Barton Goldsmith column: When you’ve had too much loss and trauma
Losing a loved one is very hard. Suffering more than one loss at a time can turn into something clinicians call “complicated grief.” Along with depression comes a very low tolerance for any kind of loss. It could be as simple as your favorite TV show getting canceled or as upsetting as your best friend moving far away. Losing something or someone important to you can send you into a tailspin of sadness that seems to overshadow everything.
What is actually happening is that you are in a state of slightly altered reality. It’s almost like walking through a room full of cobwebs. Each one you touch bothers you, and although you want to keep moving forward, you also feel the need to stop right where you are, sit down and cry. It is all so strange when someone who occupied a space in your heart leaves, be it their choice, your choice or life’s choice.
A reality that is making this pandemic emotionally difficult is most of us are not socializing with many of the people we know and used to hang out with. This too will cause grief, and it can become overwhelming, especially if you find yourself becoming more and more isolated through no choice of your own. Even professionally, the in-person aspect of many jobs, including my own, has changed dramatically in that way.
Even if you don’t know someone who has gotten seriously ill or died over the past two years, the thoughts still cross your mind. Scientists are “cautiously optimistic,” as am I, but we are all still living with the anxiety of getting sick and maybe dying from this invisible enemy.
I used to think that something like this, or an invasion from outer space, would bring us all closer together, and now am forced to admit I was wrong about that. If there was a United Federation of Planets, I think we’d be kicked out for how we are treating the planet we’re on and each other.
I am beginning to think that our world is in a constant state of trauma and that we may never be able to fully heal. We desperately need a break from all this pain and suffering. But I don’t think that’s going to happen at the level we need it to, so we are forced to heal ourselves, even with the world on the brink of who knows what.
That’s another of trauma’s gifts: being the harbinger of sad tales to come because you have seen it happen before and you sense how this is going to turn out. Some would call that wisdom, others pessimism, while I see it as simple reality. It’s like knowing how a movie is going to turn out, which always takes away from the enjoyment a little. In this case, the ending doesn’t look too promising, but I hope I’m just being a trauma survivor here and overthinking things.
Living with trauma, PTSD, unregulated depression and anxiety is almost the norm these days. Those who don’t deal with any of it are either very lucky, very drunk, or very much in denial. If we all would just admit that we are scared and uncomfortable with what the world is going through, it might make us a bit more understanding of one another. And that would make this process so much easier.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, California, is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Follow his daily insights on Twitter at
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