Uploading our pain.

“Trauma has to be uploaded.” (Penelope Garcia, Criminal Minds: Evolution)

Last night my daughter’s theater cohort at her school put on a short play that dealt with suicide, particularly when it comes to teenagers.

It was both gut-wrenching and gorgeous, and I was especially appreciative of one of the school’s counselors being on-hand for the production. She facilitated a great discussion between the actors and the audience after, and made it clear she was there for support if anyone needed to process what they’d seen.

Some of the kids in her cohort I know a little, some of them I know not at all, but I’ve heard and seen enough of M’s journey with them so far in high school to know that they are all walking around in pain, whether expressed or not.

We all are.

Sometimes it’s dull, unnoticeable perhaps, except as a sort of low-grade presence in our lives, residual from some long-ago trauma that, when irritated by some conversation or experience, will flare up momentarily and remind us to take care, because even old injuries matter.

Sometimes it is white-hot, absolutely at the forefront of our existence, threatening to consume us.

Sometimes it is like a hot potato, and we don’t want its heat anymore so we toss it off to someone else with our words or actions or behavior. Hurt people hurt people.

And sometimes it is so deeply buried, so locked away in some intentionally forgotten part of who we are that we trick ourselves into thinking it doesn’t make a difference anymore. Only, chances are, it does.


I am an avid Criminal Minds fan. I blew through all 15 seasons across several months mid-2020. I was midway through chemotherapy to treat recently diagnosed lymphoma, I was mad at the world, Covid-19 raged, and nothing felt right.

Everything hurt.

And I know – it’s weird that a show dealing with utterly awful things, the very worst of humanity, would provide solace to me during a difficult time; but, I’ll tell you — that’s exactly what it did. And obviously not because of the serial killers and psychopaths. But because of the team dedicated to tracking them down. The glorious Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) – Gideon and Hotch and Rossi and JJ and Spencer and Emily and Derek and Penelope and a few others here and there along the way – their bond fascinated me, gave me hope, even, because it played out onscreen the way I wish the world could be – so focused on common good, on what’s right, on seeing through the urgent task at hand, that all other differences fell away. The BAU was, at least IMHO, successful because their deep care for each other, even when they disagreed, translated into a deep care for the world and its people. All people.

The original CM aired its last tear-jerking episode just before Covid-19 struck the United States. Fast forward to this past fall, and actor Joe Mantegna, who portrays veteran profiler David Rossi on the show, has helped bring to fruition Criminal Minds: Evolution, a reboot of sorts of the original series. I was here for it as soon as saw a trailer…but I had no idea what I was getting into.

CM:E is nothing short of a brilliant exploration of trauma – both personal and collective. It’s been three years since the agents have all been scattered to working solo due to Covid and departmental budget cuts. They’ve lost not only their daily camaraderie, but their hive mind. And meanwhile Rossi’s wife has died, Penelope, their chief hacker, has quit due to ongoing panic and depression from their cases, several agents have been reassigned, and the ones left are working too long days with nowhere near enough resources. Meanwhile, the criminals they hunt have found, in the isolation of a pandemic, a way to thrive in cyberspace. They are all mad and sad and exhausted.

Everything hurts.

Rossi, especially, hurts. And he pushes the pain away with constant work, constant absence from home, too much whiskey chased by antacids, too much takeout and nowhere near enough sleep. He is terse, angry and often verbally abusive, caught up in a ball of grief that he cannot seem to either name or manage.

One evening, he comes to beg Penelope, who is happily running baking classes and a safe internet chat site for teenagers, for her expertise in a crucial case. She (at first) refuses, citing her own hard work to reclaim her mental health after over a decade of BAU work. She doesn’t want to go back to the dark corners of the world.

Rossi doesn’t like this. He needs her. Desperately. And in their back and forth is evident how much pain has shaped them both. Finally, Penelope tells Rossi he needs help. That he needs to find a way back to the Rossi she once knew, she tells him she knows firsthand how hard it is to emerge from the muck, and bears witness to how the work they once did together almost destroyed her – until she found a way to express it, name it, face it and deal with it.

“Trauma has to be uploaded,” she says to her friend, and warns him that if he does not deal with what he has been through, it will wreck him entirely.


I watched a bunch of teenagers work on uploading trauma last night, y’all. Bravely, and in their own mixed up way, but, still, they went at it. My heart broke that they even have to face such demons at all, especially when I know how responsible we adults are for most of what pains them. And that they could stand in the center of a black box stage, friends and family gathered, and express such important and deeply painful truths about the ways loss impacts a person — well, it would do the rest of us some good to listen up and follow suit.

It would do the rest of us some good to heed Penelope’s gentle and loving advice, “Trauma must be uploaded,” instead of this insistence we seem to want to die on that “everything’s fine,” and that our money, our position, our work, our big house, our ideals, or, even and perhaps worst of all, our faith, can protect us from the complete hell life can mete out.

We are not fine.

We are not okay.

We are broken at the very core of who we are.

And inside us, both individually and corporately, riots grief with seemingly nowhere to go and pain that cannot find healing.

And if we continue to seek solace in our tribes, our social media personas, our “things,” or our own anger and false certainty, we will continue to unravel at the very seams we are working so hard and so futilely to hold together.

And if our children can be brave enough to say, “We’re not okay and we need to tell you about it,” the very least we could do, it seems to me, is take their lead, and perhaps find a way towards wholeness together.

It’s long past time.

2 thoughts on “Uploading our pain.

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