October 20, 2020 is a day all of us will not forget in a hurry. Earlier that day, we had watched in horror, the brutal killing of a policeman by a mob at Orile and later in the evening we were front audience to the shootings by soldiers of the Nigerian Army at peaceful and unharmed protesters at Lekki. Indeed, it was a day filled with sorrow, tears and blood as sang by the enigma named FELA.
I am very squeamish when it comes to blood and because I had inadvertently opened the video of the killing at Orile – the images which still reverberate in my minds-eye, I choose not to follow the live feeds coming out from Lekki preferring to glean the news from people’s tweets. It was a night like no other, many of us could not sleep disturbed by what we had seen and read. We spent the night wringing our hands in helplessness, crying into our pillows, cursing the government, identifying with the pain of those injured and the sorrow of those who we knew would lose their loved ones.
The morning brought no joy as we surveyed the damage and looting unleashed on private business and banks by miscreants and the following days were a flurry of events full of anger, recriminations, gaslighting, shock and disbelief but the most traumatic event for me was the president’s speech. That speech was devoid of hope and cheer and though I hadn’t expected much from him, I was surprised at the effect it had on the nation. It made us feel like slaves who had seen a glimmer of hope in the horizon and had rushed to meet with it only to have the door shut on them and their jailers smiling cruelly at them for daring to believe their circumstances could change. I cannot but compare it to the feelings the Israelites would have had when Pharoah in response to Moses’s request to free the people, instructed that their burdens be increased.
In the days and nights that have followed 20th October 2020 many Nigerians both home and abroad have found themselves traumatized by the events of that night. I for one can say that I found it tiresome to continue with life as I knew it, I remain listless unable to concentrate at work, jumpy at any loud noise especially at night, fearful about leaving the safety of my house and surroundings, grief and confusion at the business and sources of livelihood that have been destroyed and I know that I am not the only one.
Emotional and psychological trauma has been defined as the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter one’s sense of security, making us feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma is said to leave one struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away accompanied with feelings of numbness, a sense of disconnection and the inability to trust other people.
It is important to note that trauma can arise from one time events such as -death, accident, injury, or a violent attack, or a series of events such as- bullying, domestic violence, living in a volatile environment or neighbourhood, an humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, especially if someone was deliberately cruel and that we don’t have to experience the events directly to be traumatized by them.
Unlike our children who see nothing wrong in seeing a therapist, most people my age are not given to talking about their feelings, we were taught to maintain a stiff upper lip at the events of our lives. Being seen as strong especially with regard to our emotions is celebrated and the thought of therapy is very alien to us. We are used to bottling up our feelings and compartmentalizing them and whilst that may help us get over the situations and circumstances we are faced with it doesn’t augur well for us in the long run.
I have found that subdued emotions if not released will eventually lead to an eruption which has the capacity to drown both us and others around us. Although our emotions have a strong influence on us as they color and shape our memories, they are not to lead us neither are they to be feared but expressed and understood.
We must understand that therapy does not necessarily mean seeing a psychiatrist, though some of us may have to see one due to the depth of trauma we may have undergone in our lifetime. It is basically being able to talk and share our feelings in a safe place. As Caroline Leaf a psychoanalyst and psychiatric in her book Listen, Learn, Succeed states “speaking about our emotions out loud, having someone we trust, listen and help us express and understand our feelings, while we listen to them and switch off from our own pain for a little bit, actually allows us (paradoxically) to truly feel what we feel. We can begin to examine our emotions in a safe way and consider whether our own thoughts are healthy and true while helping someone else with their own pain. This, according to research, can actually increase our own chance of healing! Not only does it help us problem-solve, but we also feel like we can move ahead and gain some wisdom from the situation, even if the pain doesn’t disappear overnight (which, in real life, is often the case). We begin to realize that we are not alone, and that other people can empathize and help us with our pain, even if they do not fully understand what we have been through”.
I totally agree with her and it’s my opinion that apart from group or one on one therapy we can do a lot to assist our emotions to recover and come to terms with the trauma we have experienced by
1. Giving ourselves time to process our feelings. It takes time to heal and the time differs from person to person. Don’t try to force the healing process, be patient with your pace of recovery.
2. Allowing ourselves to feel. This is very scary because we often don’t know how to, or trust our ability to come out from the emotional bunkers we have created for ourselves without judgment or guilt. Accepting our feelings especially when we don’t understand them and they threaten to overwhelm us is a very difficult thing to do.
3. Being vulnerable and open about what we are going through.
4. Facing and embracing our greatest fears, which is often the point at which we reach an emotional breakthrough.
5. Examining our thoughts, looking back and learning from our painful experiences not being afraid to look at the reasons why we feel the way we feel about certain topics, people or places.
6. Finding ways to process our emotions by journaling, writing, painting, music, watching comedy.
7. Limiting or Staying away from social media and news that will trigger our emotions.
8. Challenging our sense of helplessness by taking action such as volunteering time, money etc. A good example of this is the decision by some citizens to clean up the streets or put up posters educating people about their civic rights.
In a country such as ours, we all have suffered or know people who have suffered from injustice, police brutality, tribal and ethnic clashes and unspeakable violence. As the events of the past week have shown, It takes just a spark to ignite an emotional volcano in us and if you have found yourself perplexed at the intensity of the emotions you have felt or the memories they have triggered within you it is time to reach out to people you can be open and vulnerable with.
I beg you not to fall back on your coping mechanisms without identifying and dealing with your emotions as that will only serve to put a wet rag on a smoldering fire, I assure you that after a while those emotions will erupt again at times, places and with an intensity least expected.