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Joylessness is a Marker of Trauma


We’re not having fun, are we?


This is the feedback I’ve been hearing all over my life lately.


We’re struggling with fun and with play right now. It was less of an issue in the earlier stages of the pandemic because we weren’t expecting this kind of lightness of ourselves or each other. We were hunkered down in emergency mode, in shock or in loss. It’s taken a long time to arrive at the place many of us are in now, where we’re allowing ourselves to feel the impact of what living without fun and ease and joy has done to our bodies and our spirits.


Joylessness is a marker of trauma in children. Children who have endured serious traumas struggle to indulge in imaginative play. Because imaginative play involves abandon and a willingness to extend disbelief in a lighthearted, open way. This kind of trust is hard to come by in the context of trauma.


We have to feel a certain degree of security within ourselves to let go and dance or belly laugh or dip our hands in the paint and make a mess. These are moves which come from a part of the brain often knocked off-line in the face of a crisis.


There’s a line from a Bright Eyes song that’s been running through my mind lately:


What was normal in the evening/by the morning seems insane.


What is “normal” in the midst of an emergency, is not helpful after the heat of the moment has passed. But we don't tend to notice this or make adjustments accordingly.


Many of us have developed survival skills in our childhoods that we’ve never taken conscious inventory of in our adult lives. We aren’t aware of the difference between a mindset which was necessary when we were small, scared and needed extra protection vs a mindset which is predicated on the knowing that we are grown ups now, capable of discernment, no longer living at the mercy and whims of our caretakers.


Transitions are important. We don’t like them, naturally, as humans. We like homeostasis: water seeking its level and then wanting to stay there. But transitions are inevitable along the path of our evolution, as we expand and integrate and change ongoingly. We were sidelined, en masse, as a civilization over the past 2 years. We must make it our work now to intentionally pivot out of survival mode into thrive mode.


This could feel sacrilegious. It could feel daunting. Just remember, it’s your weary, exhausted mind projecting these judgements. Joy is necessary. It’s not a luxury. Fun, play, imagination - these are sacred to our mental health, our well being and our advancement as individuals. And they are always available to us when we give ourselves permission to seek and find them.


Let yourself connect with the stuff that makes your heart sing. With what makes you smile and feel alive. Regardless of the precariousness of life. Regardless of how much has been lost. Regardless of how skinny your threshold may feel at this point. The only way to begin is to begin.


Mark this time in your life as a beginning. It’s a blank page waiting for a title. Call it: A Great and Noble Effort to Begin Again. And let it be a beginning rooted in the refusal to let the darkness that’s always right there take over your spirit. Let it be a beginning of grand heights. An acorn planting itself safely into the tender earth. Ready to become the magnificent tree it's meant to be.