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2020 Year End Spiral

It is mid December 2020 and I know we are all tired of hearing about COVID-19, and I have tried not to discuss it too much, but its impact on mental health is real, not often discussed, and lately has been influencing my life in a major way.

It feels like there is a wide spectrum of peoples' responses to COVID. You have the people that don't believe it at all, those that believe is real but nothing you should treat any differently than the flu, those that take moderate precautions (masks, hand washing) but still see people, and those that are hard core never leave the house or see anyone unless absolutely necessary. I know there are more than those and not everyone fits in one box, those are just examples.

I personally have been all over that spectrum in the last nine months. In the beginning I was ignorant, as many of us were, and just thought it was no big deal. I remember bird flu, mad cow, swine flu, and zika and assumed it would be just like those and gone before too long. My views changed within weeks when I was working from home, not even allowed to enter my office to get a binder. Then I became stricter on the precautions I took. My birthday passed and I accepted gifts and visitors outside, and made many FaceTime visits. Grocery pick up became my weekly outing only to come back home and use lysol wipes to sanitize every item coming into the house.

As months went on, I became more lax, visited with family, went shopping, and out to eat, but was always careful to wear my mask when needed and limited contact as best as possible. However, in late October I had to quarantine due to exposure and that scared the crap out of me. Sitting alone in my bedroom, isolated from my loved ones, waiting for my test results to come back I began analyzing every decision I was making. Did I ride in cars with people without wearing a mask? Yes. ED instantly started in with the name calling and judging. "Idiot, how stupid do you have to be? People will assume you are dirty and irresponsible. People shouldn't love you because of this." I have mentioned before how ED places standards on myself that I would never hold anyone else to. Would I ever judge someone for getting sick? No, of course not! Unless you never leave your house, you have chance of catching any illness. By this time I was back to working in the office and couldn't control being around other people. Fortunately my test was negative, but ever since that experience of being all alone reflecting on every situation I have been in that was riskier than others to contract or spread the virus, my anxiety has peeked to levels it hasn't been in for a few years.

Now, I have anxiety attacks daily. Leaving the house = anxiety. Being around people that don't live in my house = anxiety. My anxiety is not about contracting the virus, it is about spreading it. I have the fear of being one of the symptomatic people that spreads it to everyone unknowingly. I have people in my family that are considered vulnerable because of age or preexisting condition that I would not be able to live with myself if something happened to them that I caused. Then there is the fear of giving it to someone with no preexisting health conditions and they have a terrible time with the illness. Typically these catastrophic thoughts would be seen as an error in mental thinking, but with COVID, they are all possible and have happened time and time again. In my intermediate family, I am the only one that hasn't been working from home, or already retired, so I feel like if anyone will be a carrier of the virus it would be me.

For Thanksgiving I stayed home. I FaceTimed family that still got together. The guilt was overwhelming. I felt terrible for not going. ED told me everyone thought I was just using it as an excuse not to go. I felt self conscious about my decision. I have worried and had anxiety attacks about my family thinking I don't love them or don't want to spend time with them anymore. Neither of those are even close to being true, but I worry that they feel that way. The thing is, I love them so much and want to protect them!

The weeks since Thanksgiving have been dark, and I have shared that here a little. Seasonal depression has hitched a ride with normal depression to tag team my emotions and outlook on life and COVID anxiety has left me shaking at the thought of leaving my house. But, the time has come to make plans for Christmas. I want to go see my family and watch them open the gifts I got them. I want to talk to them and catch up and laugh, even if I am the "square" wearing a mask.

My point is this, everyone has their own views and experiences with COVID, quarantine, and fear, but you should NEVER judge or make someone else feel wrong if they choose to take the suggested precautions. We are all just trying to survive this pandemic with a roof over our heads, our health, and a sane brain in our heads. Those that already struggle with mental illness are struggling even more with the added fear, isolation, and anxiety that COVID has brought. My choosing to wear a mask when in the car or house with people I don't live with is not out of the government brainwashing me into being scared, it is about me caring for my health and the health of the people I love and calming the anxiety I have about getting others sick. This is not political, it's humanity. Just like pre-COVID times, everyone is a soldier fighting their own personal battles and we need to respect them for that and meet them where they are in that battle.

Be gentle with yourself, make decisions that feel best to you.

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<3 Stay Strong and Beautiful

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