Now that the pandemic has us all in a crisis situation, we’re about to find out to find out who falls apart in a crisis, and who rises up to serve, lead and encourage others. The ones who shine are not always who we expected — have you noticed this?
Here in California we’ve been sheltering in place for over two weeks now. Everywhere in the world, we’re trying to figure out how best to respond to the pandemic, how best to care for ourselves and the people we love. It’s a work in progress.
For my part, I’ve got my office setup to keep making videos (using Zoom and doing my own editing now, since my adult son, who usually shoots and edits my videos, has decided to shelter in place with his girlfriend at their home 400 miles away.
At first I thought I’d be stuck without his help, but like everyone else, I quickly learned new ways to stay on-mission. It’s OK that my videos are not recorded on Zoom and edited (crudely) by me. This workaround allows me to support the whole Fairy community (and virtually anyone dealing with fear and stress right now) to calm their symptoms and rise up STRONG.
Those of us who grew up with trauma are often skilled at living through a crisis. It’s not uncommon that in hard times, we step up as leaders, and as sources of inspiration and strength for other people in our lives. As some people describe it, we serve as a light.
Being a light is what we are all made for. It’s what we’re meant to be at all times.
It’s an ironic silver lining of Childhood PTSD that, when we went into fight or flight mode as kids, a lot of us developed the ability to compartmentalize stress and fear, so that we could keep going, look normal, keep order in the house. Even as little kids we did that!
A month ago and all last year we talked about how that response to stress like everything is a crisis is not healthy, and leads to weird life choices and a lot of stress on our bodies and our relationships and the long-term trajectory of our lives.
But when we are genuinely in a crisis? You know what? A lot of us discover our true greatness. And you see this among world leaders and heroes like nurses and soldiers and first responders – some of the most accomplished people, who have contributed the most to society in crisis times – had serious trauma during childhood.
It doesn’t have to ruin us. For some of us it’s a place where we’re tested and formed, and if you can do nothing else during this completely strange, paralyzed, frightening period of our collective history, I encourage you to to step up and let your light shine.
Now what, really, do we mean by light – and how do we brighten that light, and why should we want to?
It’s through the quality of character I call ballast.
If you don’t know the word, ballast is the word for heavy material like sand or metal that is often piled inside the bottom of a ship to hold it steady. The seas might get choppy, but the ship isn’t bouncing around and rocking. It has ballast.
Another kind of ballast is an electrical ballast — it’s a device that limits the flow of electricity through a circuit so it doesn’t get overloaded. You can see why ballast is such a good metaphor for that thing we need to stay steady, not tipping over, not getting overloaded and burned out, when we’re doing our work, living our lives, fulfilling our purpose. I even love the way it sounds and feels when I say it: Ballast.
So how do we get it?
The first thing – and everyone says this, but it’s pretty hard to do sometimes, especially in a crisis, is to take care of yourself by sticking to a schedule. With a lot of us working from home, or caring for kids at home, or laid off or alone at home — we run the risk of sliding into the “blur” of Childhood PTSD — weird sleep, weird food, weird moods, and long periods of paralysis. We don’t know how long this is going to go on, but even when life is normal, it really helps our tendency to get dysregulated, and helps to keep our minds strong, if we stick to a daily schedule.
That means we get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time as we always did. I open the curtains around my whole house each morning, and close them each night. For me, exposure to sunlight is regulating, and I try to spend at least half an hour outside each day, even when it’s cold and rainy. My brain seems to need to know what time of day it is, what time of year it is. That’s one way I get ballast.
You can eat at the same time you always did, and if you’re living in a place where you can take walks, try doing it at the same time every day. It also helps if you sit down each morning, or the night before if you like, and make a plan for the day. It’s OK if you can’t stick to it perfectly; simply having a plan is a form of ballast.
Another way to have ballast is exercise. If you can take walks or run, great. I’m really enjoying YouTube exercise teachers like The Fitness Marshall. Putting on music and dancing is super fun, even by yourself. I can’t go to my gym but I lay folded towels on the dining room floor and do some ab exercises. I’m totally lazy and irregular about it but I know I have to move my body to get through this time of isolation at home. And it doesn’t hurt to keep your lungs strong too with some cardio workouts. If I do get sick, I want my lungs to be strong enough to fight it off, if I possibly can.
OK, diet: It is SO tempting right now to just snack all day on all that extra food I bought in the last few weeks. But I know from experience that, as much as I like sugar and cookies and salty crunchy junk, when I eat a lot of that stuff I get totally burned out, that very DAY, like within 20 minutes. The good feeling I get from treats like that is fleeting. And then the brain fog and blurry sense of time kicks in and I just can’t afford to do that right now. I know my best thinking and best energy and best immunity come when I eat higher protein, lower carb foods – and not too much of them.
OK, a big source of ballast for me is NATURE! I live about a ten-minute drive from open space and my family and I have been up there every day since this lockdown started. I feel so good up there. It’s springtime, there’re coyotes and cows and owls and birds everywhere, and wildflowers and snakes and it just feels like, life goes on. In nature, everything’s fine. I’m fine. I get a vacation for that constant backbeat of worry that so many of us have been feeling. I’ll be up there later today.
I know not everyone is free or able to go to nature right now (and limits are probably about to clamp down on us here too). Any kind of walking outside is positive. And if we can’t go out on the streets, we can open our minds and senses to the living things that are within sight. Treetops in the distance. Birds. The little potted plant on my desk. I push my fingers into the dirt there sometimes, just to stir up the fragrance of the soil, which is calming for me.
And then finally, my ultimate form of ballast is the Daily Practice. These are the simple writing and meditating techniques that helped me heal brain dysregulation and other symptoms of Childhood PTSD.
Now is the time to keep our minds nice and strong, and the Daily Practice is like pilates, it’s like probiotics, It’s like eating fiber, but for your brain. When the anxiety starts rising up and the “what if this… what if that” thoughts start running the show, it’s time to stop and do these two simple techniques again and steady the ship, so you can cut through the waves and keep moving. The daily practice helps to regulate that current of energy running through you – so it’s not too much and not too little — to the right amount to keep your lights on and show up for life in a steady, sustainable way.
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