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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Trauma - 'like a slow-turning vice'

If, despite showing no symptoms of coronavirus, you are feeling worse than you think you ought to, you are not alone. A trauma expert has written an illuminating description of why the present restrictions on movement are having an impact on the well-being of many.

Philippa Smethurst's insights as to why some people are struggling more than others – 'Mental and physical health in a time of Covid-19' – show ways in which the worldwide pandemic is hard to process for all of us and poses particular problems for some.

This event is a trauma, she writes, not in a dramatic way as with a terrorist attack or a fire. But it has the quality of a slow-dawning reality: 'a crisis that builds a bit more each day, like a slow-turning vice'.

Smethurst's work came to our notice thanks to a supporter of the network of Anna Chaplains in Kent. As we fumble towards understanding the reasons why spending a prolonged period of time in our home environments should be quite so destablising, Smethurst's analysis is reassuring.

'Our security has been cut across through this trauma. We can no longer be sure of our fundamental security at the most basic of levels. We can no longer be sure that we will survive this or, as importantly, whether our loved ones will. Every day on the BBC, we hear the rising numbers of deaths and steadily and surely, we learn that this virus is affecting those in our local and social communities. Like the moving in of a concentric circle with us in the centre, Covid-19 steadily comes, encroaching on our sense of who we are and our sense of what the world is. We are afraid, it is scary to lose our security and it is scary to imagine losses that we cannot know.'

What we are experiencing can result in some former, unresolved, losses resurfacing. 'Trauma activation can lead us down roads that we are terribly familiar with. It is like a horrible but inevitable inner prison of helplessness. Even if we do not have a trauma history and do not recognise this kind of triggering, we may notice in the crisis that old wounds or losses might resurface and beliefs that we should be a certain way or should not be a certain way; this may not feel very comfortable at all.'

Her concern, she argues, 'is that there may not be enough people around to help at the moment. I perceive there is a need for psycho-education to support individuals who feel taken over and at the mercy of their mind and body experiences and are alone and helpless with their triggering.'

She goes on to detail three key forms of self-awareness we would do well to be alert to if we or those closest to us are battling with their mental health at this time. You may read Smethurst's full paper, 'Mental and physical health in a time of Covid-19,' here.



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