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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.


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