Like many Covid bereaved express in support groups, I was terrified of facing my trauma, of falling apart in front of a therapist. But, when my Mam died in 2003, I didn't process the trauma of her dying: as a result, I spent 19 years being unable to grieve, unable to even talk about my Mam. When Dad died of Covid in January ‘21, a week after I was discharged from a Covid ward in the same hospital, I knew I didn't want to do the same disservice to him.
I also realised that trauma therapy couldn't possibly be worse than another 19 years of avoidance, of flashbacks, triggers, and an inability to grieve. My PTSD was not only related to losing my Dad and seeing his suffering, but I had also witnessed others dying on my own Covid ward. I’m not alone: sadly, many of us have this duel experience. Many more have the combined experience of losing several family members to Covid. Covid PTSD and grief are a cruel and complex fusion.
My therapist explained it best with this analogy: the brain is a cupboard stuffed full of clothes (memories). The cupboard is so over-stuffed, with all the clothes all tangled up together, that the door keeps bursting open and things fall out. You frantically shove the things back in and slam the door shut to hide them. But that door keeps bursting open at the most inconvenient moment, when you least expect it.
In trauma therapy, we open the cupboard gently and just take out one item of clothing. We shake it out, examine it carefully, then we fold it neatly and put it back on a tidy shelf. The next week, we repeat this process.
Eventually, so long as every item/memory is taken out, examined, folded, and tidied away, the cupboard doors stop bursting open. And then, after more sessions, the cupboard is tidy. If you want to access a memory, you choose to open the door, take out the memory, look at it, then you put it back neatly in its place. The memories are no longer pushing at the door demanding your attention.
The memory is still sad, but it no longer dominates you or causes traumatic flashbacks. It's just part of the many memories neatly stacked in your cupboard, which you can choose to view or not.
My therapist used to say before each session, "Let's jump in. Feet first!" and I did. I threw everything at therapy, because I was determined to get the most from it. I abandoned all fear & dove in fully to look at each memory, one at a time each week. Yes I cried - but you know what? Twenty mins of crying to process a memory that had haunted me for 18 months was worthwhile!