December 13, 2016

Battening Down Emotional Hatches in a Stormy World.


“Batten down the hatches!” It’s a nautical phrase that ship captains would shout when treacherous waters were approaching.

When storms threatened to flood the boat and drown the people in it, the captain would call to the crew to close up all of the holes so that water couldn’t flood the safe space below the deck.

They had to patch ‘em up and seal them tightly to keep the boat from filling with water and killing them. The crew would get under deck, lock themselves down and wait for the storm to pass. Battening down the hatches was necessary for them to make it out alive.

Storms Rolling In

That’s what the world has felt like for me these past few months: a giant f**king storm, threatening to fill my lungs with water. I have PTSD and like many others, have felt re-traumatized by the election. The metaphorical weather has been sh*t for a while now, but an unexpected tsunami has just gone and shaken us up, making us wonder if we’re going to make it out alive.

One possible reaction to this mess is to wonder if I’m going to be okay or freak the f*ck out (not to say I haven’t done a little bit of that), but, instead of this, I recognized that I’ve been here before and I headed for the hatches to preserve whatever bit of sanity I had left.

As a survivor of trauma, I’ve become acutely familiar with the way treacherous storms go. I’ve experienced dozens of traumatic events in my life. Just to name a few from my teen years: a gun being held to my dad’s head in front of me,  our house being repossessed and living without heat and water, and being in a drunken car accident post-prom. All those times, and many others, I thought of myself and those around me, were going to drown. I thought that was the end. I’m used to water flooding the boat.

The day following the election, I laid in bed until 6 p.m. I attempted to work from home to no avail and gave up about halfway through the day. I spent the day numbing myself, eyes glazed over Netflix, until the potential impact on my beloved LGBTQ community hit me right in the stomach. I dropped to my knees to let out gut wrenching sobs as I thought of HB2, the bathroom bill that allows trans folks to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. I thought of the passing of marriage equality on June 26, 2015, and I imagined justice taken away from myself and my loved ones. I lay on the floor sobbing, terror seeping through my pores.

I dragged myself to the shower and turned the heat to the highest setting. The tears continued until I had no energy left. I stood in silence with water pouring over me. Later that night I called one of my most admired mentors. I told her I was scared, confused, uncertain, devastated, and numb. She reminded me of the fact that I had indeed been in this situation before. Different details, same feelings. As a fellow trauma survivor and born leader, she knows that we require more self-care to be okay than the average person, but we also come out the other side stronger than ever.

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Battening Down the Hatches

I trudged on. Battening down the hatches is essential for self-care and preservation. It means that when I see a storm coming, I get ready. Or, when it surprises the sh*t out of me, I make sure I have a few crew members helping me seal those doors shut. I make sure I’m well-equipped and I’m not alone. I hold the truth in the back of my mind that the storm is temporary and will pass, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

When I feel the ocean of anxiety rising in me, I call to those around me, “You know the drill!” And I’m off to the hatches. That means something different for me every few months, sometimes every other day. It means something different for everyone. My self-care shifts based on my needs and capacity at any given time.

Lately, it’s meant that I sleep a lot. Like, a lot. On weekends, I sleep about 10 hours both nights and take naps on Saturday and Sunday. During the week I do my best to get my eight hours of sleep. I’ve had to reduce the amount of social plans I have and limit them to getting together briefly before or after a 12-step meeting with program fellows. I show up for community meditation once or twice a week and do it on my own maybe once a week and accept that it’s good enough for now. I have been using food for comfort and have done my best not to beat myself up about it.

Battening down the hatches is about preparing for trouble and ensuring that the walls surrounding us are waterproof so that we don’t drown in the storm that is about to ensue (or has already started). In fact, it usually has already started. Water’s leaking through, the floors are shaking, and there’s an undeniable panic setting in across the vessel.

Interconnectedness of it all

To bring this metaphor to the present, the storm wasn’t just Election Day. I stopped watching the news months ago. I adore NPR but I had to stop tuning in. I couldn’t follow the candidates and didn’t know as much about their platforms as I would have liked. I couldn’t have debates or discussions about what was going on. I had to isolate from people with opposing views to me and I became so f*cking sensitive. By the time Trump won the presidency, I already was up to my waist in murky water. It wasn’t like it all started then. The divide between people is what has been affecting me so much all along.

Gosh, I’m not even angry anymore. I just want to move toward being able to have conversations. What can we do? What can I do? What are you doing? How can I understand where you’re coming from? Because it doesn’t matter what side we’re on, the hate has been divisive and turbulent. Even the “winners” haven’t come out unscathed. People aren’t talking to family members. They’re threatening to leave the country and refusing to open their ears.

I don’t know, I don’t have the solution or the answers. In fact, I’m not really here to talk about what’s going on in the world at all. I’m here to talk about how I’m dealing with it. I’m here to share how my coping mechanism has been to batten down the hatches. Maybe it can help you, too.

I understand that being apolitical is a privilege and that there are varying degrees of that privilege. For one, I’m white. That eliminates me from needing to worry about a whole lot, and I acknowledge that and am constantly striving to learn more about my blind spots there. But, I am a queer woman with a history of stories involving issues that are in jeopardy with the new president, like coming from a family with not a lot of money. I understand in certain ways what it means to be marginalized. I understand oppression and living in fear.

Self-Care & Realistic Expectations

Still, I come back to the saying, “you cannot pour from an empty cup.” No matter how much policies impact me, sometimes I just don’t have it in me to participate in a political or emotional uproar. I don’t have the energy to be involved, informed, and aware. I can’t read up on my favorite news sites as much as I’d like. I have not been attending rallies. I haven’t called my local reps to voice my opinion or even have conversations with those around me who disagree with my views.

I haven’t had it in me. Sometimes my feelings come like that storm and there’s no turning back. Soon enough, I’m surrounded by stormy seas threatening to drown me if I do not seal the damn gates. So, that’s what I do. Lately I’ve had to unplug. I have to tell my friends that I can’t talk about politics and the world, and I just throw myself into some mind-numbing Netflix.

I used to have these grandiose expectations of myself, that I needed to know all of the facts, all of what was going on at all times, and I needed to be properly armed to be able to throw down in a debate at any point. You know what? It was f*cking exhausting. I was constantly trying to figure out what exactly was going to happen in the world, how it should turn out, and what the next move was going to be (like, the next moves of the president and the rest of the world). I was quite a mind-reader, or so I thought. In reality, I was spinning my wheels. I was exerting my energy steering the ship in circles while the water poured in.

Now, to the best of my ability and willingness, I keep an eye out for storms rolling in. I keep watch for murky waters, dark seas, and scary skies. I try to take action before the storm rolls in and I don’t pretend that everything is fine while I’m spitting up salt water. I call on my crew of capable, powerful, respectable, and loving friends to assist me in battening down the hatches, and we drink tea and have snacks while we wait for the storm to pass.

Because we know that there’s no sense fighting it, especially not in a boat like mine. There are a few holes and spots where the wood has rotted through, but it’s all I’ve got and it’s mine. This life, this body, and my current circumstances are what I have.

I’m not going to beat myself up or have unreasonable expectations of myself anymore. I’m going to batten down the hatches when I need to and know full well that doing so preserves the ship. More importantly, the soul inside is preserved, and has lots of work to do when the sun starts shining again.


Author Ginelle Testa

Photo: Jean-Pierre Brungs/UnsplashPixabay

Volunteer Editor: Josie Myers/Editor: Travis May

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