I'm tired, I'm sad, I'm going to use this for good.
When I called my therapist on Monday, I was in a better place from the previous day. I'd begun to look at things as an observer more than a participant. Sometimes, for those of us with OCD and anxiety, this can help us see where the real problems lie and where we can curb some of our worries and obsessive thinking. My therapist was really happy that I had switched to this approach - using tools that I'd built up. Not everyone has these tools. I'm starting to see people fray around me. Surprisingly, I am seeing it in people without chronic mental health condition. These are people who have no coping skills to deal with crisis. Having dealt with mental health crises for longer than I can imagine, I was surprised to see neurotypical, "average" folk struggling. I observed they were doing all sorts of weird, non-efficacious if not dangerous things to stave off this disease. These things were irrational and often wrong. They also were contributing to my anxiety. I called it out along with a post from a food scientist asking people to stop bleaching their produce and leaving their perishables out for ages. These things can actually kill you and there is no evidence that having groceries or food delivered has ever caused a transmission of this virus. For what we know now, putting away your packages and washing your hands after receiving things is the best you can do. I realized, though, this was a dangerous and misguided attempt by many who did not have the coping skills I did to feel "safe". These friends could not reasonably assess actual risk because they couldn't say "these are the risks I am willing to disregard, these are the realities, and I'm dropping the rope." That took me years of therapy and I have a lot of "o" in OCD - obsessive thoughts - so I know that isn't easy. But, I put it out there that when these neurotypical people started to compete over who could be the most "extra" they were often harming those around them - both neurotypical and aneurotypical. My Facebook post received loads of public and private support and I was able to help a few friends in crisis who were totally needing to be seen in that moment. I was thankful that I could use my tools from years of therapy to help people around me. I also recognize the privileges I have from good mental health care. In this space, I now feel safe to be very open about my battles with a mood disorder, severe postpartum depression, and OCD. Because I know there is a lot of stigma out there and I've worked in a lot of places where there is downright discriminatory behavior directed towards those with mental illness, I try to do the best I can to advocate for mental health and mental healthcare. I currently work a job where I can be very open and vocal. Most everyone I work with has either struggled with such things or loves an aneurotypical person who is struggling right now. We have been encouraged by our managers to use mental telehealth and EAP. It's refreshing and I love it. Not everyone has this. A lot of people do not have insurance or insurance that barely covers mental health services. And even people like myself will pay about $80/visit to see an insured provider before I meet our deductible. That's not affordable to lots of people. All of this makes me sad. It makes me angry. It makes me struggle. However, I've found that digging in and trying to be a helper is the best thing I can do for my mental health. I was thankful to be included by a friend here in town who is an organizer for a local chapter of a statewide Advocacy organization. I've been involved with other types of community action agencies for about 10 years now. So, I'm thankful to be included in this. I think one of my biggest frustration and my greatest source of anger - the thing I feel I most cannot control - is the effect of this crisis on hourly workers, essential workers, and small businesses. These folks struggle enough on average. Even under the best of circumstances, the operate month-to-month and experience small margins of profit or savings (if they have them at all). I am able to work from home. My husband, though, goes out every day and has to encounter people. Thankfully, he is fairly isolated, has an office he can close, and only sees a few people from a far distance. However, it's still much more exposure than we'd have if he was working from home. At least we have my benefits, steady paycheck, and my insurance, right? We have savings. We are the lucky ones.
I am trying not to let this privilege and moment pass. By participating in advocacy work from home, I try to find meaning and purpose. Maybe not everyone has this ability but I can do it for those who can't. And while I'm exhausted, it is keeping me going. I know it's a lot - working from home with a toddler, being socially isolated, still going to school, etc. but I am not happy when I am disengaged. This sort of thing isn't new. I often throw myself into meaningful work when I am dealing with a crisis I can't control. After my miscarriage 4 years ago, I wrote the bulk of my dissertation in about 2 weeks. I got most of my edits done during the first weeks of pregnancy with my daughter who came about sooner than I was prepared for. It was a fairly joy-less time since I was doused in worry and uncertainty about the future. Controlling one aspect of my life - being proactive - I was able to move forward. I threw myself into legislative session and completed a dissertation. I defended it the sickest I've probably ever been. It was hell but it would have been worse had I just given up.
This is a political and policy crisis of epic proportions but I am telling myself it's a moment. I know, as a political scientist, that these focusing moments are critical junctures. If we waste these moments, we will never spend the political capital to do something that moves the needle. So, I won't let this moment be wasted. I'm going to try to emphasize to my friends, my neighbors, and my elected representatives that this crisis is only so bad because it exposes how broken our "network" of social services. We could have weathered this better if we had comprehensive family and sick leave. We now know our schools - underfunded and over-extended under the best circumstances - are acting as an entire social safety net for kids. Without these services, we see parents children floundering to pick up these pieces. We see these things louder than ever. So, if you ever needed a time to focus your anger and sadness, now is the time to do that. Get involved somehow. Speak up. This is your time to do something in the face of unimaginable sorrow. It's one thing you can control. You may be isolated but you still have a voice.