fought my way back from the very brink of death, and every minute of this hard-won second chance matters to me. Don’t you dare DNR me involuntarily. I’m not 60 yet, but my lungs are scarred from a crush injury. A doctor looking at me would only see my potential outcome and not the value of my life. That doctor wouldn’t know how hard I’m capable of fighting, odds be damned. It’s up to me to self-advocate for as long as I’m able to do so.
I don’t have an answer for how to get a seat at the table, and I don’t want to venture into unqualified territory here. What I can write about is being triggered. If you’re not familiar with triggering, I wrote a “101” piece on it last year. Triggering isn’t being reminded of a trauma, it’s a sensory exposure that puts you back inside it, with the same emotions, the same panicked loss of control. Imagine a Vietnam war veteran with PTSD. Ask them about the sound of helicopters, and they might tell you stories. The stories may be hard for them to tell, but they’re distressed by it, not triggered. If, while you’re with the veteran, a Coast Guard chopper flies low over your house (a common thing in my coastal community), and at the same time, the neighbor kids set off a bunch of firecrackers, that’s triggering.
I can talk about being hit pretty easily. Sometimes it gets hard, but it’s not triggering. Some people don’t understand why I got so little from insurance when anyone would assume I’d have been set for life—when I explain and explain and they don’t get it, and it revives my original feelings of outrage and helplessness, that can be terribly distressing. Still not triggering.
Last Friday night I watched the season finale of A Million Little Things. I was already in a bleak head space and looked forward to spending time with my beloved characters on the show. It’s about a family of choice, with intense, close friendships. I envied the way they stood close together and touched one another easily, even hugging and kissing. I looked at the crowded streets of Vancouver (it’s supposed to be Boston but I recognize all the filming locations) and missed being up there on my bike, freely cruising the bike lanes and listening to dozens of languages spoken around me.
Still, it was soothing to see my TV friends and get glimpses of my favorite places. Until every character had a major catastrophe to cap off the season. It was a horrible finale! Each character in turn was handed their heart’s desire, only to have it snatched away. By the last scene with Katherine and Eddie, I should have seen the pattern, but I was so anxious to see just one character get a break, I was not prepared for what happened. Eddie had a glowing, happy conversation with Katherine, and she hung up the phone smiling in anticipation of Eddie coming home. Eddie took two steps into the street, and WHUMP. Out of nowhere, a car hit him and the screen went black and silent. That, my friends, is a trigger. The breath was sucked out of my chest and I couldn’t draw more in. In my mind, I was lying in the ditch with two collapsed lungs. A hot flash drenched my clothes with sweat as I panted for breath.
The sound of a car hitting a body is one that, if it’s happened to you, you can never hear again without feeling it in your bones. Even my right hand burned with the phantom pain I’d felt in the ditch as my lifeblood pumped out through my severed radial artery.
I struggled to right myself and remembered I was supposed to be in an online happy hour with Facebook friends. I went to my computer with no conscious thought and tried to link in to the meeting. I fumbled with the settings on my computer, trying to figure out why no one else had logged in. I realized I was in way too dark a headspace to participate and I logged off. The next day a friend wrote to me, “You didn’t miss the happy hour, it’s tonight.” I’d lost track of the day of the week.
I’m not usually triggered that intensely, but I think in this time, we’re all on edge, and that makes triggering a lot worse when it happens.
If you’re not at your emotional best right now, forgive yourself for that. None of us are. If you feel paralyzed into inaction, like you’re not making the most of your quarantine time, you’re not alone. (Well, maybe you are literally, but you know what I mean.) If you’re not okay, I hope there’s someone you can talk to. I had the amazing luck to have my former therapist call me to check in, two days after my triggering incident. She reminded me that I have medication for such times, and now would be a good time to be less stingy with it.
If you’d like to share your stories in the comments, please do. We are stronger together.