Pandemic PTSD

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A friend admitted she suffered PTSD because of the pandemic.

I first learned of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from news about Gulf War soldiers returning home and feeling miserable…disconnected.

And PTSD implies that you may feel the effects long after the insult—hence the reference to “post.”

We talked about the myriad ways lockdown felt stressful.

Outings were limited to walks in the neighborhoods where even the children’s playground was wrapped in yellow caution tape to prevent swinging and sliding.

When we spied another person on the sidewalk we quickly crossed the street to avoid contact.

With restaurants and coffee-houses closed, we shopped for groceries from home—where we now cooked all meals—and ventured out only when grocery stores allowed special access for high-risk patrons.

And when we did shop, we’d find empty aisles where the toilet paper, baby wipes, latex gloves and paper towels were once abundant.

There was even a shortage of bread yeast.

My friend and I were sequestered with our respective partners with no clue when we would once again talk to another soul in person.

Our house is plenty large for two grown-ups and yet we seem to need the drawer or the fridge or the shower at exactly the same time.

The craving for time alone was quashed, yet, somehow, we managed to co-habit without killing each other.

Indeed, our fondness for one another grew.

As the 12-month anniversary of the lockdown—the month of March for us—was checked on the calendar, I thought about how the Pandemic brought some unexpected delights.

For example, I was able to take language classes sponsored by my tribe that were offered online for the first time.

Each Monday I would listen to my teacher speak in Wazhazhe, and I was able to add a few more words to my scant vocabulary.

Because the classes were taught in Oklahoma, sometimes one would be cancelled because of a tribal event, and, once, because of a sleet-storm.

It made me feel like I was back in Pawhuska.

The pandemic brought me a new appreciation for our gardens, where my husband plants tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, while I bury the bulbs: garlic, onion, sunchokes and potatoes.

We set aside space for herbs and vegetables, including thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram, basil, chervil, parsley, cilantro, mint, rosemary, lavender, verbena, bay leaf, bloody dock, arugula, lettuce and spinach, and we planted edible and decorative flowers like calendula, violets, poppies, nasturtium, peonies, dahlias, daisies, statice, lantana, chrysthanamums, tobacco, marigolds and cosmos.

The honey bees love the poppies and lavender, and when the herbs bolt, bees flock to the flower-buds, which dip from the weight of the critters.

The bees inspired me to carve their likeness onto a linoleum block, and I inked some greeting cards with a rendering of their fuzzy backs and delicate wings.

Many sunny afternoons I sit outside with a cool drink and carve out images or paint with watercolors: my reward for sludging through another day of disconnectedness.

The healing comes slowly: a golden lily blooms in the soil, a finch darts to the bird feeder, and the yellow tape disappears from the playground.


5-6 September 2021


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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1 Response to Pandemic PTSD

  1. Cynthia, what a lovely;y post. Counterintuitively, many of my clients with PTSD have found relief during the pandemic. They stay home and feel safer. And yes, in spite of the stress, my partner and I do feel closer. Be well and safe.


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