It’s September 6, 2020 and today marks month six since my family and I have been ‘stranded’ in the US. I am only one among the thousands who are stuck on foreign soil and public knowledge of our plight seems to be only whispers falling onto the ever-changing winds, with little impact on a steady breeze.
The very definition, “to be displaced” means to force (someone) to leave their home, typically because of war, persecution, or natural disaster. Due to COVID-19, myself and thousands should have been forced to temporarily reside on foreign soil for the initial three (3) months of the global lockdown. However, what occurred instead in Trinidad and Tobago was a protracted, phase-based lockdown that continues to determine our fate, as many of us now grapple with illegal residence, visa extension fees, mental distress and major financial strain or depletion of funds due to the length of stay. A stay that has crossed half a year.
There has been great difficulty met by all of us who long await to be on the shores of our homeland and feel Trinbago soil underneath our feet. One can imagine the challenges that we now face such as financial hardships, accumulation of bills, job loss, homelessness, isolation, lack of medication and other required amenities, grief and a loss of connection to the ones we love, wishing we could hold them close to our skin. Our mental health has taken a toll as we wrestle to cope in this way of life, sitting patiently, watching from the outside. Waiting feels like suffocation of the senses and uncertainty feels like paralysis of the mind. One cannot think clearly, breath easily and rest comfortably, in a place that is not our home.
Life has come to an abrupt halt and the inability to plan without a vision of our today and tomorrow, is quite frankly, frighteningly blinding. Sense of purpose, identity and even patriotism has been lost in these never-ending days in the monotony of the unknown; one’s innate drive, motivation and resilience has been plucked and decimated.
The psychological impact of COVID-19 has negatively affected many people’s mental health as we have seen an increase in anxiety, depression, panic attacks, mass hysteria, severe distress, substance abuse and a plethora of other psychological manifestations across society; isolation seemingly being a prime suspect of our vulnerability. Now add the impact of displacement to this list and one can see how emotions will be heightened as the days keep adding to our duration.
I have listened to, spoken to some and observed many statements made among my fellow stranded Trinbagonians. There is a great sense of sadness, hurt, abandonment, betrayal, confusion, desperation, hopelessness, anger, annoyance, frustration and even a broken spirit.
This is trauma. According to the American Psychological Association definition,
“Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea” (‘Trauma’, September 6, 2020, www.apa.org/topics/trauma).
I am experiencing weeks of headaches, light-headedness and tension, only to be told by the doctor that I’m sleep deprived and stressed.
Imagine not being able to hold your child as they fall asleep in your arms, to lovingly kiss your spouse who makes your every day brighter, to receive the warm embrace of your parents, to see the light in the eyes of grandparents as they bond with their grandchildren, to have a good ole talk with your friends for this long and not having an iota of a clue when one can return to the very people who contribute to the core of your foundation. Can you picture it?
Adjusting to this environment has been no easy task. For me, I had to adjust so my mind can come to a place of ease and peace. I had to accept so I can breathe easier and no longer feel stifled in this situation. I had to call somewhere else my home so I can perform the basic daily functions for myself and my family without a fight. I had to pray, pray fervently to make sure God didn’t forget me, forget us; trying to trust even in His slow process.
This experience has been a true test of faith, patience and will. When will this particular test end? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that question. The process of return that was stated to be one of prioritisation based on each case’s circumstance appears to be ambiguous and lack transparency, as I have a family comprising three children less than five years old, having yet to receive any information on our exemption. I continue to pray and hope for a fair and just system.
My only wish after you’ve read this article is that it is met with nothing but empathy, kindness and prayer. It is all we can simply ask for at this time. We are your fellow Trinbagonians, your brothers and sisters in Christ, desiring deeply to come back home, to come back to you….
Crystal Johnson is a Mental Health Clinician, employed by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission for nine years, serving the Catholic and wider community. Johnson is responsible for the Topic Thursday segments featured every week on the AFLC’s Facebook page.