Given the current state of things I feel like the title of this post is beyond an understatement, but also painfully relatable. What I have learned recently is that I seem to be one of the few willing to say it, and that is a recent boldness on my part.
Let me give you some background; I first started having recognizable panic attacks at about 15, but was a very nervous child before that. In college In college I was officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and even tried meds for it for a year (negative side effects made me reconsider). I developed lots of coping mechanisms, and managed to function pretty well for a while. Last year I had heart surgery and learned what I actually had was an irregular heartbeat that my brain interpreted as anxiety. After the surgery my daily anxiety went away. Yes, I would still get stressed out and uptight if things were actually going wrong, but my constant state of dread was mostly gone. Then COVID-19 came to my area.
I remember very clearly the day things changed for me; March 11, 2020. I went to an area medical briefing about the impending COVID-19 impact on the region. I was there with all sorts of medical representatives from hospital and EMS to home healths and rural clinics. We listened to what the initial response plan would be and had it reiterated that hand-washing and social distancing were our strongest defenses. From there I went to a chamber of commerce lunch and I sat away in the back as far from everyone as I could, I shook no hands, I accepted no hugs; it was the beginning of the changes and my stress level was rising fast.
From there things changed quickly in our area. Family travel plans were cancelled and we planned to keep things at home. Distance learning began for my son and my husband started working from home. I kept going to work every day and my stress level kept climbing. The worry about bringing this disease home to my guys terrified me, and the fear of bringing it in to the nursing home I work in was just as bad. I quickly became reliant on a podcast to help me sleep every night, Sleep With Me Podcast has always been good for keeping my wandering mind from grasping at anything in particular.
As the guidance became more clear that masks were to be worn at all times outside of the house I started dedicating my time and effort to making masks for friends and coworkers every evening after my son went to bed. It was something to keep me from focusing on the numbers growing in the world, country, state, and my region. I kept saying that it felt like I was doing something to help out, and my husband would then remind me that I work in health care. When information started coming out that many people hospitalized with complications were experiencing a high incidence of blood clots, I bought a bracelet to let any medical professionals know I have a blood clotting condition.
A few weeks ago I started listening to Brene Brown's new podcast and one of the early episodes was on comparative suffering. You can listen to it here. She explained that denying our unhappiness because we know someone has it worse off can end up causing more harm. Listening to that I a revelatory moment for me. I had been trying to deny my stress level and hide my discomfort in busy work. After taking a day to let everything soak in I gave myself permission to feel exactly what I am feeling. I slowed down on the mask making and started playing Animal Crossing each evening because it makes me happy.
I'm still stressed, but I'm taking a healthier approach to dealing with it now. I'm taking bike rides in the morning when I know I'll see the fewest number of people. I don't wear a mask when I ride, but I keep one with me in case I need/want to stop to talk to someone. I'm admitting to myself and others when the stress level is getting to be too much, and I take the time to build my resilience back up. I'm still nervous when I go into a store, and I have no intention of eating in a restaurant any time soon, but I'm starting to relax and hoping for the best, not just preparing for the worst. I'm also starting to stock up on cute masks, these things are going to be a part of my wardrobe for the foreseeable future I'll be damned if I'm not going to look cute in them!