COVID-19 · Finding Myself

6) Get Out of My Head: Healing Trauma in the Body

The featured black and white photo shows my great grandma who raised me in Hanford, CA. She and her sister Justina (right side) volunteered  in Hanford, CA during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. 

It doesn’t come naturally for me to give up without a fight, but my heart can’t take continuous worry. Stressed to exhaustion from a confluence of worries over sexism, social injustice, pandemic deaths, my lack of income, my lack of health insurance, and a job search for an associate professor job during a pandemic, I keep waiting for some internal shift that will stop my sad and mad feelings. I need to get out of my head. Problem is that in the last weeks I have busied myself trying to escape and outrun the inevitable by darting for cover like a scared animal during a sudden storm. Lately, I’ve noticed I’m holding my breath all the time because I have to process my sudden, shocking traumatic job loss during a pandemic. The tightness in my chest is depressing my will. I try sitting still. It doesn’t help.

The list of coping strategies I found from googling “anxiety covid” shouldn’t have surprised me. 

screenshot of Google search for "anxiety covid"

Beneath the screenshot I read an SEO description for an article about depression and anxiety where I learned that even Michelle Obama is experiencing low-grade depression and anxiety during the pandemic. This news eased my self-admission about experiencing an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, and a difficulty being. I am thinking it might help to get out of my head.

As much as I miss my Chicanx and Women’s Studies students, COVID has complicated my anxiety and limited my financial and professional options. Looking for jobs in database administration allows me to mentally run away from academia to an imagined future with my finances and ego healed. Working with other computer enthusiasts promises the individual isolation and autonomy of a university professor, minus each semester’s four classes of new students, the stacks of grading, and unpaid summers preparing for each year. Besides, I don’t see any great options for finding a new associate professor job at another university. I don’t want to move to a new university away from my home and yard; it is still just too soon. I know it is unhealthy, but I keep hoping my old university will hire me back to teach Chicanx classes when they hire a full time faculty member to teach in the Chicanx and Latinx Studies minor. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I friggin care about teaching because of the students. It doesn’t help. I need to get out of my head.

But I worry about finances, and my primal fear keeps me on the hamster wheel in my head. Thoughts run through my mind about how I don’t want a job dominated by hours of Zoom meetings, video lectures, and online conferences. I remember how my students struggled as the semester ended online from March to May. I think about how taking and teaching online classes is too stressful. Because of this, I have decided not to finish the final three courses for my Masters in Business Administration until face-to-face classes resume. And it is still too soon to return to my old university; have I processed my anger at being fired or am I still focusing on how grateful I am that I chose to finish grading my students’ papers that morning instead of opening the email asking me to attend what turned out to be my surprise firing/two-week notice via Zoom on the day final semester grades were due? In my head, I go over all the details looking for the “bright-side” of what did and what could have happened. By my accounting, I came out ahead. It doesn’t help because I am reliving the trauma in my head. I have to get out of my head.

Unfortunately, exercise will help get me out of my head. I hate exercise. Honestly, I have actively avoided exercise for over a year. I have ignored my daily calendar exercise reminders. Dust collects on my treadmill and on the racing bicycle set up on rollers for indoor riding. I know exercise helps when nothing else will. I have only used it as a last resort. Undergraduate years: dancing in clubs; PhD dissertation: treadmill; seeking tenure twice: ½ marathons and sprint triathlons; post traumatic stress (various sources): Kajukenbo, which is Karate, Judo, Kenpo, Chinese boxing/ Kung Fu. Kajukenbo meant learning to use boxing gloves, fighting sticks, bow staff, and knife defenses. I was going to the dojo 2-4 hours every day; I was that stressed out. I stopped Kajukenbo and all exercise when I began the masters of business administration. When people ask why, I explain that there is only so much “dude energy” I can take. However, before my two years of Kajukenbo, I don’t think I could have taken business classes cuz too much dude energy. I had to grow a thicker skin by fighting MMA. I miss the dojo, and I miss sensei Tony Morel who passed away this year from a heart attack. 

The trauma in my own body is forcing my self-reflection. This writing is saving my life. Instead of ignoring or worrying about my heart beating 25-35 beats faster, I am listening to the audio version of Peter Levine’s book, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. I also found a youtube version of my mindfulness relaxation body scan tape by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is all helping to get out of my head.



P.s. If you read the actual book, Waking the Tiger, you will also notice the striking parallels between Gloria Anzaldúa’s and Peter Levine’s work. 

3 thoughts on “6) Get Out of My Head: Healing Trauma in the Body

  1. I’m with you and miss your teaching optimism. Pandemic, plus everything else, is so stressful. Not sure how to help with everything going on for you, except to send giant hugs and to recommend self-compassion.org.

  2. I appreciate you linking the videos, because I could certainly use a dose of mindfulness and relaxation these days, too. Wishing you safety and a moment of peace

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