Same Storm, Different Boats: COVID-19
The next person who says to me “everyone is having a hard time right now” is gonna get a swift tongue lashing from me. Folks, this is one of the worst things you can ever say to someone struggling. It is dismissive, it is not empathetic, and it is a way to shut someone down quickly who likely needs to talk. So please, please, please, stop saying it! Yes, COVID has sucked and been hard on everyone. Globally we are all in the same storm of fear, isolation, worry, and major change, however we are not all in the same boat. Some folks are riding in yachts or speedboats, while others are clinging desperately to life rafts.
The studies and stats emerging show a growth in mental illness, violence, substance use, and suicide. And those numbers only capture a fraction of what living through a global pandemic is doing to us. For those who are sailing through with minimal negative effects I am truly happy for you and wish you well as we continue through this crisis. My focus is on those who are not doing okay, who are clinging to those life rafts and searching for something to save them. I found myself in that situation not long after the pandemic hit, where suddenly my boat turned in to a dingy with a hole in it.
And yet I did everything I was supposed to do, everything the experts were saying. I kept a routine, I ate right, I went to bed and woke at the same times each day, I went for walks to get out of the house, I video chatted with friends and family as often as I could. So why did I still feel like I was drowning? I honestly have no idea how to fully answer that question yet but I think a lot of it had to do with so much change at once. We all know that change is inevitable, however when we get hit with a global pandemic that is literally changing everything about our daily lives, all sense of safety and normalcy go out the window. I mean one day we are enjoying meals at restaurants with groups of friends and the next day going to the grocery store feels like taking your life in to your own hands. For those of us with mental illness, whose brains are often struggling daily just to do the bare minimum, throwing in major changes coupled with fear and anxiety can be dangerous. And when you mix a little OCD in there like I have, the panic scale goes off the charts.
The other angle for me is that I work in emergency management and for those of us in the field this was ‘THE BIG ONE’…..something we never thought we would see in our careers ever! But here it was facing us head on and day after day, call after call, stat after stat, and there was no escaping it; all day at work it was COVID, checking social media and it was COVID, watching the news and it was COVID (the term “breaking news” really started to not mean much after a while am I right?). One of my co-workers made a statement one day that the reality was people were dying. I’ll never forget that moment…..the stats coming in weren’t just numbers on a page. They represented lives of fellow human beings; lives that were being lost or permanently altered. Those moments can hit you hard. At one point I found myself on a Sunday night crying so much I thought I would throw up and, in thinking about work the next day, kept saying to myself “I cant do it….I just can’t”. My ability to cope had become overwhelmed.
So what did I do? I’m not ashamed to say that I took two mental health sick days from work. I turned off all social media. I quit watching the news. I didn’t make one phone call or video call. I slept (and slept and slept), I read, I walked, I took long showers, and I recharged. Not to say that those two days fixed everything and now I’m cured from the COVID fatigue (yes, it’s a real thing folks). What I can say was taking the time I needed for rest and self-care was not just important, it was essential. I could feel myself heading in to a dark place and I owed it to myself to take the time needed for hitting the resent button. If this had been ten years ago I would have gone in to a full blown mental health crisis because of my untreated PTSD. What I have learned in my recovery is to watch for the signs an episode is coming and take immediate action to mitigate the damage. Like any chronic illness, it can be manageable but you must monitor and be self-aware and not try to “push your way through”. That type of thinking is dangerous.
So to my fellow trauma warriors who may be experiencing a maxing out of your coping skills, I want you to know that you are not alone. Reach out for help and support if needed. Take care of YOU first! To everyone that is suffering or struggling because of COVID, your pain is real so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Each of us is allowed to feel how we feel no matter what situation we have in life. Just always remember that your boat may be quite different than someone else’s. Be kind to each other and be safe.