First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
As people, there is never a time that we are unchanged or unmarred by our experiences – particularly those that stem from traumatic periods in our lives.
Some of these changes may appear in our physical being – maybe our backs bend and shoulders hunch a little from the strain. Our faces may age faster or we may become extra cautious. The lilt of our speech may even change. At the extreme, we may develop chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cancerous growths or fertility problems.
According to wellness experts at Integrated Physical Therapy: “Whenever we store trauma in our tissue, our brain disconnects from that part of the body to block the experience, preventing the recall of the traumatic memory.
“Any area of our body that our brain is disconnected from won’t be able to stay healthy or heal itself. The predictable effect of stored trauma is degeneration and disease.”
In 2011, 29-year-old Zukiswa was working at her desk on an unremarkable day when I heard a strange cracking and rumbling above my head. Turns out our office roof was caving in and, quite literally, the roof fell on my head.
My colleagues and I made it out without too many scrapes, but ever since that day I always think about the structural soundness of ceilings and how I would get out should they cave.
This is something I never cared about before but developed as a result of the residual trauma of that event. I’m not deathly afraid of ceilings but I notice that sometimes I become hypervigilant about them, particularly in times of stress.
Trauma is, by definition, an emotional response to a terrible event such as an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea.
I remember having a discussion with friends about this very thing as we traced some of the “hereditary” diseases in our families that were previously unexamined and were just taken at face value. The truth is, our body keeps score of everything.
The more traumatic experiences we have, the more our minds and bodies are eroded, making it more difficult to heal. It is therefore necessary that we stop to take stock and listen and feel what our bodies and minds are communicating to us during those times.
The pandemic is one of those times. We are living in a time of great human suffering – an almost unnatural kind of suffering that stirs up with it responses that may not always be rational.
It also triggers within us our learnt behaviours and previous responses to traumatic events. Some of us retreat, some of us get angry, some of us absorb everyone else’s pain and some of us flat-out deny the reality of trauma rendering us inert.
Whatever our reaction, though, our bodies are trying to communicate something to us – and we need to be present enough to hear it. The pandemic has been a season of unimaginable loss that has sometimes seen whole families vanquished in the blink of an eye. What becomes of their friends and loved ones left behind?
Yes, they may be survivors, but what becomes of their quality of life and relationships? It is not enough to merely survive yet live with the gaping wound of such profound losses.
In my circle of family and friends, it is almost every other day that we get news of someone we know and love having died from Covid-19, or is in hospital in a critical condition. Each message brings with it fresh pain and shock – and sometimes even thoughts of: Am I next?
This season is also a time in which we put to the test our capacity to work towards our collective survival, healing and subsequent thriving in the midst of this constant loss.
How do we extend our empathy and kindness even when we are tired, sore, don’t feel like it, hurt, confused, bruised, empty, angry … scared?
This is why getting vaccinated becomes so important because it means extending yourself beyond your own survival to do your bit to ensure that the tapestry that is our society does not erode and fray into scraggly threads.
We are responsible for each other and the urgency has never been greater to ensure that we do all that is within our power to stem the continued pain and havoc being wreaked by Covid-19.
Our choice to take the vaccine has to be steeped in the critical understanding of the effect that the pandemic is having on people’s bodies and minds that will show up whether or not we rebuild as a more compassionate and empathetic society post-trauma.
We have grown too used to making decisions based on the individual and not on ensuring the collective thriving of ourselves as a society.
It is unethical to place others under the threat of unnecessary pain because democracy means freedom to take the vaccine but also freedom not to. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.