What We Can Learn About “Distant Socializing” From Chronically Ill Trauma BBs
Illustration by Marlee Jennings
We’re living in some wild times. A virus is on the loose, people are being quarantined, and many of us haven’t left our apartments in days. It feels like science fiction. Or, if you’re a chronically ill person, it feels pretty close to reality.
When I first became ill in 2016, everything changed for me. Due to chronic fatigue and overwhelming pain flares — as well as near constant dissociation caused by complex trauma — it became nearly impossible for me, an extroverted human, to keep plans with friends. Leaving the house required too many spoons. Canceling and postponing became the norm unless friends came to me. If they got sick, we’d postpone the hangout to ensure that my immuno-compromised body was protected, and we’d have long phone chats and FaceTimes instead.
My IRL pals weren’t always available, and so I found myself fostering friendships with other sick babes, trauma BBs, and members of the disabled community on Instagram. These humans were well acquainted with isolation and these URL friendships quickly became a sustaining force in my life. When I’d post about my latest flare up, my URL pals would respond with words of care and compassion. It was solidarity from our beds and couches!
And so I was both excited and frustrated to see how, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the wisdom of the disabled community was suddenly in the spotlight. I was frustrated because I’ve watched the disabled community advocate for certain accommodations, like the ability to work from home, only to be told that it’s just not possible. I remember the fear I experienced when I landed an internship that required me to work from an office 35 hours per week. I knew that commuting back and forth to work five days a week would take a toll on my body. I’d need to ask for the option to work from home once a week, as a preventive measure. I pushed through the fear I had (in outing myself as disabled, would I suddenly no longer seem fit for the job?) and made the request. I was lucky to work with an amazing team of humans, who granted my request without any issues. But I know that this isn’t the case for so many others.
So here I am, watching as businesses start to implement work-from-home protocol as though it’s NBD. Apparently, when able-bodied folks need protection, working from home is easy. To add insult to injury, I watched the Canadian government role out a financial relief program for those impacted by COVID-19 that will provide $900 every two weeks, while those with disabilities receive monthly payments of $1100. While this anger and frustration is so righteous, I’m trying to focus my attention on the excitement and hope I feel as I watch what was once “impossible,” become very, very possible. During a Zoom hang with my two besties yesterday, I explained how we’re now setting a precedent for what’s possible at the level of systemic change.
Meanwhile, as someone living with complex trauma, this time has been quite triggering for me. Empty shelves in the grocery stores trigger my poor trauma. When you grow up poor, running out of food is a real possibility. When I see the empty shelves, it feels as though I’m being told, “There’s not enough for you.” So I’ve been turning my attention to the glimmers, which is a term that comes from Polyvagal Theory and describes the things that light us up, bring us joy, and enable us to feel safety, belonging, and self-worth. The most glimmery thing for me right now is seeing all of the ways in which people are sharing their resources and their wisdom to make this period of distant socializing more bearable.
So here are some of my hot tips for managing your triggers and maintaining connection as we wait for this wild time to pass:
- Breathe. I know it sounds obvious, but have you checked in with how you’re breathing lately? Because of the way that trauma lives in my body, it took many years for me to realize that deep breaths were not something I was acquainted with. And as I live in a nearly constant state of anxiety these days, I’ve recognized that my body is struggling to take the big breaths necessary to help regulate my nervous system. Here are two of my favs:
Cleansing breaths. Exhale fully. Inhale through the nose, if possible. Exhale long and slow through the mouth (should be audible and might sound like an ocean wave or like fogging up a mirror). Repeat as needed, but do at least three, if possible.
Diaphragmatic/belly breathing (especially good if you wear a binder): Can be done sitting, standing, or laying down. If this is new to you, laying down is often the easiest way to engage with this breath. Place one hand on your belly, one hand on your heart. Exhale fully. Try to breath in and out of your nose, if possible. Work to get your belly hand to move as much as possible, breathing deeply in, filling as much of the lung and belly space as possible, and then exhaling fully releasing as much of the lung and belly space as possible. Repeat as needed.
Please note: breathwork might not feel accessible and that’s okay! If feelings of alarm or distress start to come to the surface, skip to a different self-care strategy.
2. Focus on the glimmers. Our brains are literally hardwired to focus on the negative, it’s how they keep us alive! This means we have to be a bit more intentional when it comes to focus on some positive things. This is not to say that you shouldn’t feel all the feelings — ignoring our anxiety actually doesn’t do much to make us feel less anxious — but setting aside some intentional time to focus on something nice? 10/10 would recommend!
One activity you can do is look around your apartment and name the objects that bring you joy. Maybe these objects are connected to a particular person that you love, so extra glimmer potential there. If movement feels possible, pick up the object, hold it in your hand, concentrate on the texture. If movement isn’t accessible, narrate the object: what colour(s) is it? What shape and size? Who gave it to you? Where did you find it?
You can also check out these amazing activity sheets from Adam J. Kurtz. One of my personal favs is the “Comfort Zone,” where you write down the stuff that makes you feel good.
3. Get creative. Creating things activates that part of our brain that enables us to feel those glimmers. Plus, there are bonus points for doing something tactile! If you have an artistic medium that you feel comfortable with, set aside thirty minutes at the start of your day to draw, write, colour, etc. Collage is my go-to because all it takes is a magazine, glue stick, and scissors. You can download some free collage kits via my website. And these amazing colouring sheets made by one of my fav illustrators, Ambivalently Yours, are available for free download on her website. I’d highly recommend planning a FaceTime hang or Zoom meet up with some pals where you get creative together. This is also a great time to start that collaborative project you’ve always dreamed of! Reach out to the humans who inspire you and see if they want to create a zine with you.
4. Curate your social media. I don’t know about you, but my Instagram is my safe place. It’s where I go when I feel sad, anxious, and lonely. And it’s where I’ve experienced the magic of community when I’m in too much pain to leave my house. If you’re following people that are posting a lot of anxiety-inducing content right now, mute them or unfollow. There are so many amazing queer witchy healers out there sharing some really grounding and affirmative content right now. Some of my favourites are: @somaticwitch, @yumisakugawa, @the_open_space, @emmazeck_, @whatswrongwithmollymargaret. And, well, me: @margeaux.feldman
5. Do nice things for others. Community care takes so many shapes and forms and it’s honestly what gives me life. Send affirmative messages to people you care about. If you have a strong immune system, offer to grab groceries for your immuno-compromised pals. If you have access to financial stability, donate to organizations or individuals who’re being hit the hardest by workplaces closing, layoffs, and drops in sales. If you live with other people, offer to make a big communal meal. If you live with animals, send photos to pals or upload them to your social media. We need all of the cute animal content we can get right now.
6. Daily ritual. Having a daily ritual is both useful in terms of connecting with greater power and regulating your nervous system and finding structure during self isolation. In constructing a daily ritual, create things you know you will do. Maybe you start your day with a cup of coffee and journaling. You could light a candle, hold intention, and ground/meditate for 5 min. @archaichoney on Instagram has an excellent free resource on creating a daily witchcraft practice if you sign up for her email list. I’ve also been sharing a bedtime tarot card affirmation each night on my Instagram. You could give that a listen and do some journaling based on the affirmation. Bonus points if you watch with a pal and discuss the affirmation together.
For more tips and tricks on how to stay connected and minimize anxiety, you can check out this amazing free resource that I created in collaboration with some incredible humans.
About the Author:
Margeaux Feldman is a writer, educator, and community builder from Toronto, currently based in the Treaty 7 Territory of Calgary, AB. At the centre of all of the work that she does in the world is a commitment to collaboration, community, and care. Margeaux is currently finishing up her PhD in English Literature and Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. Her writing has been published in GUTS: A Canadian Feminist Magazine, The Puritan, The Minola Review, PRISM, and Rabble. She’s the author of many zines, including Poor Girl Trauma, which you can find on her website: www.margeauxfeldman.com. She feels it’s important that you know that she’s a Cancer sun, Sagittarius rising, and Aries moon, which means she’s #ZeroChill and very okay with it.