Trauma, Guest Posts, World Events


February 12, 2018

By Carin Enovijas

It’s been almost a month since the State of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency grossly mismanaged a routine drill and sent out a text message to millions of my neighbors informing us that we were about to die by nuclear annihilation. It took another 38 minutes to issue a “just kidding” response to the FUBAR fiasco, during which many folks waited to either be instantly immolated or survive long enough to fight to the death in the apocalyptic aftermath.

I won’t bother rehashing all the incredulous details because unless you’ve been cut off from the world, possibly holed up in a bomb shelter, you’ve likely heard all about the incompetence that led to the now historic Panic in Paradise.

In the aftermath of the incident I gave myself permission to take the rest of the day off. My family seems to be a bit more prepared than a lot of folks. We had worked together calmly and quickly to gather our supplies and prepared to shelter in place for at least 14 days. Our successful teamwork helped to offset some of the immediate emotional fallout. Although I’m still not sure why I decided to put away all the fresh fruit into the freezer. After some discussion and making of notes on how to round out the details of our emergency plan, my family went about their business as usual. Like so many of our neighbors and friends, we have shared our “I love yous” with much more frequency and sincerity throughout the past week.

Then Sunday rolled around with much media hoopla, righteous outrage, boomerang blaming and some truly vile threats. And I still couldn’t bring myself to focus on my neglected To Do List.

By Monday I acknowledged that I was feeling sick. Tuesday, I rallied enough to manage some basic responsibilities. My busy Wednesday and Thursday schedules proved challenging, but I muddled through in a semi-cognitive blur while I filed away my body’s escalating complaints like an overwhelmed and underpaid bureaucrat. By Friday, I’d hit a brick wall. At this point I’d had maybe ten hours of sleep all week.

So here I am on another sunny Saturday morning in paradise, upset that I’m missing the Women’s March and feeling like a time-released, cluster bomb went off inside my body. I hate to compete with egotistical, dictatorial types, but it seems that I actually have the biggest button, and it’s triggered by my overactive brain.

Only recently has it been made clear to me that I have lived with PTSD for most of my life. The coping skills I developed as a child helped me to survive a covert domestic war. As a well-trained agent of the underground cell I was born into, I buried my most devastating battle secrets in the darkest parts of my psyche. But with time and biology, they festered and oozed out into my body and traveled around like cold, steel-hard pinballs of pain, inflicting more damage while still eluding capture.

When an event like last week’s false alarm missile fiasco targets your carefully constructed ramparts of self-regulation, it’s easy to tell yourself to shake it off, move on and take care of business. It’s easy to rationalize the futility of worry, especially if, like me, you are responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of two highly intelligent teenagers. I want them to feel safe and secure. But I also don’t want them to bury their trauma and end up suffering the physically and mentally debilitating effects of it throughout their lifetime.

As someone coping with multiple, systemic auto-immune diseases, including Lupus, RA, ITP and FMS, I was astonished to learn that recent studies have shown that incredibly strong correlation exists between childhood trauma and a host of serious health problems manifesting throughout adulthood.

“The experience of traumatic events in childhood has consequences for health in adulthood. A broad range of traumatic events experienced in childhood including physical abuse, sexual abuse, prolonged hospitalization, and family instability such as parental unemployment or substance abuse have been linked to chronic illness in adulthood stemming from poor immune functioning or poor cardiovascular health (Springer et al., 2003; Mulvihill, 2005; O’Rand and Hamil-Luker, 2005; Wickrama et al., 2005).

According to a study conducted by pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris and reported on by the Washington Post, compared to people with no childhood trauma, people that reported having four or more “adverse childhood experiences” were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer or heart disease; seven times as likely to be alcoholics; six times as likely to have depression; and 12 times as likely to have attempted suicide. People exposed to six or more traumatic events died 20 years sooner than those who had none.

For more info, check out Nadine Burke Harris’s Ted Talk on the topic click here.

Then, as I watch as my sisters gather across the nation, supported by the strong and caring men who respect and share in our march of solidarity against oppression and abuse in all its forms: I urge all of you not to underestimate the trauma you or your children may have experienced, either as a result of last week’s bomb scare in Hawaii, or from the day-to-day barrage of negativity and downright scary shit that our country is currently struggling with.

Not all trauma results in visible bruises or broken bones. But it can affect your physical health throughout your lifespan. Don’t bury your feelings. Don’t let yourself become a “secret agent” of your own pain and ill health. Speak to family or friends, or a mental health professional. Taking care of yourself is the most responsible and kind thing you can do – for yourself and for your family.

Carin Enovijas is a retired journalist who has been published in a variety of newspapers and lifestyle magazines in California and Hawaii. She lives on Maui with her two children and their two cats.

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