My sincere thanks to first responders and medical personnel who don’t have the option of staying home to avoid an illness. This is a constant that I sometimes fail to appreciate. Whenever there’s a crisis, I’m reminded that these amazing people show up no matter what.
I love those three words: No matter what. My friends in Narcotics Anonymous use them regularly. They say, “Don’t use no matter what” and “I love you no matter what.” My best wisdom comes directly from 12 step fellowships.
So, my choice is, I’m going to show up no matter what.
I’m a mental health therapist and addictions counselor. I’m not considered emergency services, but I’ll be showing up to work anyway. Mental health and overcoming addiction are vital services. They aren’t necessarily as urgent as what’s addressed by first responders (though the overlap is extensive), but they are life-threatening conditions and they are negatively affected by our collective fears.
I’m not working with a pandemic. I’m working with multiple epidemics like opioid addiction. I’m helping folks to overcome alcoholism, which has been at epidemic levels for over a century. I’m working with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which has been around since the dawn of time.
Here’s what I know: Rates of anxiety were the highest they’ve ever been in US history before this pandemic. It’s entirely reasonable to be afraid. How we cope with fear determines the lion’s share of what’s possible in our lives. What’s easily lost in this perspective is that we were individually and collectively afraid before Covid-19 ever existed.
So, I’m going to show up and I’m willing to take what I see as calculated risks. I’m going to hug people this week just like I always do. If you’re afraid of the transmission possibility that’s ok – just don’t hug me. Hugs are reassurance. They’re comfort. It’s my job to provide comfort to those who are struggling.
I don’t want to diminish anyone’s concerns about a virus. It’s completely reasonable to be worried and to take every measure to protect yourself. The problem for people like me is that when we isolate (even for healthy reasons) our mental health declines pretty rapidly. We need each other more than ever.
Take this time to invest in yourself. Breathe deeply. Eat good food. Drink more water. Notice the shiny distractions that aren’t available to you right now and try something new. Listen to some podcasts. Read a good book. Take a long walk. Share your fears with trusted others – journal them, look for solutions to what’s plagued you that isn’t a pandemic.
If you want a guaranteed way to feel better – reach out to your elderly neighbors and offer to shop for them. Call my friends at Eastern Maine Agency on Aging and offer to volunteer or make a donation.
My hope and my prayer is that a couple weeks from now things look much brighter. Living with unknowns takes a toll on us. Even if it’s through Skype or Zoom, connect with kindred spirits. It’s objectively unhealthy to be alone with fear.
Please be good to yourselves and each other.