Nearly everyone is grazing the all-you-can-eat crisis buffet serving up climate change, social and racial injustice, poverty, corruption, endless wars and political stupidity too idiotic to comprehend. The pandemic just arrived on the dessert bar.
Even the most docile conversation with a friend could suddenly trigger fears of calamity with a passing reference to almost anything in the news.
We have been manipulated by a world ‘leader’ who thrives on creating conflict and confusion, news media that screams ‘wolf’ to get us to click, and our social media friends who repost and tweet about every terrible event happening in places we’ve never heard of.
Our brains have been rewired to function in a state of constant crisis. And even worse – when a real crisis doesn’t exist our mind creates one by imagining the worst case scenarios for the future.
This is not a condition that lends itself to happiness or inner peace.
I recently resolved major stressful situations in my life and by sheer luck found myself in a place where my existence is not immediately threatened by anything. I had no idea how to handle not being in the middle of unresolved crisis.
I’ve been stressed since my mother died when I was in kindergarten. I grew up believing my new stepmother would kick me out of her house if I wasn’t perfect. I was terrified that if I revealed my sexuality to anyone I’d be instantly rejected. Everywhere I went I felt the urgency to prove I was good enough to do the job and nice enough to be allowed to stay.
This constant state of internal crisis drove me to work till I was sick and struggle to make relationships last that I should have ended years before.
It also meant when I was excluded from something or my work was harshly criticized I raged at the injustice and harbored resentments for years.
Meditation, exercise, therapy and antidepressants merely made the trauma manageable. I was still angry and hurt.
Ironically as the world entered one of the worst crises to global humanity in a century, all the sources of my personal traumas evaporated. I am in a great relationship with someone who is both fun and self-reliant, my finances stabilized, my health is good.
But my brain had a void where a constant crisis narrative had always played. In the silence I started creating drama because something was missing. I felt guilty I wasn’t suffering like everyone on my Facebook feed.
This was the moment I realized that since childhood my traumatized brain feeds on fear and danger.
I started making a list of all the specific events that still hurt. It was a long list. It took days to write down.
When I couldn’t remember any more events that angered me, I sorted them into categories.
The entire list was rooted in a series of rejections for many different reasons. Rejections that meant I didn’t belong, that I don’t have a right to exist because of who I am.
This basic recognition that my brain wants crisis and my trauma originates from fear of rejection was life changing. Now I focus on the source of the trauma with EMDR therapy. And I stop my mind when it begins spinning theoretical threats.
Therapists successfully treat soldiers with PTSD using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. My lifetime of trauma doesn’t compare to the horrors of war, but it’s still trauma. EMDR works great! The past triggers are becoming distant memories.
My next realization was how much our world abuses our personal histories of trauma to manipulate us to believe lies or buy products. Now I can read headlines forecasting doom and take a step back: The author doesn’t know with certainty if disaster is imminent but the fear of it will get readers to click and boost ad views. Even news sources aligned with my beliefs are dominated by apocalyptic scenarios – most of which will never happen.
When I recognized my brain guzzles crises like a 5 year old gorges Halloween candy I stopped feeding it. My life settled into a peace I’d never felt before.
This doesn’t mean I ignore the very real crises of our planet. Now I look at what I can do to avert disaster and accept if I can’t solve the problem. This is especially true with climate change, racial injustice, hunger, war: I can’t stop any of it, but there are small things I can do for a local impact. It is my human responsibility to tend my garden but the whole world has been taken out of my hands.
When I read headlines that scream ‘wolf’ I judge if it will affect my flock and I can take action or if this news is attempting to feed my crisis brain.
Too bad if it is. I’ve changed my diet.
You can follow me on Twitter as I continue to document my journey. @paulbrightfilms