COVID, Isolation, and Mental Health
There have been a number of negatives and a few positives that have come out of this pandemic. Before people bring out the pitchforks, by positives what I am referring to is the change of perspective on what is meaningful to us as alot of the "extras" have been stripped away. Who we look up to has shifted from Hollywood to our first responders, our healthcare professionals, and essential workers. These are not glamorous people, they are the people that are working knowing they are at risk so that we can access food at the grocery stores, have medication on the shelves when we are sick, put gas in our tanks to go to work, and they are the ones keeping us safe or helping us to heal from injury and/or illness. I think this has helped us to reflect on our values, and make course corrections in our lives.
I don't think I need to go into what I mean by the negatives of the pandemic--those have been far less subtle than the positives and felt on a global scale. They have also been discussed at length in the news and in almost every conversation. Now that the pandemic is coming to an end (knock on wood), what I wanted to discuss here is one of the ripple effects and to do that I need to tell you about my nephew.
I want to tell you about Shane. He wasn't a first responder nor did he have PTSD. He did have schizophrenia and I know alot of you with an OSI or PTSD can relate to many parts of his story.
Shane died last week at the age of 31 years old. I was his aunt and we do not know his exact cause of death, though suicide is suspected. During this pandemic, his supports were cut off and though he had access to his family by phone a lot of the things he did to socialize, distract himself, and keep his body busy were cut off as people were asked to stay home (for the safety of ourselves and others). For Shane that meant staying in his one bedroom apartment without internet or cable and though he was able to talk on the phone and watch DVD's he was often alone with his thoughts. I believe that had we as his family known what he needed he would still be here today. What is the cost of cable or the internet plus a streaming service to one's quality of life? The thing is he didn't tell us that was what he needed because he was sick and often we don't know what we need to be well. If we did, it stands to reason we wouldn't be sick right?
As someone with PTSD, I know that too much time alone with my thoughts (particularly when I was in a dark place) was not good for me and didn't lead to recovery or wellness. Being in the dark place was not a place to find light, it was a place that bred more darkness and colored the joy that I did have in my life with feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. Only by being surrounded by the light of other people, by other perspectives, by the hope held by others can we climb out of the dark and back into the light. During the isolation of COVID, I had support groups that went virtual, the family I live with, and a work-life that required contact with other people. Shane didn't have those things and as he was ill and not always medication compliant, wasn't always well enough to reach out for help. I think for those of us that have been in the dark place as many of us refer to depression, we can identify with what was going on for Shane.
I think for me, one of the things that I got out of the pandemic is a desire to speak with other people again. As comfortable as it was for me to isolate, we don't grow in a vacuum and I felt that during the pandemic. So moving forward we can do as we have been doing this last year and several months and keep to ourselves OR maybe we can resurrect the feeling of community that many of us haven't felt since long before COVID.
So here is my call to action. What can we do to help others, not just people from our professional backgrounds, and not just for people with PTSD/OSI? What can we do to help each other as PEOPLE so that we don't have the aftermath that my family is working through right now? What I know I can do, is reach out to people more. Make sure people know they are not alone but part of something bigger than themselves whether you call it community, society, family or humanity. I can send someone flowers, or a card, or a simple text letting them know they are important to me. I can greet a stranger or have a conversation with someone I don't know while we mutually wait in line at the store. I can leave my work office door open so that people feel invited in to chat.
The thing is we don't know what is going on behind a persons smile or what they need to be mentally well. And we can't expect ourselves to know or anticipate what the people in our world will do. Though I am not a religious person there is a Yiddish saying that I repeat to myself all the time which translates to "man plans, and God laughs". As someone working on her control and responsibility issues this reminds me that there are limits to what I can control and therefore what I am responsible for.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you to those of you that expressed your condolences for Shane's passing. He will always be loved, missed, and remembered.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please know you are wanted and loved. Reach out to someone that can help you, call 911 (or the emergency number in your area) or see the resources below or at the bottom of all the OSI-CAN pages.
Canada Text Us | Suicide Support & Resources | Crisis Services Canada Call1-833-456-4566