shades of melanin, featured image - let's talk about trauma blog post

**Trigger Warning: mentions of violence and experiences that cause trauma

It is my observation that many people of color, particularly Black people, are really not aware that they’ve experienced trauma. Or, they don’t understand just how much trauma eats away at their ability to experience a better quality of living, sans trauma. If you’re even half awake in our country right now you’ve probably seen images of police brutality, literal body snatching by law enforcement, and violence against trans and cis black women. By its diagnostic description, even witnessing a traumatic experience can increase the likelihood of developing a trauma disorder. Though, to be clear, not everyone who experiences trauma does.

I suspect that many of us have normalized the conditions this country to boxed us into so much that we don’t consider the subsequent experiences to be trauma. Or, we simply don’t know what to do with the fact that it is. How many of us have seen so many Black bodies get plastered on the screen in an innocent trip to the grocery store that we feel absolutely nothing now when we see this on the news? That’s what trauma does. Quite literally sucks the life out of you.

So what is trauma?

The National Council of Behavioral Health describes trauma as occurring “when a person is overwhelmed by events or circumstances and responds with intense fear, horror, and helplessness.” Some of what they list can cause trauma includes microaggressions, violence, war, medical interventions, childhood abuse or neglect, natural disasters, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, generational & historical trauma.

Racial trauma involves racism as the trigger for deteriorating mental and physical health. Issues include hate crimes, discrimination at work, and health disparities. Symptoms of this parallel those found in PTSD (Source: today.com).

Learning about Trauma

This past summer, during our current pandemic, I finished reading a book that really made me investigate my own manifestations of what I can only identify as trauma. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 3 years trying (and failing) to medicate my anxiety. Now, I think my issue is deeper than just the anxiety . Rather, I think the manifestation of the anxiety is a symptom of something larger that has yet to be unpacked. I’m back in therapy now and it’s at the top of my list to dig into this.

The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score both helped convince me to make a career change and made me think differently about experiences I had, and buried.

“Renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy—and a way to reclaim lives.” (Source: Goodreads)

The author does a great job of expanding our understanding of how trauma and trauma disorders manifest. This curated several aha moments for me about just how pervasive trauma can be. Of course, no book about people and health can escape pointing out how politics and clout can be a roadblock or an acceleration of progress in public health.

The book is dense and technical. It took me several months to read. But the stories of the evolution of his practice and real client examples are truly fascinating. The outlining of interventions that can be used beyond traditional talk therapy was are also eye opening.

Healing Justice

Black people across the country still had to go outside to be gassed and brutalized to demand decency, while the world was being ravaged by deadly disease. There is much trauma for us to heal from as a collective.

Healing Justice is a framework, coined by Cara Page, “that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds.  Through this framework we continue to build political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation movements and organizations.” (Source: Transformharm.org)

One way to destigmatize and promote an investment in mental health is to learn. Take in education about the things you or your loved ones are experiencing. In 2019, I did a Mental Health First Aid training, thinking I was going to learn about others. I learned SO MUCH about myself and my diagnosis. It was honestly a breakthrough.

Last month, I participated in a Healing Justice immersion with BEAM (Black Emotional And Mental health collective). I received great tools on how to operate from a healing justice framework in peer mental health support. Something small I learned, is that people will call for the fire department in times of crisis vs. the police. Sure it’s not foolproof, but thinking of alternative ways to minimize the possibility of trauma when in crisis, is something that’s on my mind right now. I’m thinking about writing a post on that.

Resources

social justice and mental wellness resource guide
If you’re on my e-mail list, you’ve already been granted access to this document. It is a complication of resources on social justice including organizations doing the work in the streets, and information on how to stay safe when you’re in the streets.

And, it includes wellness resources on self-care, meditation & mindfulness apps, podcasts, therapist directories for Black & QPOC

Article: A Not-So-Brief Personal History of the Healing Justice Movement 2010-2016

Article: Healing Justice is How We Can Sustain Black Lives

Book: The Body Keeps the Score

Events: Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective includes “Reiki for Black Lives” and “Writing Workshop for Wellness”

Infographic: The National Council on Mental Health – How to Manage Trauma

Toolkit: Boston College, Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture – Racial Trauma Toolkit

Website: Mental Health America – Racial Trauma