I always prided myself in my ability to adapt. With God’s support and the love of my family, I went through many experiences that could have sent me into lasting depression, but instead I came out stronger and wiser.
Emotionally I am pretty strong (sometimes after a brief freak out, depending on the severity of the circumstances). I was a nurse on medical, surgical, Intensive Care and Coronary Care Units and saw things that would upset anyone.
Being a retired nurse I understand the importance of staying home, wearing a mask and social distancing. I have been feeling pretty good about myself because of the way I have calmly gone through each day during the month of isolation and stayed home. Granted I do not have the severe stress on me that so many are having. My biggest concerns have been the safety of my family and friends and my own health and life.
Since the Covid 19 virus has affected many people’s lives, I felt so much sadness for those suffering from: the virus and the multitude of complications emotionally, financially, physically, and tragically. Then there are those affected by changes in lifestyles, and the families who have lost loved ones; lack of human company; the trauma and danger to which the nurses and medical staff are exposed. But I can not solve the problems of the world. I felt so hopeless and sad.
One night I messaged an American friend on Facebook who has had the virus and lives in South Korea as teacher and a student and has already earned her Masters Degree in English. She and her husband have been through what we are going through now. She knew that I am a happy person and try to put a positive spin on events that happen to me. She said something that stunned me because I didn’t think at first that it could possibly apply to me. Here are her words that hit home.
It’s really hard in the beginning to get used to all of this. You are still living in the “a bomb dropped” phase. You keep trying to feel happy and that makes it worse. It’s like an internal battle. If we try to shut off one emotion we will get depressed. So it’s important that we feel sad, angry, all of it. It’s actually really healthy to feel out the emotions. Validate them and honor them and later we will feel happiness too in unexpected places.
Her words surprised me. But I am a Christian. I am supposed to be happy because I know everything works out for the best. Whether they do or not, they can still be extremely painful, unsettling, even terrifying at first. The next morning everything she said hit me and I knew what was going on in my head and heart.
Each day I had formed a little routine. I managed to stay occupied most of the time. I called one or two of my friends, did some housecleaning, took an afternoon nap, and so on.
But after the first three weeks I started having stomach problems, weird dreams, interrupted sleep, (awaking but not being able to go back to sleep). I was fixating on something happening to my loved ones. I was sad and a bit hopeless. I was going through the routines with little feeling usually just to get through the day.
I must admit there were bright spots that made me feel better temporarily: calls from my family, my cat’s almost constant company, sitting on the porch watching and listening to the birds. But those pleasures were short lived.
I was able to greet one or two condo neighbors about every other day when I went out or came in my condo building, which helped greatly. I called my best friends and my family. Of course I could laugh at funny things and still see and enjoy nature and beauty. All of this helped for a while. But my body kept telling me something was wrong.
The day before our conversation a thought passed through my head. “Play some music.” I thought about it but was too busy with one of my many projects and was afraid it would affect my focus on whatever project I was working.
That night after our conversation I realized I had lost my enthusiasm, my spirit of joy, my inner light. I realized that I had “hit the wall!” I was doing the same things almost every day. I was going through the motions.
I began to think about several patients I had in the past who were recovering from traumatic injuries or who lived with chronic illnesses. They were sometimes particular about their treatments or their environment; demanding that objects on their tray be placed in a certain way, where they would always know where they were; and sometimes being quite controlling and manipulative. The extreme versions of these behaviors are considered neurotic behaviors.
I know from observations and experience that often people suffering from PTSD or in high stress situations try to control their environment and often other people to prevent more emotional or physical pain. They sometimes set up safe schedules to gain a feeling of predictability in their world and perhaps a feeling of control that adds more security in an unpredictable, insecure life. These control issues to a degree may also provide a distraction from the fear, anxiety, and loss they were experiencing and not dealing with.
By slipping into little routines every day I had given myself some security while there was a dangerous, very scary, unpredictable, potentially life threatening disease which could take any of the people I loved away from me. I had given my life some peace, predictability, control and security (imagined more than actual).
Finally after realizing what I was feeling and that my behaviors were not normal and accepting those facts and releasing them the little voice in my head asked, “Why don’t you play some music.” I listened this time. I played some Carole King’s bluesy music that evolved into happier tunes. I sang out loud along with her. I moved to the music.
Suddenly I felt alive inside again. I think the music helped me accept that I can do nothing about the world as it is. I can only give love and kindness to those around me and pray for the others. I can not change the world and it is not my responsibility to change it or cure everything.
I felt the joy, the thankfulness for my life, family, friends, home, God, food, everything I had that had helped me get this far to be sane. Weeks later I am still on that plane of acceptance and have even more dedication to sharing love and kindness to others and to myself.
Many support groups have taught the Prayer of Serenity, which has also helped me.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, Courage to change the things I can change; and the wisdom to know the difference.
We are all in this together. Let’s help ourselves and help each other.