Posts Tagged ‘Covid-19 and mental health’

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - HelpGuide.org

I thought I might share what I have to do to stay sane. Not to be a paragon of mental health, but to simply exist without running to the psychiatrist for medication (and I might still consider medication. I have no conflict with that for anyone that needs it).

I take 100 mg. of Theanine in the morning, along with various supplements for digestion and general nutrition. I must walk briskly for 40 minutes, twice a day. Every day. I cannot have caffeine after 1:00 in the afternoon. I take a nap for a least an hour; that is non-negotiable. I have a light dinner, walk some more, and watch non-violent television. I can’t watch stimulating programs or anything with upsetting content. I have to do stretching, yoga for stress, and meditate for at least 1/2 every, single day. In between all of those activities, I read books on mental health–lots and lots of them–underlining strategies for managing anxiety, stress, and depression. I follow the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) protocol as much as possible, as it works for me better than anything else (please consider reading up on it if you deal with mental health issues, or even if you don’t and simply want to be psychologically healthier). I take another 100 mg. of Theanine at night to help me sleep. If things are really rough, I ask my husband for a massage.

I generally wake up two hours after I fall asleep, and again around 3:00 or 4:00 am. I don’t get upset or angry that I can’t stay asleep; I get up and walk around, listen to the night birds, and return to bed when I start feeling sleepy. I almost never sleep through the night.

I am managing Generalized Anxiety Disorder, mild to moderate depression, and Panic Disorder. The panic attacks that come at night can kick of esophageal spasms so intense that they mimic a heart attack. If I didn’t know what they were, I would immediately go to the ER. I have had moments of derealization where the world seems unfamiliar and strange, a place I don’t recognize. My stress levels are considered by my doctors to be ‘severe’ and ‘extreme’. Spasms of the stomach and esophagus are the result of unusually advanced states of anxiety. It’s been almost two weeks since my last attack, and I am very grateful for that; but I work hard to keep those episodes at bay.

The news is filled with Covid horror stories, and well-meaning friends and family occasionally send me terrifying “true stories” about someone who experienced awful side effects from the virus, or someone who lost more than half of their family to the disease. The fear-based narrative has become like pornography–we know that it’s bad for us, that we shouldn’t look at it, but we are compelled to due to the intense reactions we feel in our body. Fear is a form of arousal, after all, just not a pleasant one.

Selling and promoting fear may strike some as profitable or beneficial for public health, but for people like me who suffer from crippling anxiety, it is an act of emotional violence. The “second pandemic” will be the mental health fallout of Covid-19, and at least some of that could have been prevented with a consistent, calm message to the public that someone was in charge. Fear-based reporting does not convince Covid deniers to change; the irresponsible people throwing parties and tossing about conspiracy theories will not read the heartbreaking and horrifying accounts of Covid chaos that the news uses to stoke panic. If they do, it won’t matter. They will not change their opinions or suddenly decide to wear a mask.

But people like me read these stories; people with an overdeveloped sense of danger and a big imagination for disaster. There are a lot of us out there, struggling in silence with our own morbid thoughts and gnawing fears. I remember my father telling me stories of brain eating amoebas and viruses that would make you bleed to death through every orifice. He collected the most horrifying stories he could find and used to tell my sister and me all about them, delighting in the fear and upset that he provoked. I don’t know why he told those stories; I suspect it was about feeling in control. He could create emotions in others and perhaps work through his own in a psychodrama that ended up fomenting in me a kind of permanent dread.

Don’t share anecdotes about the deadly unpredictability of Covid-19 with your friends, families or coworkers who struggle with anxiety, especially under the guise of ‘helping’ us understand the severity of the situation. You probably know already that we ‘get’ that, and–I suspect–sharing highly distressing narratives of medical horrors is not about educating or informing us, but about the power one feels when you receive a response; especially if that response confirms that your well-intended warning created such fear that it took an entire day to recover from it.

We watch scary movies because humans love to be terrified when they know that after two hours or so, everything will go back to normal and the ‘fight or flight’ instinct evaporates. But for many of us, the scary movie never ends. There is no reprieve after two hours, and we can’t turn off the awful stories. They run through our heads like an endless loop. We want to run, and there is nowhere to go. We want to hide, yet never find a safe place. We want to fight, but there is no visible enemy to defeat. Panic and anxiety that never end create health risks that nobody seems to appreciate; but I know that I am far likelier to die from incessant stress than from Covid-19. Let’s take care of each other in ways that extend beyond wearing a mask or refusing to socialize. Reach out in a compassionate way to someone who is suffering.

Thank you for listening. As always.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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A Mindfulness Practice for Facing Your Fears - Mindful

This morning, the radio was blaring its usual concoction of miserable news, but one, brief comment on a recent study stood out. Over 75,000 people (about the same number as have died recently from Covid-19) could die from “deaths of despair”: suicide and drug overdoses. These deaths are directly related to the constant drip of trauma induced by reading the daily death counts and the dire predictions of mass death in the future, as well as the isolation of quarantine and job loss leading to poverty and and a sense of hopelessness.

We don’t know enough about the virus, allowing the media to take full advantage of our ignorance. We read about bizarre and horrifying symptoms that happen to a tiny minority of people; we are assaulted by terrible predictions if we leave our house more than “necessary” or visit our friends and family. We are shamed if our behavior seems irresponsible to others, even if we simply hold hands with our partner with whom we live. We don’t know when the virus showed up; we don’t know who has already had it and who is truly negative, because our tests are unreliable; we don’t know what the denominator truly is when talking about deaths from Covid-19, so we don’t know its true mortality rate; and all we THOUGHT we knew was that staying at home would keep us safe. And then, this statistic comes at us like a bomb from New York:

“If you notice, 18% of the people came from nursing homes, less than 1% came from jail or prison, 2% came from the homeless population, 2% from other congregate facilities, but 66% of the people were at home, which is shocking to us,” Cuomo said.

“This is a surprise: Overwhelmingly, the people were at home,” he added. “We thought maybe they were taking public transportation, and we’ve taken special precautions on public transportation, but actually no, because these people were literally at home.”

Cuomo said nearly 84% of the hospitalized cases were people who were not commuting to work through car services, personal cars, public transit or walking. He said a majority of those people were either retired or unemployed. Overall, some 73% of the admissions were people over age 51. 

He said the information shows that those who are hospitalized are predominantly from the downstate area in or around New York City, are not working or traveling and are not essential employees. He also said a majority of the cases in New York City are minorities, with nearly half being African American or Hispanic. 

Cuomo said state health officials had thought a high percentage of people who were hospitalized would be essential employees, like health-care workers or city staff, who are still going to work. 

“Much of this comes down to what you do to protect yourself. Everything is closed down, government has done everything it could, society has done everything it could. Now it’s up to you,” Cuomo said. 

66% of the hospitalizations in New York were people who stayed at home; did not take public transportation; and did not work outside of the home. People who took the precautions and stayed at home are overwhelmingly represented in the hospitalization numbers, and, presumably, the fatality numbers.

What I take from this is that this virus is capricious and unpredictable, infecting people regardless of their stay-at-home status. Cuomo seems to want to make the case that those people probably had family or friends come over and didn’t wear masks or sanitize their hands, but he has no evidence for that at all. In fact, it makes no sense to say that people who stayed home and avoided public transportation weren’t also taking all the precautions recommended–this would be the cohort who WOULD wear the mask and wash their hands. And it didn’t matter, in the end.

If we didn’t already have this disease, then we will, no matter how careful we are. It doesn’t appear that we are making the difference in death numbers by our conduct and precautions. So, if I freak out, refuse to see anyone outside of my tiny household, eat only at home, avoid all gatherings, and disinfect the crap out of everything, I might well still be one of those people who gets it and ends up on oxygen in the hospital. The numbers are telling that story. These facts, in turn, make me want to give up.

But give up what, exactly? I will still wear a mask, but not because I think it’s anything but a public show of solidarity and compliance. Unless I have an active cough or are sneezing a great deal, my mask isn’t going to much, if anything. I wear it because people expect and want me to, and that’s enough reason. I stay six feet away from people not because I think it will afford me some magic protection (if someone coughs near me, the particulates from that cough go beyond 12 feet), but because it makes those around me more comfortable. It makes it look like I’m DOING something, even though it is becoming painfully clear that there is no way to avoid this virus, no matter how much we hide, mask ourselves or stand six feet apart.

If we haven’t had it, we’re going to get it. We could get really, really sick from it. We could die from it. Or, we could get it, not have any clue that we’re sick, and go along our merry way. If I have Covid-19, I do not see strong evidence that my mask or my six-feet away behavior is keeping others safe. Maybe I’m wrong about that; I do not know. I will continue to abide by the guidelines. But the insidious nature of this virus tells me that it will find a way to infect us, seemingly no matter what we do. When the information is contradictory, bizarre, and constantly changing, how are we supposed to live? The answer appears to be: be afraid, all of the time, every minute; if that fear leads you to suicide (and no, I’m not suicidal) or drug abuse, well . . . you’re simply collateral damage, I suppose.

I have reached the point where the threat to my mental health is greater than the threat of illness due to this virus. I have reached the point where I can’t fear my friends and family any more. I am going to see them. Some of them will be OK with hugs; others will not. Some will want me to wear a mask, and some will want to socially distance. However, some won’t care, and in that case, I will not wear the mask or stay far away. In my group of consenting adults, we are going to make decisions about the risks that we are willing to take; we will be smart, but not paranoid every second that we are together. Will that result in tragedy? It is possible; but it is not likely.

I can’t live my life in fear of the possible but not likely. To do so is to create health risks for myself that ARE likely: increased panic attacks, heightened anxiety and depression, withdrawal; high blood pressure, heart problems, digestive issues, insomnia, greater susceptibility to colds, flues, or to Covid-19 itself. Ongoing, overwhelming stress kills people. That is well documented. So why, you might ask, can’t you just drop your stress and stay away from everyone? Because my mental health–as well as perhaps yours–cannot thrive in long-term isolation and is not alleviated by Zoom meetings or FaceTime. Instagram doesn’t connect me to my loved ones. Facebook cannot take the place of my mother’s hug. Nothing can heal my broken heart like seeing my dear friends in person, in front of me, and comforting me when I cry.

I’m a good person who follows the rules and takes public health seriously. But I’ve had enough. I’m breaking. My friends and I are going to see each other today. I will hug them. I will spend hours with them. I won’t touch my face, and I’ll sanitize my hands, but I have to let go of the fear. The fear is ripping me apart more effectively than anything else I have ever experienced.

–Kirsten A. Thorne

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Enlightenment - WOHASU

There is a Cooper’s Hawk nesting in our pine tree. His plaintive cries ring out at various times during the day, like an avian alarm clock. Yesterday, we found a new bird sitting on the railing of the front patio: I think he was some kind of tufted nuthatch, but honestly, I can’t remember his name. I can see his bird body, firm and round, and the spectacle of him catching an insect in his beak as he sat on the railing. My husband and I played in mud puddles a few days back, because there were fairy shrimp in them, an endangered species brought to life by the copious rains of the last several weeks. Those rains are long gone, though, replaced by a heat wave that will bring up the temperature to near 100 degrees today. The fairy shrimp won’t make it, but by now, they have deposited their eggs in the mud for next year’s generation. Right now, the tadpoles and fairy shrimp are drying up in the intense sun, as they do every year. They will come around again in several months’ time, when the conditions are right for their reappearance.

The bees are almost finished with the blooming rosemary and have moved on to heartier flowers. The cabbage rose in the side yard has sent out new shoots, suckers and stems, drinking in the heat and creating more roses out of nothing, it seems. My husband has found several deer mice in his garage, and he feeds them leftover burritos until we liberate them from an old, metal bucket into the State Park, where humans cannot yet go, but mice can. My walks around the hills have become more focused, and now I see tiny flowers and withering mushrooms that would have escaped me before. I see the circling of hawks on the updrafts; sometimes, they appear not to move at all, suspended in the air like living kites, and I wonder if they are searching for food or simply enjoying the sensation of floating over the world.

Right now, a train is passing through the valley, and the sound of the horn reverberates and warps as it tunnels through the hills. The rotating fan clicks as it hits one extreme of its trajectory and heads toward the other. I feel the breeze for a moment, and then I don’t, and then I do. A dog is barking down the street, and the birds in the oak tree are singing and calling to each other. I don’t know which birds they are: goldfinch, sparrows, titmice, wren, or something else, but I do know that they sound ecstatic to my ears, as if they had been waiting for this morning forever, and it’s finally here.

There is one reality, and you are experiencing it right now. How you experience will vary tremendously. Perhaps, if you were here with me in my room, your description of reality would be totally different from mine. It is very tempting to try to experience others’ realities, but in truth, we cannot do so. We can empathize, work to improve the lives of others, strive to create a better world for us all; but we cannot inhabit someone else’s perception or know what life feels like for them. There are habits that we have developed that make us believe a lie: that we can fully understand someone else’s reality; that we can predict or control the future; and that more information will confer a sense of peace and knowledge that will fix the fear and desperation we so often feel.

Social media feeds the idea that what people post is somehow connected to a reality that affects us; the vast majority of the time, there is no connection. We think that we can ‘stay connected’ via posts that we view on a screen, but there are multiple levels of distancing happening: the written word, the technology itself, the communication gaps that naturally exist between people, and the odd, snapshot-like glimpses we absorb that lack context. News, of course, fulfills the need for information, and the using of that information as a self-soothing mechanism. However, there will never be enough information to make us feel better. Contradictory claims about Covid-19, lack of testing, lack of information, the great medical unknowns, and many other examples of our ignorance and unpreparedness guarantee that more reading on the issue will only produce a kind of vertigo that leads to depression. The news cycle seems to promise that if we keep reading, we will find that nugget of truth that will eradicate our fear and insecurity; in reality, the news cycle utterly depends on our fear and insecurity, and it will stoke these emotions with shocking headlines designed to keep you clicking and reading.

The news cycle is created to keep the reader psychologically and spiritually off balance. You believe that more reading will restore that balance, but that is not the point. The point is to keep you endlessly worried about an uncertain future and questioning what you think you know now. Social media and the news are the enemy of living in the present moment, of quiet observation, of grounding yourself in the reality of now. Peaceful existence in the present moment is the enemy of capitalism and materialism. If you are not worried about the future or uncomfortable in the present moment, why would you rush out to buy stuff, or continue consuming the news? So much of what we purchase is an attempt to soothe ourselves, to distract ourselves, so that we don’t have to make deep dives into the nature of our selves and our immediate reality.

Right now, you are reading this from somewhere. Where are you? What do you hear? What is happening around you? How does the chair or the bed feel underneath you? Can you smell the dusky coat of your cat or dog, can you hear the sounds of your partner rustling around the house, do you have a bird that makes little noises while perched on her cage? Is the air conditioner whirring, or the overhead fan spinning, moving the air around your room? Come back to yourself, to what is actually happening around you; it is then, and only then, can you take meaningful action to help others. If you come from a place of chaos, you will radiate that chaos into your environment; if you come from a solid sense of peace and grounding, you can change far more than your world.

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