A Real, Bona Fide Pivot; or, From PTSD to PTSG

Susan Corso
6 min readMay 8, 2020

Yesterday’s Times had a map that showed thirty states planning to reopen to varying degrees immediately. I was proud to note that New York wasn’t one of them.

The hardest part about the map is that the virus has just begun to manifest in most of those states whereas in New York, we seem to be on the downside of the curve. That’s both a relief and a terror.

One of the major absences I’ve felt during the pandemic has been that of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention — the C.D.C. A lot of surprising silence, some, and I quote, ‘suggestions,’ but no leadership at all.

The Batterer-in-Chief has cowed the C.D.C. into stuttering syllables. It’s appalling.

That why I was so glad that despite the toothless, numberless, nonspecific ‘recommendations’ of the federal Open America Up Again plan, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took the opposite tack.

“As deaths fall, Governor Cuomo gives criteria for reopening. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday provided new details about the process that New York plans to follow for reopening as the coronavirus outbreak continues to decline in the state.

“Mr. Cuomo listed seven requirements that each of the state’s 10 regions must meet before restrictions meant to slow the virus’s spread could be eased in those areas.”

What a breath of fresh air. Requirements! Seven of them. Huzzah!

Mr. Cuomo said on Tuesday on CNN, “”We have to be smart about this, adding that testing and infection rates and the availability of hospital beds must be at adequate levels. “Again, I know … people are feeling emotional. Emotions can’t drive our reopening process.”

He’s right. It’s definitive numbers that must do it. Unlike the 30 states who aren’t even meeting the federal guidelines, but are willy-nilly opening anyway. The press shorthands the explanation for it as, “Republican governors.”

“Remember we have gone through hell and back over the past 60 or so days,” Cuomo said. “What New Yorkers have done has been to save lives. But we have to stay vigilant. This is not over.”

And until there is a vaccine, it won’t be over.

Here are the bare bones of New York’s reopening plan:

A 14-day decline in hospitalizations, or fewer than 15 a day.

A 14-day decline in virus-related hospital deaths, or fewer than five a day.

A steady rate of new hospitalizations below two per 100,000 residents a day.

A hospital-bed vacancy rate of at least 30 percent.

An availability rate for intensive care unit beds of at least 30 percent.

At least 30 virus tests per 1,000 residents conducted a month.

At least 30 working contact tracers per 100,000 residents.

“Some parts of New York will probably meet the thresholds much sooner than others,” the governor said.

Of course they will, and still, there will be deaths and more infections because we don’t yet know what the virus, that irrational variable, will do.

Contrast this, the sanity, the kindness, the acknowledgement, the groundedness with what’s happening at the federal level. It’s head-shaking, for lack of a better reaction that doesn’t involve language way too colorful for print.

At the same time, I so appreciated the observations made by military veteran Elliot Ackerman. “But there is a silver lining [to PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder], one not widely discussed. The traumas that create post-traumatic stress also create conditions for post-traumatic growth — broadly defined as a “positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.

You’ve heard it whispered lately, haven’t you? That the quarantine is giving people PTSD. I sure have.

Various writers have claimed that those in the medical-industrial complex will have a huge mental health fall-out as coronavirus wanes.

An emergency room doctor committed suicide because she thought she wasn’t doing enough. She’s not the only one thinking that.

I am personally acquainted with physicians who are traumatized by what’s happened so far, and if the scientists and experts who are purported to know are any indication, it’s only just begun.

That’s why Mr.Ackerman’s words hit me so hard.

He lost compatriots to two Middle Eastern war efforts. When he and his surviving marines returned, they partied to escape the feelings. Married, celebrated, caroused, carried on. Here are his words:

“Shortly after returning from Iraq, the Marine Corps had me complete a form used to detect post-traumatic stress. It was a long list of symptoms. I ticked ‘No’ on every box. My friends and I — a group of infantry lieutenants in our early 20s — didn’t feel depressed or traumatized. We felt alive. The months after our return were a celebration. We traveled to Fleet Week in New York City. We rented a beach house. When one of us got engaged, we ran with the bulls in Pamplona for the bachelor party.”

It was only a matter of time before they crashed and burned. Not that any of them necessarily had diagnosable PTSD, but that all of them were trauma survivors, regardless.

Ackerman, “We had come so close to death that we wanted to fling open the doors of life and crowd everyone and everything inside. But that joy soon yielded to its opposite: grief. The nights of partying began to end tearfully, with questions that began: Why? There weren’t answers, only the names of the guys who weren’t there, no matter how hard we tried to party them back to life. By that fall one of us, a lieutenant who’d had a promising career, was arrested for D.U.I. He’d flipped his car after a night of heavy drinking. By the following summer, our friend who we’d celebrated in Pamplona had filed for divorce. Celebrating was a way to take our lives out of the darkness and hold them to the light. But in the light we saw how life had become unalterably different. When America emerges from quarantine — even if that process is gradual — people will want to celebrate. Every filled bar, movie theater, or stadium will be a reclamation of life.”

Did you notice his pivot? Because it’s coming for all of us.

Grief. And more, the actual work of grieving. Which is up-close, personal, and entirely different for each and every one of us, and believe me, I know. I’m an expert. Grief is even different within the individual. When my dad was killed in a plane crash, I was five. When mama died, I was forty. The two experiences, both named the same, were exponentially different.

But once the grieving is done, and one of the great secrets to grief is that it takes as long as it takes for each one of us, there’s a distinct possibility that is rarely mentioned.

Marine Ackerman again, “Although post-traumatic growth has long been a theme in religious and spiritual teachings, it is only in the past 25 years that mainstream psychology has acknowledged that those who survive trauma might benefit from a stronger personal makeup and greater capacities for compassion. Clinicians have identified general areas where they see post-traumatic growth, including a change in relationships with others and increased connection with those who suffer; an enhanced sense of one’s own strength; and a greater appreciation for life.

Between you and me, I think Governor Cuomo has been grieving the corornavirus since Day One. That’s why his response has been so thoughtful, so measured, alternating between genuine sorrow and righteous anger, both components of the grief cycle.

There is, however, Beloved, a key to grieving which once deployed makes it easier.

We have had to become fierce individuals in the face of the onset of COVID-19, particularly to deal with much of the floundering pseudo-leadership and misinformation we’ve encountered. In grief, or better said, in active grieving, we lay down our fierce shields. We must.

We face and honor our loss, or our losses, as the case may be. We must.

We feel the feelings we’ve most likely been avoiding. We must.

In order to go on.

The key that makes it work both internally, for ourselves, and externally, for others, is gentleness.

Gentleness has a bad rep. It’s often viewed as weakness, but gentleness, true gentleness, is actually the quality that allows us all to carry on in the face of our vulnerabilities. We all have them. Our traumas. We all have them.

Our grieving is the pivot that will allow us to come out on the other side into growth and a new world. Let us begin.

Dr. Susan Corso is a metaphysician and medical intuitive with a private counseling practice for more than 35 years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com

© Dr. Susan Corso 2020 All rights reserved.

Susan Corso

Dr. Susan Corso a metaphysician with a private counseling practice for 40+ years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com