Imagine that there are four people about to get on a ride at the State Fair. It’s the Graviton, the ride where you stand up against the wall with a thin chain hooked loosely in front of you and the ride starts spinning and spinning, faster and faster and then it tilts and the bottom drops out. The only thing that’s holding you in is the centrifugal force of the ride.
One of the people has been on this ride before and knows how it works and loves how it works. That person remains calm. They get off the ride and they’re fine. We’ll call that person A.
The other person hasn’t been on the ride before but assumes that the people running the park know what they’re doing. That person feels nervous. They get off the ride and they’re fine if a little shaky. We’ll call that person B.
The third person doesn’t trust the park owners and thinks that when the bottom drops away that the ride has broken. They’re afraid for their life. They get off the ride sobbing and are greeted by warm, loving friends who embrace them and comfort them. That person is C.
The fourth person doesn’t trust the park owners either and believes the ride has broken, too. Think think they are about to die. When they get off the ride, there is no one there to greet them and they feel miserably alone and abandoned. That person is D.
All four people were on the same ride. All four people had fundamentally different experiences.
Here is the definition of trauma: If you are fearful for your life or the lives of those around you.
It doesn’t matter if the ride was safe if a person does not perceive it as safe. (As an aside? I was told by my mom all of my growing up that those State Fair rides aren’t safe. There is no way I’d get on the Graviton and if I accidentally did? I’d be person C.)
A is going to be fine because they liked the ride, they liked how it worked and how it felt. B is going to be ok, as well, because B has faith that the people in charge know what they’re doing. C will likely be all right, too, because C is immediately surrounded by people who validate their experience and offer comfort and support. But D? D is not going to be OK because what mitigates trauma (and even if this does not look traumatic to everyone there and wasn’t experienced as trauma by everyone there, for D it was) is connection and D has no one to connect with.
This is my message to you. We do not get to decide when people get to be afraid or what their experiences ought to be. There are people in our community who are afraid right now; maybe you are afraid right now. It doesn’t matter if person A or B doesn’t get it; you have a right to your feelings. And what you need — what we need — is to find each other. Mr. Rogers says to look for the helpers and now is the time to do that and now is also the time to be the helpers.
If you are person C or D, please reach out. Find your safe people and start planning some specific ways you can spend time together. There are lots of ways to create good, solid connections and sometimes that’s coffee together, sometimes that’s phone calls, sometimes that’s joining together and organizing, and sometimes it’s joining together to help someone else. We need each other to mitigate our fear when the bottom drops out.
If you are person A or B, please understand that your experience is not everyone’s experience. You may not be afraid, you may even be having fun but we are a community and we must recognize that many people in our community are suffering.
To that end, I am partnering with Columbus Birth & Parenting to host a supportive gathering this Sunday in our offices from 10am to 2pm. We have no idea how many people will be here and we don’t have an agenda; just some ideas to give people space to feel validated and supported. Because the event has gotten larger than we anticipated and because some people who can’t attend would like to feel included, we will be using #hopeandaction on social media to find each other. We encourage you to Tweet, Facebook or Instagram using that hashtag on Sunday in order to connect with like-minded people near you to create and strengthen community ties. If you are currently a client, please know that you are invited, too. I will not acknowledge our connection and will respect your confidentiality but I will welcome your participation. If the fact that I’m hosting this event feels uncomfortable to you, please let me know and we can talk about it. I respect that my clients have diverse experiences, backgrounds and beliefs and want you to know that I support you, period.