This pandemic has been shocking, anxiety-provoking, and debilitating for many people. They are faced with uncertainty, fear of death and illness, and changing lifestyle habits. They are isolated and cannot participate in social freedom and perhaps took it for granted. We had many choices, opportunities, and convenience, making people forget it is a privilege and not an entitlement. Some people thought they were invincible, others used this as an opportunity of greed and selfishness. They added to their current lavish lifestyles while other people were struggling with unemployment, lack of funds for living, illness, or faltering mental health.
There is another group called the Personal Pandemic Group. The group who had experienced a personal pandemic shortly before this one. They were dealing with illness, uncertainty, isolation, grief, anxiety, depression, poverty, unemployment, trauma, limitations, and battles that were not won. They already knew the feelings, experiences, and journey of hardship that each day would present. They knew that resilience would be needed to move forward and keep it together.
Are you part of the group who is familiar with the world pandemic? Shortly before this virus pandemic, I experienced my own. Here are five similarities as I was effectively able to manage the second round. It was still hard, but not as difficult. This was during a span of four years. Although it is part of my experience, I was amazed at the hard work to create strength and mental well being when I thought it impossible. It took effort, understanding, acceptance, silence, compassion, and extending my will to figure it out and heal.
Fear of Death and Facing illness- My mom's terminal illness, lack of effective treatment options, and immediate poor prognosis created a fear that would not vanish. Fear was my closest friend and we had to work together to remain present. I chose to help because compassion and love overruled to turn away with fear. My absence would have been a bigger regret than dealing with the pain of fear. The fear consisted of a mixture of thoughts and overwhelming emotions. How can I help? How can I help myself while helping her? After I sorted out choosing doctors and care management, the cycle of fear was becoming normal. It was constant for three years when the illness chose its progression timeline. The question of mortality arose over and over, not only for her but for me. I accepted the fact that it is not only a terminal illness but terminal life. I experienced a couple of false alarms in heavy hospital environments. Dealing with an illness is taxing and can make you undergo a lot of suffering also. As a result, I experienced a pinched nerve in my arm for several months. I had to continue taking care of myself to be physically and mentally strong. Life in medical settings can drain you, and the hospital cafeteria was becoming too familiar. I eventually accepted death and did not fear it, that is after my mom passed away.
Fear of the Unknown- Similar to the pandemic scare people did not know where this would lead. How long will it last? Why is it dangerous? Will we be back to normal? I asked similar questions when caring for my mother, however, the new normal was recognized early and accepted. It was something ongoing and would be permanent. In order to alleviate my anxiety in the future, I trained myself to take it one day at a time. If I didn't, I would be unable to manage my emotions without feeling overwhelming grief when my mom was present. We still had each day to cherish. The unknown meant being discharged from the hospital for one day, and shortly thereafter being admitted again for an urgent procedure. I was always on call. I learned to live in the present. Today, I am used to the unknown and do the same by not planning or thinking too far in advance. There are many parts of life that are unknown and remain a mystery.
Protecting myself to help another- Suddenly I have a perpetual need to protect myself. Protect my physical and mental health and take precautionary measures not to die. I was needed and had a mission. I was a voice and advocate for one who couldn't find the energy to help herself. Not that I did not take an interest in working out or nutrition before this event, but it was magnified as I wanted to be a good role model for my mom. I promoted healthy eating and movement. I was constantly washing my hands, keeping surfaces clean, and while doing at home care wearing the latex gloves, using alcohol, making sure syringes and catheters were cleaned and flushed. I did the same in the hospital as I felt most times the assistant of the nurse. It was tough! I was dying inside and I had to be positive and strong for another. I cried in silence. Actually not completely in silence, I had my moments crying at my work desk, in front of family members or down the hospital hall. She knew my pain but didn't need to see it. I needed to show her smiles and be able to still see the joy in life. She emphasized her gratitude many times, "Tania, you have done 200%."
Isolation in grief and Life Transitions- The intense grief of my mom passing tore my emotional state and exhausted me. The strength I built as a caregiver was gone. In the first few months, I was unable to make rational decisions and wanted to escape to the mountains and live a simple monk-like existence. I made deliberate attempts to avoid noise and add peace. This required going to stores at non-peak hours, avoiding groups, self-isolation, and disliking being out at night. Peace is what I desired which is not always possible. After several months of misguided attempts to make big changes such as quitting my job and selling my home and heading to the other side of the country, and not having a plan was not a good decision. Life transitions in haste when overwhelmed with emotion, is never the right time.
Overcoming deep depression- The depression was intense, unlike one I have experienced in my lifetime. My mom passed away and two and a half months later my friend Tony passed away from a respiratory problem. I was in the second wave of shock barely adjusted to my first round of grief. He was a big support during my mom's illness as he went through cancer and remission in his 20s and offered kindness and meaningful time together. The grief turned to deep depression and I was fighting my own battle. Back to the "How?" and "When?" questions of helping my mom were now applied to me. I was in survival mode. Let me start by waking up and moving. Oh yeah! Throw in the back to the office which was worse. I built resilience all over again. It was given to me during my journey as a caregiver from a place of weakness. This was different and it was back to step one as if I never had resilience. Here it comes again, "One day at a time."
How has your personal pandemic compared to this one? Did you find yourself stronger, less fearful, and more accepting? Or did it magnify your past journey and brings back bad memories and unresolved trauma?
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