The last week has been a blur. Black people are being murdered like dogs in the street by racist cops with no accountability for their actions. As my husband and I watched the news and scrolled social media, it became so much more apparent that we need to have ANOTHER conversation with our children. But how? How do we teach our children to stand up for themselves, know their rights and stand against injustices, when so much as looking at a white racist cop the wrong way or speaking up could mean your death. What a time to be alive, what a time to raise children.
As a nurse practitioner, health coach and cancer fighter, I have experienced firsthand the effects of trauma on my health and I have seen in practice the impact of trauma on the mental and physical health of Black people. Even though we may not know any of the persons that were brutally murdered by cops personally, we grieve as though this happened to a member of our family. We feel the hurt as deep as though it was our brother, our sister, father or mother. But how do we deal with this trauma, how do we cope, and what are the effects on our health?
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
Psychological trauma can occur from witnessing an event that us perceived to be life-threatening or to pose the potential of injury both emotionally and physically to ourselves. In this particular case, I am not talking about childhood trauma, rape, a terminal illness, disasters, or accidents and injuries. I am talking about watching a police officer kneel on someone’s neck while they’re on the ground, not moving and saying they can’t breathe, then if that wasn’t enough, beat him up in the police car, and killing him. I am talking about walking home from the store and getting shot to death with the killer walking free. I am talking about having your hands up clearly in sight and still getting your body laced with bullets. We feel the pain as individuals and as a community.
These experiences are felt almost every day, some are not even known at large, while others reported make headline news, and only because someone had a cell phone out and was able to record these murders live for the world to see, yet so many times the murderers are not held accountable. Literally void of any justice.
These events felt by the Black community is a recipe for PTSD. The horror, fear and helplessness and myriad of emotions can vary from individual to individual and are based on the characteristic of the specific event.
These reactions felt by many can be grouped into categories
Reminders of the exposure (including flashbacks, nightmares) in our case we are reminded from one killing to the next, not that we ever forget, but as soon as we fight mentally to move on or to try to heal, here comes another stab opening the already infested wound. Like a diabetic. When a person has diabetes, wounds can take longer to heal, which can increase the risk of infections and other complications developing. A person who manages their diabetes well can improve the rate at which wounds heal and reduce the chances of developing a severe infection. But how can one manage a disease if they have no way of caring for themselves. Or like pouring kerosene on a fire to try and out the fire. Makes no sense.
Activation- hyperarousal, insomnia, agitation, irritability, impulsivity and anger (and they wonder why rioting is taking place, when people are hurt and consistently hurt, instead of responding to healing, they will respond to trauma. They will burn the entire village down to feel its warmth.
Deactivation- numbing, avoidance, derealization, disassociation and depression. (some people are just over it all and fed up and just tired of fighting that they have given up.) the more we are killed and justice isn’t being served, some people give up the fight, because well, nothing is changing.
These reactions provoke and lead to dysregulation of our bodily systems and we become functionally impaired which then can lead to PTSD, depression anxiety etc
In other words, if you keep killing us and killing us and killing us some more, people either react, or shut down, either way we are traumatized with no attempt on justice parts to heal our wounds or to be dealt with justly.
The first response to a stressor is caused by imbalances in the CNS through overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system. This triggers the SNS and stimulates a defensive mechanism called the flight or fright response when we are faced with a possible threat. Ok I’m not trying to fill your head with a bunch of medical jargon. What I am trying to say is when people are met with some sort of trauma (murder) or conflict, their body will respond both mentally and physically, triggering increase in cortisol, stress hormone, blood pressure, changes in your digestive system, just to name a few. The effects on the body as a whole is endless.
Here’s some tips that you can do to take care of your physical health while we riot, protest and fight alongside the threat of death by racist/ racist police and well, also covid, because yea that’s still a thing. It’s not enough we have to fight for our lives from the threat of a disease that has affected us globally and that Black people are disproportionately more at risk due to disparities that exist socially and in health care, we also have to wake up every day and try not to get killed by the people who swore to protect us.
Take B vitamins- Good for your neurological system, improve sleep quantity and quality, decrease stress induced cortisol response etc.
Vitamin C- highly effective antioxidant and crucial in adrenal function and maintenance of healthy levels of cortisol and steroid hormone. Great immune support to help with effects of covid and when protesting
Macroelements- Magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium, important in supporting and maintaining balanced adrenal function, supporting the stress hormone response.
Probiotic- traumatic events have been proven to have an instant effect on the gut, altering the gut microbiome. Taking a good quality probiotic can have help reestablish the microbiome balance.
Adaptogen herbs such as Ashwagandha, rhodiola, licorice, Asian and Siberian ginseng, etc have anti stress properties that can play an active role in the stress response.
Sleep-Try to get 7-9hours a night. Take melatonin if needed. Develop a sleep routine.
Stress management, behavioral therapy, prayer, meditation etc to address the emotional, social, mental and spiritual strengthening that needs to take place in the lives of our black and brown brothers and sisters.
Accept and acknowledge your feelings as they arise and let no one tell you how to feel, when to feel and how you should react to unwarranted trauma.