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I’m Not Living in Fear, I’m Living in Grief

“People think I’m cautious and outspoken because I’m living in fear. They are wrong. I’m not living in fear. I’m living in grief and I want to spare others from it.”

If you want the TL:DR just read and process the quote above. Read it over and over. This is how I described my experience to my spouse and then to some close friends and why I take this pandemic so seriously. It took me a while to realize this but I’m thankful I did.

From the start of the pandemic I have been cautious. I wear a mask. I limited my physical contact with the outside world where I could (I still had to go into work as an essential employee and did grocery shopping). I kept social contacts to online and phone calls only. It’s only been the past two weeks or so as things have been opening in my area of the country that I’ve branched out a little, and even then I wear a mask and try to distance. I have been vocal from the start about precautionary measures and the seriousness of the pandemic and tried to share current and legit information with people. I’ve gotten into plenty of battles on social media over this.

I do all of these things for you, not so much for me. To me that is part of the pact I have with the rest of the human race. My beliefs are take care of each other and we all will prosper.

I know what I’m about to share is only my experience, so it’s only real for me, but I’ve watched people I know and love (and loose acquaintances and strangers as well) doubt the seriousness of the pandemic. I’ve seen them throw out conspiracy theories. Question every stat. Focus on the politics of what’s going on. Post memes and “articles” with bogus, discredited, or flat out misleading or false information about COVID-19, masks, distancing, and everything else associated with it. This has been incredibly frustrating. I understand and can empathize with many the doubt they feel based on everything that is going on. The mixed messages, the distrust of government and media, people being impacted economically to the point of ruin due to restrictions. I also understand that maybe they weren’t or aren’t in an area of the world that had had a large number of cases or deaths so the restrictions may seem unwarranted. What people must understand is this illness is like none other. The information and recommendations change so frequently because what we have been learning about it was has changed rapidly. You take the safe course because the other course of action is too risky and with dire consequences.

I guess what finally made my blood boil was to hear the claims, or rather insults, that those who are wearing masks, or sharing information, or physical distancing are living in fear. While maybe true for some, I think a greater portion of people are dealing with something different.

See, I’ve worked in the healthcare industry for over 15 years now. The behavioral healthcare industry, but still healthcare. I don’t necessarily consider myself “frontline” the way doctors, nurses, and first responders are, but many others do. I have worked in outpatient, inpatient, and hospital settings. In all of this time, I’ve never had an infectious illness kill multiple peers in the field before the majority of their coworkers knew they were even sick. I’ve never lost multiple patients in essentially a three week period from an acute infectious illness. I’ve never heard of any departments I work in or with or have a majority of staff be placed out of work due to becoming infected or having to quarantine due to a direct known contact. I’ve never seen a period of just a few weeks where daily I heard of multiple infections or deaths amongst the community population I serve, their families, and my coworkers in the field. I’ve had people I know with no other risk factors describe their experiences to me as “cheating death.” One person I know had a stroke and was told it was directly from covid’s complications since they had no other heath condition. These are all things I have experienced since mid March. Yes, the highest risk is the elderly and those with other health issues. Yes, some people get it mild or are asymptomatic. But, there are a large number of severe cases and a growing number of people who have no other health issues and are younger get floored by this and have lasting effects. For me this has been a very real experience.

From the start of this pandemic I have been an advocate for people to recognize what they started to feel and struggle with as grief. Grieving the loss of freedom, grieving the loss of employment, grieving the loss of physical and social contact, and grieving the loss of normalcy. Eventually and unfortunately many had to grieve the death of loved ones. For some reason I did not recognize the anger, passion, sadness, and million other feelings I had about this boiled down to my own grieving process and this process was significantly different than any grief I’ve been through before.

Maybe my clinical work helped me come to this realization. Maybe it was support groups. Maybe I just turned off the world for a few minutes and allowed myself to truly feel. To be in the moment. I’m grateful I did though.

Right now is a difficult time for a lot of people. Regardless of your opinions on the severity or danger COVID19 poses, take time to understand and appreciate others in your life. Understand their viewpoint is valid even if it doesn’t mesh with your own. Try to “walk in their shoes” and don’t invalidate their feelings. Work on identifying your own true feelings about everything going on (and this doesn’t even touch on the political and social issues we are facing). When you know what is causing how you feel and attach the right emotion to it you can understand it greater. When you understand it greater you can make a more informed choice in your healing journey.

If you or someone you love needs assistance with difficult emotions or mental illness please seek professional guidance and help. If it is an emergency please call 911 or your local crisis hotlines. Our resources page may provide you some ideas of who to call for help. A good to place to start may be SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-4357 and their treatment locator here.

Take care of yourselves and each other

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