Joy feels very vulnerable to me right now.

This was a statement I wrote on Facebook, one status of many throughout the day on that particular Friday. 

One of many Fridays since the global pandemic started. The Friday after the fires calmed down in Portland, where I live. The day after we were taken off evacuation orders. The last day of the cancelled first week of online school for my youngest. The Friday of the week I lost an old friend. The day that I have my online treatment therapy appointment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

I’ve been doing this type of treatment for two months, targeting the vagus nerve and amygdala to bring about healing. This targeted healing is intense and brutal, bringing up nightmares and random feelings and memories. Different exercises help my body and brain to deal with these occurrences, aiding my amygdala in processing through years of stored trauma and grief and abuse. 

It is a ten to twelve week program, and I am on the downhill side, a few more weeks to go. I am exhausted from this treatment work. I am also incredibly grateful, as I have seen steady results since I started. One of the results is that I feel peace and joy. 

Feeling peace and joy in our world right now feels uncomfortable and scary. Like wearing a sweater of scratchy wool with little bits of glass hidden throughout, and just when I forget that there’s glass, I move and get a tiny pinch or poke or cut. A reminder to not get too comfortable. That’s what the world is like right now, that “waiting for the other shoe to drop” feeling. This feeling – this hypervigilance – is one of the hallmarks of trauma and post traumatic stress disorder. 

Joy feels very vulnerable to me right now. I meant this as a statement of how I was feeling on the inside. I know what to do when I feel chaotic and under threat and waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s been my normal for most of my life. I’ve shared my experiences with trauma and grief and healing and while I believe that I was practicing vulnerability, sharing joy seems particularly vulnerable right now. Simply feeling joy feels vulnerable. But that is my new normal, thanks to all of my trauma work. And it is uncomfortable. 

Joy feels very vulnerable to me right now. I meant the inside of myself, but others took it to mean the outside of us all. And it was a bit prescient, as I posted this status only two hours before finding out about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. The death of a hero, on top of a pandemic and 200,000 people dead from a virus that our country’s leadership knew about. Wildfires raging in California and Oregon, mere miles from my home. This election year. The fight for racial justice. School starting online for many communities and in-person for others, with nobody able to anticipate the consequences. A ton of loss to process: loss of loved ones and work and homes and routine and sense of normalcy. 

Joy feels very vulnerable to me right now. All of this was happening on that Friday, the same day that the air cleared to non-hazardous levels for the first time in a week in Portland. The sun shone and the wind blew and we could all go outside again for the first time in seven days. We could unpack our evacuation bags and boxes and enjoy the weekend and breathe clean sighs of relief. 

A friend of mine told me that this time of pandemic has changed her. Has brought her to her most streamlined self. I agree. While everything around us has been so chaotic and uncertain, I’ve had the opportunity to heal. To come back to the basics of what matters. To experience peace and joy. Deciding what stays, what goes, and what grows. Figuring out what a new normal looks like. 

Joy feels very vulnerable to me right now. In the last several weeks, I have questioned my own resilience and courage and perseverance. I have questioned my faith in humanity and the universe and god. I have wondered if hope can die or if it’s only pruned down to its nub, destined to grow back. I have wondered if doing all of this work is worth it. 

I thought I understood all this time what vulnerability was, that I was being vulnerable in sharing my challenges and obstacles and troubles and victories, and I have many years of experience in doing that. Right now, what is the true vulnerability that makes me shiver in fear and rocks me to my core when I share it?

Joy. 

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