Almost through January…and I still feel tense.

As a mental health practitioner, I know that every human psyche subconsciously exhaled a little when they woke up and it was 2021. Welcome to this n-e-w year, you made it through the last one! My friend Leah says her favorite day is the first day of the month because she gets to change her calendar to a new, fresh page of empty squares to fill however she wants. I have felt my excitement for this particular day for a while now. In fact, sometime in October, during the height of my depression from the long-suffering year, my mind began to fantasize about getting to January. Yet, I am almost through the month and I still feel anxious.

Last new year, I could not have conceived what this past year would hold: COVID. Pandemic. Homeschooling. Quarantining. Lockdown. Masks. Hand sanitizer. Fear and Anxiety. No childcare. Online grocery shopping. The election. Protests and racial justice rallies. Family members dying. Siloed death, and thus, siloed grief.

As a mother, I watched my children go from a normal school day to online learning and no recess. As a therapist, last year my clients went from in-person sessions to online teletherapy, adapting to change after change. As a public speaker, I found myself canceling every event and holed up in our mountain cabin. No one could have told me the number of mental gymnastics it would take to make it through the compounded griefs and trauma bonds of 2020. A trauma bond is the misuse of fear or excitement that entangles us to another (Carnes, 2019). The inconsistencies of governing offices attempting to engage our nation as it encountered state lockdowns, racial protests, and accusations of election fraud are all traumatic bonds on a society’s psyche. The amount of time it will take to disentangle ourselves from these lived experiences is unknown. We must become people of resilience, this is the invitation of the past year.

The idea of 2021 has been so helpful for me, as I say things to my kids such as, “it’s only for this year we won’t see your cousins on holidays.” Yet, my body has felt this before, it knows that putting all my hope into the new year feels a lot like post-partum. The female body looks to the delivery of her child when getting herself through pregnancy. If you have never had a child before, you still have experienced postpartum. Postpartum is the time following any dream you have birthed into the world. We all know what it means to hope for something and the reality of it is not what we expected. Everyone can understand that postpartum may affect you long after the dream is born.

“2021 was a hope that I looked to often throughout 2020,
but I am well aware there will be a postpartum period.”

What could postpartum symptoms of 2020 look like:

Thoughts that 2021 will give immediate relief of the impacts in 2020
Overdrive to make up for last year losses
Fear, Ambivalence, or Savior-like fantasies of the COVID vaccine
Uncertainty about future pandemics
Inability to navigate the need to continue hope and waiting to be “back to normal”
Inability to concentrate or make decisions about how to move forward with the future
Excessive irritability, anger, worry, or agitation
Post-traumatic effects of global trauma bonding

Each year it takes me about a month to stop signing my checks with the previous year. This year I started practicing in November, writing the year 2021. I imagine it will be a similar undoing for our psychological health as well. We all have different ways of untangling ourselves from old patterns. Yet, today I am struck wondering how long it will take for the United States to unwind from last year?

My resolution this year is to unwind the impacts of last year. As humans who have been impacted by last year’s pandemic, we must begin by listening to stories of essential workers from the past year. What was exposed during seasons of stress and hardship? Due to quarantine, I spent a lot of time with mental health clients working through stress from patriarchy, rage, and grief from senseless deaths, marital discord, societal quarantining, and fear of isolation. All of these exposures are invitations for everyone to be curious about the potential postpartum we may feel in 2021. We know that post-trauma and post-partum do not heal well without patient and good care. So, may we as the United States of America, be curious and gentle with the post-partum we could feel as we come into 2021.

Our country has been invited into maturation and building resilience as a people group.

 

Dr. Christy Bauman, PhD, MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers storywork consulting. She is the author and producer of her works: Theology of the Womb, Womaneering Perpetual Calendar, A Brave Lament, and the award-winning Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, part-time professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality and theology. Christy’s work can be found at christybauman.com