Pandemic Stress Is Real For All Of Us

Glenna Gill

It’s hard to know how to feel in the days of COVID-19. We see the pandemic numbers of the infected and dead every time we turn on the news. The numbers were going down but are now at a plateau again. I feel numbed out but still heartbroken for those who have died, but I can’t bring myself to cry yet. I’ve been fortunate that COVID-19 hasn’t touched most of my friends and family members. The idea of something bad happening to somebody I love is constantly on my mind, and I live in fear of it every day.

It’s strange to realize that we’re a traumatized country. I know I have more symptoms of PTSD than ever before, and I know that the numbness I feel is likely shock. There are days I sit on the couch and feel like I can’t move. Everything is too scary to move. I’ve been stuck in the house (except for occasional groceries) for almost ten months like many other people. I miss seeing my friends. When I see my two adult sons, we have to wear masks and distance from each other when all I want to do is give them giant hugs.

Even the families who haven’t been physically affected by COVID have been affected mentally. A year’s worth of bad news takes a toll. Psychiatrists have spoken publicly about how we’re headed for a severe mental health crisis in America. I’d submit that we are already there. A year of masks, self-quarantine, and staying away from other people definitely takes a toll. There is a new hope with vaccines, but there are also new variants of COVID out there. I’m anxious to get the vaccine, but it’s turned into full-blown anxiety. We’re so close to the finish line, but we’re not completely out of the woods.

Sometimes I make my family watch a movie at home just to escape all the bad news. For about two hours, we forget about the misery and drift off into the story, but when it’s over we go right back to the scary news. I’m guilty of doomscrolling on my phone as well to see if our country is safer yet. I don’t enjoy living this way. I want peace just as much as anyone else, but I can’t seem to find it. I can barely remember when things were “normal,” and I wonder if we’ll ever go back there again. So much about the pandemic is abnormal, not being around friends and family and not being able to go all the places we want.

Because of having bipolar disorder on top of everything, it’s not easy for me to stay stable. My symptoms go from hypomania (a little less than full mania) to depression in the scope of one day. I worry that if I let myself feel everything I’m holding in, I won’t be able to come back from it. My therapist tells me not to watch the news, but with what is happening these days, I feel better knowing than not knowing. Still, it’s important to find some balance and not get completely sucked in. I’d like to think about other things now, but it’s impossible to dodge all the news on COVID. Not only that, we have to stay informed.

I’m literally trying not to catch and die from COVID all the time, and it’s hard to get excited about other things. My therapist usually helps me put things in perspective. Just because it’s less safe to be outside doesn’t mean there aren’t a few places like a park where I can completely social distance and still enjoy myself. Doing things like that is vital to my mental health. I can’t forget what it means to live my life the way I once did without COVID.

Most importantly, I try to be kind to people as much as I can. When I do, there’s less of the dark stuff in my heart. People are desperate for some sort of connection, and we can help people who are struggling to find one. Maybe we can’t solve all their problems and ours, but each kind thing I try to do makes me feel like the world might be okay in the long run. If we can’t visit our friends, maybe an encouraging word via a letter or email will help hold them over. Even a phone call is nice right now.

My greatest hope is that someday we can all be together again and begin to heal our divisions. We’ve all been through so much trauma that loving each other more becomes incredibly important. All of us are survivors who have been through a war, and I believe it’s going to make us tougher people. All of this is a reminder of just how precious life is and how it shouldn’t be wasted. Maybe I don’t get as much done around the house or at work as I should right now, but I’m trying to give myself a break. Every day we make it through adds to our hopes for a normal life once again.

I know I’m not doing well with all of this, which makes it more important to take time for myself. I can’t be useful to my family when I feel useless, so it’s important to challenge those negative thoughts with a positive reaction. Perhaps I could be a little braver, but I know it takes time. If and when we defeat COVID-19 in this country, I hope we will be stronger and wiser for having lived through it.

I’d also like to get a million hugs from everyone. That’s what I miss the most, but I’m hanging on until that day comes. It’s all any of us can do.

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I write about lifestyle issues, including such topics as parenting, mental illness, family, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, and inspiration. My hope is that these stories will help people suffering from similar issues by reading about other's experiences.

West Palm Beach, FL

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