Back to School COVID-19 Trauma

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Anyone else experiencing back to school COVID-19 trauma? 2020 presented a myriad of challenges often lumped together under the nauseatingly overused word, “unprecedented.” [I will even go as far to say that hearing the word unprecedented is traumatic.]

stressed young woman grabbing head while sitting on chair
Photo by Liza Summer on

I’ve been on a bit of a writing hiatus, spending quality time with family before moving into the new school year. I have to be honest, I’m always a bit sad when summer ends, but this year, I dread the new school year. COVID-19 is a dark cloud just hovering over me.

Using the word trauma

Honestly, I feel a little guilty about it – using the the word trauma – as it suggests something horrific. As a person who embraces the phrase ‘Suck it up, buttercup,” I often second-guess my feelings as being dramatic.

So often, the concept of trauma is based around the idea that it’s caused by a singular event. Trauma is defined as emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis. The truth is, the COVID-19 pandemic includes multiple stressful events causing upheaval in our medical, social, and personal lives.

COVID-19 presented events that we never could have anticipated. In many cases, COVID-19 further highlighted disparities in educational access for our children with special needs, pouring salt into an open wound.

The pandemic disproportionately impacted additional needs families

We watched as our kids collectively regressed, and did our best to gap-fill. In my case, we tried to do this while working more-than-full time hours, working in the healthcare and shipping industries. I’m not sure if my kids will ever totally catch up.

Public-facing entities can use every euphemism they want – challenges, obstacles, overcome adversity, and yes, even unprecedented. At the end of the day, however, I still categorize 2020 as one big shit show.

That’s not to say there are not silver linings, but by and large, I believe every family experienced some kind of trauma.

I consider myself mentally strong, but after last year’s experience, I am left feeling both vulnerable and tired. Fear and anxiety surface when remembering last year. I write today to share my thoughts, and say out loud to anyone else who may be experiencing similar thoughts – that it is OK – and justified. Recognizing the thoughts causing stress is the first step…

Here are 8 ways COVID-19 stress rears its ugly head:

  1. The near-constant fear of my kids getting sick. Our schools have continued wearing masks, but no other mitigation strategies like social distancing.
  2. Media sound bytes insisting that it is only the unvaccinated are the people who are dying, knowing that not everyone in my family is eligible.
  3. News stories and CDC reports that the vaccinated are, indeed, getting infected (and quite ill) with the Delta variant.
  4. I hold my breath and try not to scream at the TV every time the CDC shifts gears and changes guidance.
  5. The balancing act between (my kids’) mental health and need for socialization against fear of getting COVID-19 during in-person instruction.
  6. Fear of shut downs and being isolated for weeks at a time (again).
  7. Thoughts about missed birthdays and social gatherings (and dreading a long, lonely winter)
  8. Worry that my kids will become lax with masks and hand hygiene.

Positive Reactions

As with all stressors in our lives, it’s how we react that makes the difference. I believe that parents of special needs children need to take extra care as they already carry a more-than-average stress load.

I’ve been taking a close look at what I can control (and just as important, what I cannot). I take comfort in the fact that I spent a lot of time teaching my kids about hand washing and wearing masks. They know what to do – and now it’s second nature.

Another strategy I find helpful is to shut off the news (and sometimes social media) when I first wake up, and before bed. I am intentional about seeking out reliable sources and facts over emotional tweets or Facebook updates. It’s something I added to my self-care journal, to help hold myself accountable.

Now, more than ever, we need to develop healthy coping mechanisms like validating our feelings, knowing what we can control, getting reliable information and making time for self-care. Stay connected, and reach out for support – and know you are not alone.

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  1. I took a writing hiatus as well and just recently started coming back to the blog. Everything you said here sorta summed up my feelings over the past few months. It’s nice to see another special needs parent who gets it. I feel like the recovery from this will takes years at least.

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