Client Spotlight Header Graphic

Cop­ing with COVID-19 — A Client Perspective

Susie Piasecki

Author Susie Piasecki shares her experience during quarantine. Susie is a KYC client, Drop-In Center guest, and former Drop-In Center Peer Counselor. She is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist and passionately advocates for mental health education and awareness. She is also living with schizoaffective bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

Author Susie Piasec­ki shares her expe­ri­ence dur­ing quar­an­tine. Susie is a KYC client, Drop-In Cen­ter guest, and for­mer Drop-In Cen­ter Peer Coun­selor. She is a Cer­ti­fied Recov­ery Sup­port Spe­cial­ist and pas­sion­ate­ly advo­cates for men­tal health edu­ca­tion and aware­ness. She is also liv­ing with schizoaf­fec­tive bipo­lar dis­or­der and post trau­mat­ic stress disorder.


Accord­ing to NAMI, the Nation­al Alliance on Men­tal Illness*:

  • 1 in 5 Amer­i­can adults con­tend with a psy­chi­atric illness*
  • Depres­sion is the lead­ing cause of dis­abil­i­ty worldwide*

Mil­lions of peo­ple in the U.S. live with psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders*. Some seek treat­ment; many have hope; all can recov­er. There is always hope. Peo­ple can and do live in well­ness, even when liv­ing with a men­tal ill­ness. This arti­cle is designed for you to gen­er­ate some ideas and strate­gies that pro­pel you for­ward on your road to recov­ery, cop­ing with COVID-19 while liv­ing with men­tal illness…I want­ed to share with you some of the things that have been help­ing me along dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time, when some of us feel dis­placed and frus­trat­ed, depressed and anx­ious, etc.

Peo­ple liv­ing with a psy­chi­atric dis­or­der have a med­ical con­di­tion that – like cop­ing with the pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures of COVID-19 – dis­rupts one’s dai­ly func­tion­ing, thoughts, feel­ings, mood, and the abil­i­ty to relate to oth­ers. Although men­tal ill­ness does not dis­crim­i­nate and all walks of life are at risk, the good news about men­tal ill­ness is that there is hope for recov­ery. The same can be said for coro­n­avirus. Although COVID-19 knows no bound­aries either, there is hope…people can and do recov­er from coro­n­avirus, too. We will get through this, together…and the pan­dem­ic will end, even­tu­al­ly. Hope­ful­ly some­day soon. Mean­while, every day we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to empow­er our­selves and stay resilient. There is noth­ing nor­mal about what is happening…maybe that is why I’m thriv­ing now; because I’m def­i­nite­ly not nor­mal. Or so I’ve been told. Actu­al­ly, I’m cer­ti­fi­able. 😉 But anyway…

There is no one size fits all” way to go about cop­ing with these chal­leng­ing times. But we all do have cer­tain guide­lines to fol­low to keep us safe. Social dis­tanc­ing, wear­ing face masks, hand­wash­ing, dis­in­fect­ing and san­i­tiz­ing things, self-iso­lat­ing, and oth­er safe­ty pre­cau­tions. We’re sup­posed to be on lock­down”, and restrict­ed from non-essen­tial busi­ness­es, pub­lic areas, etc. The way I try to look at it is, with this whole shel­ter in place thing, I’m just grate­ful to have shel­ter and a safe place to be in. It was the first thought that came to my mind after the ini­tial con­fu­sion and dis­ap­point­ment of the lock­down ini­ti­a­tion fad­ed away.

I wrote this from a jour­nal­ing prompt one day not long ago…I was on a men­tal health con­fer­ence call. We were giv­en 2 – 3 min­utes to com­plete the sen­tence with what­ev­er came to mind…

_____

4/17/20

Right now, for the stay at home order from the gov­er­nor, I am feeling: 

like I’m trapped in a bad Twi­light Zone episode. But I know we’re in this togeth­er and we’re all going to make it through. Right now, we’re mak­ing his­to­ry. These are dif­fi­cult, chal­leng­ing times. But it shows how resilient we are. And it is shin­ing a light on men­tal health. It is actu­al­ly an oppor­tu­ni­ty to break down bar­ri­ers of the stig­ma of men­tal ill­ness, with all of the depres­sion, anx­i­ety, OCD, eat­ing dis­or­ders, sub­stance abuse, and the like, that are tak­ing place today. Hope­ful­ly there will be more kind­ness, com­pas­sion, and under­stand­ing toward peo­ple liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness now, more than ever, because of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis. I have hope…

_____

With shel­ter in place, it’s hard for all of us. It brings up so many dif­fer­ent thoughts and feel­ings. For one thing, there seems to be a con­stant nego­ti­a­tion between our symp­toms and our sense of safe­ty and secu­ri­ty, and even hope­ful­ness. Then there’s our men­tal and phys­i­cal health. If we’re strug­gling with one, it’s pos­si­ble we may also lag with the oth­er. Some­times peo­ple in recov­ery may feel over­whelmed with depres­sion and anx­i­ety, and/​or oth­er symp­toms of men­tal ill­ness; and yet, we must stay relent­less­ly vig­i­lant about pre­serv­ing our phys­i­cal health dur­ing these uncer­tain times. Men­tal health affects phys­i­cal health, and vice versa.

I have more good days than bad, but my anx­i­ety got the bet­ter of me one par­tic­u­lar week, when I woke up one morn­ing with an anx­i­ety attack and was extreme­ly fear­ful of get­ting coro­n­avirus, then just start­ed cry­ing. The remain­der of the week, I woke up to COVID-19 dreams. Can any­one relate? Prob­a­bly, I bet. But some­how, we emerge through the process. That one day, I end­ed up tak­ing action; called my sup­port­ers, dis­in­fect­ed my place a lit­tle, just con­tin­ued fol­low­ing safe­ty pre­cau­tions as usu­al, and kept busy. It helped me feel more empowered…and by the end of the day, it was like the anx­i­ety attack nev­er even hap­pened! Even though symp­toms may wax and wane, we can always get through this. Since coro­n­avirus can dev­as­tate both phys­i­cal and men­tal health, health has become the new wealth.

To estab­lish a sense of nor­mal­cy” or struc­ture, since I don’t real­ly have a reg­u­lar sched­ule any­more, I try my best to devel­op a sim­ple, loose rou­tine, through­out the day/​week. I wake up at around the same time every morn­ing, take my meds first thing at my reg­u­lar time, and then have cof­fee (God bless cof­fee!) and my morn­ing cigarette…

Then I make my bed…every sin­gle day. If there’s only one thing I did all day, it’s that I made my bed in the morn­ing. Sim­i­lar­ly to what one marine offi­cer once basi­cal­ly said, it may seem triv­ial, unnec­es­sary, or not worth the effort to some, but it’s a small act that when com­plet­ed, can lead to anoth­er small accom­plish­ment (like tak­ing a show­er, or eat­ing break­fast, etc.), and then anoth­er small accom­plish­ment, and another…and before you know it, you’ve tak­en action and have got­ten off to a good start to your day! And if I’ve done noth­ing else the entire rest of the day oth­er than hav­ing made my bed, at least I have a nice, well-made bed to climb into when night falls. Then hope­ful­ly I’ll get a good night’s sleep and tomor­row will be a bet­ter day. But I always make my bed in the morn­ing. It’s just some­thing that comes nat­u­ral­ly now and is a real­ly good habit to fall into.

Not long after all that, I end up call­ing my Mom every morn­ing, just to say hel­lo. I don’t know what I’d do with­out my Mom. That con­nec­tion, that com­mu­ni­ca­tion, is some­thing else that just comes nat­u­ral­ly. My morn­ing just doesn’t feel right with­out hav­ing said good morn­ing to her. We also talk through­out the day dur­ing this pan­dem­ic, and we con­tin­ue to call to say good­night every night, which we’ve done even before things changed because of COVID-19. We laugh, lis­ten, sup­port one anoth­er; we basi­cal­ly are just there for one anoth­er. She’s the best.

Speak­ing of com­mu­ni­ca­tion (no pun intend­ed), I try to stay con­nect­ed to my friends and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers as well, often. I’m so grate­ful for all of them. They help pro­vide the bal­ance I need to stay well and offer sup­port and a sense of com­mu­ni­ty while iso­lat­ed, so I don’t feel alone. I zoom, text, call and email with friends and fam­i­ly, and have tele­health ses­sions with my ther­a­pist once a week. With all this togeth­er, although COVID-19 impos­es bound­aries on my lifestyle, it can’t take away my free­dom to inter­act with oth­ers. Human connection…relationships…keep me going through this pandemic.

Mon­day through Fri­day there’s a com­mu­ni­ty men­tal health drop-in cen­ter con­fer­ence call that’s held in the after­noon for an hour, and I call in just about every day. What I appre­ci­ate most about these calls is the way they start and end. In the begin­ning, every­one checks in with one thing they’re grate­ful for and a dai­ly joke, if they brought one. The focus on grat­i­tude, even if it’s only for a moment, briefly makes me reflect on some­thing I might not oth­er­wise give a sec­ond thought to. I real­ly rec­og­nize the val­ue of that dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. And then there’s light­heart­ed­ness and humor, too. Then, to end the con­fer­ence call, we say one thing we’re look­ing for­ward to…which to me res­onates with the idea of hope. The major­i­ty of the con­fer­ence call is a pos­i­tive top­ic of the day, that is rel­e­vant and applies to cop­ing with these stress­ful times. There are sev­er­al par­tic­i­pants on the line, and the top­ic is open for com­ments and dis­cus­sion through­out the call. Love it!

They say stress will kill you faster than the coro­n­avirus. So humor is healthy! I laugh a lit­tle, every day…some sources? Come­di­ans, com­e­dy movies and shows (i.e. – SNL, Ellen, Jim­my Fal­lon, etc.), jokes from Alexa, Siri, or online, etc., fun­ny memes on Face­book, Twit­ter or Insta­gram, or yuck­ing it up with a friend or fam­i­ly member…anything to get a good bel­ly laugh, to help reduce the stress! I read some­where that if you laugh for a minute, you will boost your immune sys­tem for the next 24 hours. Which is exact­ly what you need to do to fight off coro­n­avirus – have a strong immune sys­tem! Laugh­ter tru­ly is the best med­i­cine. Here’s a joke for you: To the thief who took my anti-depres­sants, I hope you’re hap­py!” Lol 😊 I try to laugh at least a few times a day, every­day. If I suc­cumb to coro­n­avirus, I at least want to have my sense of humor in tact.

Some­thing else I found enor­mous­ly help­ful is exer­cise. I know, I know…blah blah blah. We all know exer­cise is good for you. But I high­ly rec­om­mend it, if pos­si­ble, to walk/​workout. My dai­ly work­outs were born out of bore­dom from this quar­an­tine; but at first, I start­ed out by sim­ply walk­ing around my apart­ment com­plex, just a few times…to get some exer­cise, some fresh air. Then, grad­u­al­ly I increased the num­ber of times I went around the build­ing. Even­tu­al­ly, end­ed up chal­leng­ing myself to alter­nate­ly jogging/​walking around the build­ing sev­er­al times, and now I’m grad­u­al­ly increas­ing that. My cur­rent goal is to run con­sec­u­tive laps, numer­ous times (even­tu­al­ly – albeit, I’m still a smok­er, try­ing to quit…hopefully, one day I’ll com­plete­ly quit, due to the dai­ly exer­cis­ing!). Regard­less, if you’re suf­fer­ing from quar­an­tine fatigue, I encour­age you to be active. It helps!

Anoth­er thing exer­cise is help­ful for in my dai­ly sched­ule is it keeps me on cue with my hygiene. Basi­cal­ly, I stay in my rou­tine of show­er­ing dai­ly, after work­ing out. It’s real­ly impor­tant to sus­tain rou­tines, includ­ing with what seems as sim­ple as a dai­ly show­er (whether or not I exer­cise that day). If I com­pro­mise doing this every­day activ­i­ty, let­ting it slide” so to speak, I may end up get­ting depressed, and then oth­er symp­toms may soon fol­low. And wear­ing a mask all the time makes me stay on tar­get with brush­ing my teeth reg­u­lar­ly, too. (Ha ha). Trim­ming my nails so that hand­wash­ing becomes safer, as well, is impor­tant. I keep up on things like this. So main­tain­ing my hygiene is impor­tant, also.

And meals at reg­u­lar times, cook­ing (cre­at­ing healthy home­made meals more often), and engag­ing in hob­bies like play­ing an instru­ment and just lis­ten­ing to music or cre­at­ing art­work, stay­ing busy with self-care like jour­nal­ing or prac­tic­ing spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, whether that’s com­muning with nature, observ­ing prayer and med­i­ta­tion, or maybe even watch­ing a reli­gious broad­cast on tv, if that’s what floats your boat…these and/​or oth­er things can empow­er you to move past your symp­toms and into recov­ery. I know these things have helped me. COVID-19 doesn’t have the pow­er to take away your abil­i­ty to adjust and trans­form through this pan­dem­ic. You have the pow­er to cre­ate change.

If you feel you need extra sup­port dur­ing this chal­leng­ing time, there is help. The NAMI Helpline is here to assist you at 8009506264 M‑F, 10 am – 6 pm, ET. Also, there’s the NAMI Cri­sis Text Line. Just text NAMI” to 741741 for 247 free, con­fi­den­tial cri­sis coun­sel­ing. Remem­ber, there is always hope.


Previous Article Next Article
Get in Touch
You're Not Alone

50%
of cas­es of men­tal ill­ness begin by age 14.

Get Involved

How You Can Help

Quote of the Week

Set your goal high, and don’t stop till you get there.

—Bo Jackson

Keep up to date with KYC!

Get the latest Kenneth Young Center news and insights emailed to you each month. Just complete the form below to subscribe.