Links to Amazon on this blog are affiliate links*

Quarantine, PTSD, a Paintbrush and Me: How A Gentle Creativity Practice Helps this Mom Through the Isolation of Covid

PTSD Paint Therapy

Quarantine brought silence and stillness to our usually hoppin’ party town. Suddenly in late March there was no cumbia music, no hippie drum circle, no karaoke quinciñera party pumping out the jams. Our pueblo shut its doors and we retreated into our homes.

It was the exact silence that I had begged and pleaded for after my baby died from a termination for medical reasons in early 2018. I just wanted the world to STOP TURNING ALREADY. Why did everyone just keep buying shoes and ice cream and going to bars and work and…?

..and now it was actually happening.

It was eery. So very eery.

My Grief Wish Come True

Those first few days of everyone quarantined was my “grief wish” come true. The stillness shot me right back to that first week after my termination. My PTSD was triggered. Flashbacks of the abortion clinic returned in technicolor, coupled with racing heart, hyper-vigilance, and a wonderful, snappy, highly irritated disposition (sorry dear husband).

After a huge loss of a baby, and the medical trauma of *how* she died, it makes some sense that this pandemic we are living through, a HEALTH crisis I want to add, would trigger the real fear of losing another loved one.

And the collective grief on top of it all – it’s just so much.

PTSD Reactivated

My PTSD brain focused on my youngest, my “rainbow” baby born after loss. Her health, especially her breathing, became the center of my obsessions. During her naps, one thought stamped out all the others, “Was she still breathing?”

I would ask myself this question over and over. And over. I would wake up 3 or 4 (or 5 or 6) times a night and just hover over her crib. Place my hand on her belly or back and pray to feel the up and down.

She started crawling and the related thoughts turned into, “Maybe she’ll fall down the stairs and kill herself. I better get a picture of her today, this might be her last day alive.”

My thoughts were dark, filled with death.

Triggers, Triggers, and More Triggers

A combination of no in-person school and the park becoming a deadly petri dish of infection overnight meant my very active 6 year old was now literally bouncing off the walls. Literally.

Or to be more exact, hopping right next to me on the couch. At least 100 times a day.

The jolting sets off something in my parasympathetic system…danger…a threat. I know it’s my lizard brain gone haywire, but my logical mind cannot talk it down.

I *know* it’s just a cooped up kid donkey kicking on a sofa.

But my hypervigilant body tenses up, and I’m right back in that procedure room. I can feel the cortisol rush between my shoulder blades and neck. Tense. It makes me so angry. I admit to many hulk moments. Sorry again, dear husband. Sorry, sweet daughter.

The Nightmares Return

And then the nights. The nightmares started up again. In that shadowy, liminal space between sleep and awake all the curves and corners of my dark room are monsters or spirits here to haunt me. I fight them nightly. The sweat drenches me and I can barely catch my breath.

It feels a lot like grief because it is. I am grieving a loss of a support system that I now know keeps my symptoms at bay. And it feels like a high stress environment because it IS.

Relief in the Form of a Paintbrush

When it became clear that this pandemic was not going away anytime soon, I opened up my psycho-spiritual toolbox to see what I could find in there to help me through.

My relief came in the form of a paintbrush.

PTSD Paint Therapy

Out splashed bright colors. I added a ritual to my art, creating a sacred space in which to create: I set out an altar of candles, crystals, add soothing scents, and play the calmest sounds I can find online (thank God for the internet).

A wash of colors over this isolated, grey veneer. I had to, I just had to find a way in this new reality. I am like Harold with his and the Purple Crayon, drawing my way out of this mind dungeon. I slop on the bright greens, reds, yellows, purples.

I work on tiny pieces of watercolor paper, no bigger than 2 inches by 2 inches  The smaller the better, a teeny piece of this world I can control and not control at the same time.

PTSD Paint Therapy

A splotch. A shaky line…they soothe me.

I am not creating master works of art (or maybe I am?). But no matter. My breathing softens. My youngest naps peacefully in the next room. My oldest sits next to me, asking to paint too. The donkey kicking stops.  We listen to soft bells and rain sounds on YouTube, and I burn a bit of lavender essential oils. For a minute, I create a calm environment to slow down and be. BE.

Accessing the Womb Wound

There is something in the creating, adding color back into my world of dusky shadow-mind monsters. There is something in the act of creating that helps me reach out and touch the All that I felt abandoned by in my darkest grief. God, Goddess, Mother Nature, why did you let my baby grow so poorly? Here on my little paper square canvas I can ask the unaskable questions. Feel the unfeelable. It is my space that I create to heal the deep wound in my womb.

I go to the place of trauma. My art takes the form of uteruses, placentas, embryos, sperm. Not even on purpose, they just appear.

Now my heart is racing, but with excitement. Excitement for being able to look at the origin of my pain, the place of my grief. Here in my paint I can look my dark thoughts directly in the face.

Do I still feel anxious about everyone’s health and breathing around me? Yes, worries are still here. Nightmares, hypervigilance, triggered by loud noises and the inevitable jolts and screeches of two young ones around me…they still bring up a trauma response. I know I need more trauma informed therapy (EMDR is my preference, and my therapist will practice virtually) but I know the supplement I need to keep taking to work with my grief.

It is Vitamin C for Creativity, and I take it as often as possible. My art, it soothes my soul and gently and powerfully heals my womb trauma.

What a dance.

How are *you* dancing with your grief and trauma during this pandemic?

Sabrina Fletcher The Undone Path

Sabrina Fletcher is a Pregnancy Loss Doula who supports women and families going through the grief of TFMR. She has created a free guide called Art Journaling Prompts for Pregnancy Loss which you can pick up here.

You can also find her sharing her art and healing journey as well as pregnancy loss resources and support over on Instagram at @TheUndonePath.

She lives in Mexico with her husband, 2 living kids, 2 crazy cats and a turtle.