Getting Back To Normal At Your Own Pace Is Okay: Lessons From A Warzone
"Just get over it. Back to normal. Everything's fine. Isn't this what you wanted?" We're hearing so many sentiments like these right now, but for you, it's much easier said than done. You just spent 15 months terrified not only for you but for your loved ones because of some unseen danger. Interacting with innocuous things like groceries, doorknobs, and handrails made you feel like you got sprayed by Scarecrow's fear gas. You'd hear about it on the news, then a friend of a friend or a distant relative would be in the hospital. Or worse, you or someone close to you would have a close call or maybe get hit. The only safety was at home, so you completely changed your life if you were lucky enough to be able to, and now everyone's acting like nothing ever happened in the first place? No, it doesn't just work like that.
I know because this isn't my first time dealing with this kind of a situation. I know because once upon a time, I was deployed to a literal warzone and had to transition back to normal too:
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying things are exactly the same. IEDs and snipers are indeed different from infectious diseases, but the mental toll they can have on us is oddly similar, given what I'm seeing. I am definitely not a medical or psychological expert, I'm a professional internet clown, but I've seen enough trauma up close to recognize it. And why wouldn't over a year of baseline fear punctuated by days or moments of intense terror be enough to mess people up? THAT is precisely how I've described my deployments before, and the truth of that situation is that it took me an entire year of being separated from the military to decompress from that situation.
There's also a related feeling when I came home of being left behind. Seeing so many other people during (and now after) the pandemic that seemingly never stopped just living as if things were normal. Between that and many levels of the government behaving the same way, but on a larger scale, there can be anger along with that trauma. What gave them the right to just keep moving forward like nothing was wrong while almost 4 million people were inextricably torn from the world? Yes, it is absolutely unfair that they just continued to move forward without considering how it could hurt others. Your anger is righteous, it is valid, and just so many of us share in it. This may sound odd, but anger can be a good thing; it is an actionable feeling. Just look at how righteous anger fueled the protests of last year. It's an emotion like any other that deserves to be (healthily) expressed, so tell someone, write it down, or follow my lead and tweet into the void about it.
Again, this isn't professional advice; I am, as previously mentioned, an internet clown, after all. But in my experience, this trauma isn't going to just go away on its own. It's a heavy shadow. Even if you do what I did and take the time to exorcise these demons, they can still occasionally pop up like a horror movie villain and scare you. A couple of years ago, one of my demons gave me a surprise visit. At school, during a religions lecture in my Cultural Anthropology class, we were listening to different religious hymns, and an Islamic Call to Prayer was played. The music is beautiful, and I'd spent years moving forward from the fear of combat, but I was suddenly ripped back to 2008 when we'd hear all the time about attacks or suicide bombings during or right after prayer. All the tension of a combat zone came back, and it took me the rest of the day to let it go.
So let it go, lay it to rest. It's vital and worth doing because you're still here, and I'm glad you made it. But if anyone tries to tell you you're moving too slowly, or you're being paranoid, or whatever, you can inform them that a combat veteran with 24 months forward deployed said they can eat a facemask filled with shit because it isn't their goddamn trauma, it's yours.
Top Image: imperioame/Pixabay