Pandemic, Or Panic-demic
The Effects of Global Crisis the Anxiety-Ridden
It started like anyone else's story. I was at work, just doing my job. The news had just started trickling in about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. I was doing my best to ignore it. Not because I didn't think it was a big deal, but because if I wanted to function for the rest of the work day, I couldn't think about what was happening "out there." Isn't "out there" a scary phrase? You don't know exactly where it is, so it could be anywhere. Or everywhere. And what was "out there" was killing people - a lot of people. So I did my best to keep a smile on my face and act like nothing was happening. I work in retail - office supplies. Orders kept coming in, so for a while thing were business as usual.
But it was like trying to ignore the sun - I couldn't look directly at it, but I couldn't exactly pretend it wasn't there. I guess I'm like an ostrich, I'd rather bury my head in the sand than face a problem head on, although how you face a pandemic head on and not get a little anxiety is beyond me. (Fun fact: apparently the ostrich thing is a myth!) Things started to get worse. States of emergency were declared, things started shutting down, everyone was feeling the tension. That's when I noticed that I wasn't coping as well as I should be.
I want to preface the next part of this by saying that I am in no way a mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV. But in my layman's opinion (and I'm sure you would agree with me), it's probably pretty normal to feel anxiety in a high-stress situation such as a global pandemic. The question then becomes: How much anxiety is "normal?" Well, let's see if we can figure this out. You know when you go to the emergency room and they ask you to describe your pain on a scale of 1-10? 1 being hardly noticeable pain at all, 10 being the worst pain you've felt in your life. Well, let's try rating our general level of anxiety on that same scale, 1 being hardly a tickle of anxiety, 10 being a full-blown panic attack. I've asked around, and the people that I know who do not suffer from any kind of anxiety disorder give me anywhere from a 1 to a 3. During the pandemic, we can maybe stretch that up to a 4. Now let's take my baseline number. I suffer from general anxiety disorder and acute panic disorder (yes, I'm a delight, I know) and my baseline is around a 5, and during the pandemic around a 7. And that was not during panic attacks, which were 10's. My panic attacks were getting more frequent and more severe, too. Every time I left the house to go to work, I would suddenly find it hard to breathe.
When the announcement came that businesses would be closing, I was relieved! I would get to stay home where it was safe! My breathing came a little easier. When the time came for the announcement, we all gathered around my computer to watch. To my absolute horror, my job was listed as an essential service. My anxiety immediately came back, as if it had never left. My bosses quickly got to work, sending everyone who could work remotely home. I asked if I could be one of them and immediately was told no. I broke out into a cold sweat. I started having more and more trouble leaving the house.
Finally, it got to the point where I had to check myself into the hospital. I was no longer functioning in my day to day life. And in a way, I got my wish: I didn't have to go to work for twelve whole weeks! I could stay home where it was safe! Yay me! But I couldn't look at it as a vacation. Money got tight. There was still a pandemic going on. And in twelve weeks, I could be right back where I started: at work and afraid. So I made a plan: I needed to take care of me.
I used my time in the hospital wisely to set up some professional support and resources to use as an outpatient, then got out of there as quickly as I could (a hospital during a pandemic is also not really where I want to be). Then I spend the next little while doing the things that make me happy: exercising, playing with my dog, photography, writing, and hanging out with friends (online, of course). I start back up to work at the end of June. Am I nervous? Heck yes. But I have tools in place and a great support system. I can do this.
So what does this mean for you? Did you recognize yourself at all in my story? Maybe you didn't make it all the way to the hospital, but you've been feeling pretty bad. If that's the case, here's what I want you to do: I want you to go online and find your local mental health crisis phone number. I'm not saying call it, I'm not saying talk to anyone today. Just find it. Write it down, program it in your phone, have it near you. Even knowing it's there if you need it will help you feel a tiny bit better. Lean on your friends in this time, and let them lean on you. Remember, everyone is feeling a little worse, even those who do not have any mental illnesses. I read an interesting article explaining that what the world is currently feeling in this pandemic is grief (click here to read it). It made me feel better about my own feelings. I know that sounds funny, but it's true: it's okay to feel what you're feeling. Here are some more resources for you:
- Click here for some great tips about how to combat panic attacks.
- Click here for some tricks to deal with isolation and loneliness.
- Giving back and being charitable has been proven to boost mood, and fundraising is a great way to distract yourself. Click here to find out how you can help with COVID-19 relief efforts.
- And if you just need a quick pick-me-up, I recommend looking at pictures of cute puppies. Here's mine: Fun With Fergus
Just know that you're not alone. We don't know what the future will look like, and things are pretty scary right now. And if you have a mental illness, things being uncertain and scary can ramp that up to 11. But the trick to mental health is not being happy and positive all the time, that will never happen even if you're the most well-adjusted person on the planet. The trick is knowing that even if you're feeling, well, really crappy, you're not going to die from those feelings. They're just feelings. We feel them, we move through them, then we move past them to the next feelings. And don't worry, I will feel them right along with you. We've got this. Together.