President Biden was sworn in on January 20th, 2020, one day shy of the anniversary of the first reported case of COVID-19 in the United States.
Hope is finally on the horizon after a tragic year. Hope will be our anchor as we go through what is likely to be a year of more challenges and challenging processing.
I am a therapist, so politics is a tricky subject. But I am a social worker and social justice is perhaps our most important value as a profession. I believe the "both sides" rhetoric of the Trump presidency was harmful to everyone. Trump was not a normal Republican president. His presidency was harmful. During a time when our country needed a comprehensive plan and a person who was able to express empathy during a crisis, Trump was not able to do either of those things. When we needed a president to denounce white supremacy, Trump was not able to do so. When we needed a president to guide us into a peaceful transition of power, Trump was not able to do that. We all have suffered greatly.
These are the layers of 2020 and into 2021: a global pandemic, a movement for black lives following another tragic murder of a black person at the hands of police, a divisive election, an economic crisis, and an insurrection. But those are the collective layers, each person also has their own individual layers: close friends and family members dying of COVID-19 or unrelated causes, job loss, economic insecurity, racism and all the other -isms, loneliness, and all the other unnamed and unknown losses.
Now we are at the point when the calendar is coming around to the one year anniversaries of all of these events. Anyone who has experienced shock trauma in their past knows that anniversaries are some of the most difficult times. We need to be prepared for another difficult year.
Some anniversaries have already passed. The first reported case of the coronavirus was traced back to November 17th, 2019, but it wasn't until the end of December that we all started to hear about the virus in Wuhan, China and that it had the potential to spread.
After that things moved quickly. January 21st, 2020 was the first reported case of COVID-19 in the United States. It happened in Everett, Washington in the neighboring county to where I live. Even though it was so close, things felt contained. I traveled by plane in mid-February with no mask and no concern for my safety. In late February, my chronic illness landed me in the hospital twice, and the triage nurse and I joked when he asked me if I'd recently traveled to China. Little did either of us know what was just around the corner.
Larger companies instituted work from home policies in early March. Most people who could work from home were doing so by the middle of the month.
There was run on toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. Pictures of bare store shelves crowded the internet.
By the end of March many cities were ghost towns. We didn't understand this new disease, so we feared leaving our houses at all. Over April and May, scientists slowly revealed what they knew. How masks, social distancing, and washing hands could protect us, but that we still needed to be very careful and the worst was yet to come.
We watched the numbers rise and watched as New York City hospitals were overwhelmed and overflowing. We heard about overworked and traumatized nurses and doctors. There was not enough personal protective equipment and hospital staff were forced to reuse contaminated masks and gowns. We feared the same fate in our cities.
Everyone said, wait until summer, it will be over by the end of the summer. Other voices calmly told us it would be much, much longer. That we would have to wait for a vaccine. That it could be a year...or even two.
By June it became clear that this was not something that would be over by the end of the summer. Then, George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin, on May 25th, 2020. An uprising began in Minneapolis and spread throughout the country.
This sparked a reckoning of how embedded white supremacy is in the United States. Finally, white people were awakening to what black people had known their whole lives. The gaps in equity never closed and are still widening today. Days and weeks of unrest followed.
Into the fall, the number of COVID-19 cases rose and fell depending on location. The death toll rose across the country and around the world. When the holiday season hit, the numbers got out of control. Again hospital ICUs were overflowing and doctors were forced to make unthinkable decisions about who to treat.
In December, we learned that there would be a vaccine for COVID-19 available to the public. The first good news in a long time.
In January, we started to hear that it may be fall of 2021 before life resembled what it used to. And in the meantime we would be processing traumatic memories from the past year without access to many of our typical coping strategies: connection, fun, leaving our homes without fear.
Then, on January 6th, 2021 a group of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in Washington D.C. Their sinister intentions and the terror lawmakers felt when hiding in offices or underground tunnels revealed themselves over the next few weeks. Another National trauma for us to process.
As we enter into the second month of 2021, most of us have hit the "pandemic wall." We are struggling to keep following the guidelines, while knowing we need to continue for much longer than we originally expected.
We don't always experience anniversaries like events on a calendar; we experience them in our bodies. Our body recognizes changes in weather, different levels of sunlight, and our surroundings. This all happens below our cognition. Your body reacts to things that most of the time you won't even know the reason why. That’s why it's important to recognize this as a possibility as the anniversaries approach in order to prepare yourself.
In reading this, your body may even be reacting in the moment. Check in with yourself. Are your muscles tense? Is there a lump in your throat? Has your heart rate increased? If so, take a moment to ground yourself. Feel what is beneath you, the floor beneath your feet, the chair beneath your sit bones. Bring to mind an image something moving downward (rain, honey, a falling leaf, energy) and disappearing into the ground.
This may be a small sign of what's to come.
What can you be prepared for? How can you increase your awareness in check in with yourself as needed?
Awareness increases self-compassion. If you recognize that anniversaries of traumatic events will have an impact on your body and senses, you can be compassionate with yourself when unpredictable thoughts and behaviors arise.
So once again we are called to be patient and we can use the evidence of the past year to show us that we are able to do so. But we need to be aware of how these triggers may rise and fall like waves. Awareness is 90% of the battle. The other 10% is learning ways to ground yourself when triggers come into your awareness.
One day we will be on the other side of this bridge. The land over there may look different and may require us to adapt to new things, but we will look back and know we were always more resilient than we thought.
"When we learn how to be resilient, we learn how to embrace the the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience." - Jaeda Dewalt
We're starting to hear about COVID-19 "long haulers." These are people who have ongoing symptoms many months after contracting the virus. I wrote a blog post for Global Lyme Alliance about how those of us with chronic Lyme disease are also "long haulers," just with a different infection. Medicine may be years away from finding help for COVID long haulers, so I wanted to write a post showing support from one group of long haulers to another.
You can read the full post here:
COVID-19 Long Haulers, We See You
Do you think the existence of COVID-19 long haulers will change anything for other people with chronic and complex illnesses?
"Empathy is finding echoes of another person in yourself." - Moshin Hamid
As we approach the 2020 election, maybe you'd like to up your activism efforts. You may have noticed that sometimes ADHD and activism don't mix. For example, you are often asked to simply, "pick up the phone and call your representative." But this action is far from simple for someone with ADHD. It would require finding your representative, obtaining their contact information, carving out time to reach out to them, and then, the most difficult step of all, call them on the phone.
What may take a neurotypical activist five minutes and trigger no stress response, would be an entire afternoon filled with stress for someone with ADHD.
What if you want to make change, but find yourself paralyzed when it comes to the action steps.
Let’s remember the 5 things that activate people with ADHD:
Activism may be one of your interests and passions, it is certainly challenging, and may be new to you...but usually there is no hard deadline. This is likely why it gets put in the "later" category and as you deal with the other 'to dos' in life.
So how do we move from idea to action?
1. Take an inventory of your interests.
What gets your blood pumping. The environment? Anti-racism? Voting rights? Homelessness? Mental health? There are so many problems in the world, limiting ourselves to one or two issues is challenging for everyone, especially those with ADHD. The smaller our scope, the bigger impact we can make by choosing one issue and puting all of our energy toward it.
Start by identifying your core issue and then imagine ways in which you can help. If you choose the environment, could you get involved with a group that works to elect politicians who advocate for sustainability, cleans trash from waterways, or promotes recycling?
Don't try to reinvent the wheel. There are likely already people doing the work, which makes starting easier.
2. Start small and work your way up.
People with ADHD often have a more limited capacity to what they can fit in a day, so it is best to start with the smallest task possible. Notice if the small task causes too much stress before you add on.
There are websites where with just a few clicks of the mouse you can do some good. The website Greater Good has a "Click to Give" program where you are sent a daily reminder to click on their website, which allows you to provide a free donation to the cause of the day. Free Rice and Free Kibble are websites that allow you to fight hunger and provide food for shelter pets, respectively, by answering trivia questions.
Spreading awareness about your cause on social media is another small place to start. Social media trends and hashtags drive the conversation. Political campaigns urge you to have conversations with your friends and relatives and posting on social media is one way to start the conversation.
Another small way to engage in activism is to sign petitions. You may see these petitions come across your social media feed. Research the platform where the petition originates to determine if it is safe to add your information. The platform change.org is generally safe, while other lesser known sites should be vetted.
Move from these smaller actions to slightly bigger ones, like joining an online group for the cause you are interested in or going to a one time event.
3. Be aware of what triggers your Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD).
If the only opportunities for activism come with a high probability of rejections, you may avoid any action at all.
Actions that may trigger your RSD are phone banking and canvassing. Being hung up on or a door closing in your face may feel personal. If you want to engage in phone banking or canvassing, practice positive self-talk beforehand. Remind yourself that it is not personal and that these forms of activism are cornerstones of our democracy. Awkward interactions are just that, they are not life threatening and are inevitable.
Sometimes we need to push the edges of RSD to gain evidence that small rejections are not as bad as you have built it up to be, but if that doesn’t feel possible consider options that avoid triggering RSD: donating, signing petitions, sending texts and emails, or attending a protest.
4. Create systems for activism.
Living with ADHD is all about experimenting with different systems until you find the ones that work for you. ADHD and activism is no different. If you want to be an activist, you will need a system.
Consider creating a document with all the contact information for your local, state, and National representatives for where you live. That way you don’t have to look up the information every time you want to reach out to them to voice a concern.
Sign up for the email newsletter from an organization that you care about. This is a good way to stay up to date about opportunities and keep activism in front of mind.
Consider recurring events, such as volunteering once a month on the same day every month or choose an hour or two the same time every week for a week for activism.
5. Enlist others to join you.
If you notice you are having difficulty moving from ideas to action, enlist social support. Having ADHD sometimes requires backup in order to cross the finish line.
Ask a friend to volunteer at the food bank with you or schedule a time when you both can write postcards or send texts together, even if you live in different places. Just knowing there is someone out there working with you will help fuel your motivation.
Talk to your friends and family about the activism you are doing. This provides accountability and motivation to continue the work.
6. Make sure you are registered to vote.
Above all, our most important form of activism is voting. Select times of year, you have the opportunity to vote for elected officials who will represent your values and beliefs.
There are often barriers to register and stay registered to vote. When people with ADHD are faced with a complicated, multi-step process, they often give up before completing the task.
Overcome these barriers by giving yourself plenty of time to complete the task, reminding yourself of the importance of registering to vote or voting, and enlisting support if you hit a roadblock.
You can register to vote or verify your voting registration at vote.org.
Once you verify your voting registration, make a plan to vote. Use the same process you used to get registered. Your voice matters.
Making change isn’t easy for people with ADHD, but with a few tweaks you can make a big impact.
"If things are wrong and there is a lack of justice and an inequality, someone needs to say something and why can't it be you?" - Megan Markle
I'm Kerry (She/Her/Hers) and I am a licensed therapist, writer & speaker. This is a positive space focused on how to thrive in any situation and the transformative power of suffering.