The Biscayne Times

Aug 11th
The Pandemic’s Bugaboo: Mental Trauma PDF Print E-mail
Written by Nancy Lee, BT Contributor   
May 2020

Feeling trapped, losing time, the stress adds up

Dbigstock-Young-Woman-In-A-One-piece-Yel-336723592arlene Fortune, a prominent psychoanalyst in private practice in Coral Gables, says it’s the “not knowing” that seems to be the hardest on people during these virus crisis months.

“Stress and anxiety levels are up,” she explains. “Feelings of helplessness and despondency are setting in. Feelings of loss of control over daily life can reawaken sensations of past trauma, in turn reinforcing current feelings of helplessness.”

Trapped. That’s how I feel. It’s reminiscent of my childhood, and for that reason I’m having post-traumatic stress and anxiety from viral changes in life. Many people aren’t just experiencing a new pandemic way of living, they’re also dealing with the way of living layered with trauma from other things in their life, as Fortune describes.

Many of us had some anxiety and depression before the catastrophic pandemic lockdown. I’m long out of the abuse I went through. Others aren’t so fortunate. They’re living it while on lockdown. Their anxiety must be through the roof, especially if they’re living with an abusive alcoholic or suffering mental illness.

Anxiety is a funny thing. It’s not the fear of dying from the pandemic that is my main agitator. It’s a fear coming from a gelatinous set of circumstances that scramble together to form myriad daily what-if’s. A what-if can grab you and make you obsess so that all your problems pummel you at once, and every dream you had falls to pieces.

People who’ve had anxiety understand what’s happening to them, and many pop a Xanax or Klonopin to still the unbearable mental noise. But the noise from the pandemic isn’t so easy to deal with. It’s an unknown, and the unknown sticks on your mind like glue. Trying to think your way out of it becomes obsessive. My medication is double now, and my psychiatrist’s office has told me that this is the case for many other patients.

My husband’s blood pressure is over 160, and I’m sure my manic onslaught of ideas to distract us isn’t helping. I feel lucky to be able to bounce a million escape ideas off him because I have to somehow, some way, fix it. I need control of this, damn it, and I’m going to do it.

I don’t want to be safe from the virus only to return to trauma I’ve been managing for years. My husband’s doctor said we should plan on at least a year of this unless they come up with a treatment or vaccine. But a year is an eternity when you’re older.

I foresee a future of things I’ve loved to do, gone. No dinners out, no flights, no cruises, no weddings, no hotels. The world has changed forever, even if there is a vaccine. People will remain more distant, more encapsulated in a digital social world. Touching will wane. Kisses will become pecks or grow obsolete.

I’m a creature of routine. Anything that throws me off my schedule is a catastrophe.

I long to feel myself floating in the water, drifting, free. The crocodile off Dinner Key doesn’t scare me -- I can share the water. Recently I’ve been up and down the coast all the way to Key Biscayne to look for a jumping-off point. There are cops everywhere to prevent access.

Andrew Solomon, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, wrote an op-ed on pandemic-related mental illness in the April 12 New York Times.

“Some people take it all in stride and rely on a foundation of unshakable psychic stability,” he wrote. “Others constitute the worried well, who need only a bit of psychological first aid. A third group who have not previously experienced these disorders are being catapulted into them. Last, many who were already suffering from major depressive disorder have had their condition exacerbated, developing what clinicians call ‘double depression,’ in which a persistent depressive disorder is overlaid with an episode of unbearable pain.”

Solomon argues that “emotional attachments decay as a result of social isolation” and that the country is failing to talk about this. So we’re not all in this together.

My unbearable pain relates to time. My husband’s birthday approaches, and we’re both getting older (if we don’t die first). We downsized to a smaller place so we could travel more; now we’re pretty much on top of each other. Our plan was to go on cruises and travel much of the time. Plan over.

So next time you’re out for a walk and give me a wide berth, know that my heart breaks. I want to be like I was before, the person who taught myself to feel joy, the one who smiled at and hugged strangers. Where do I begin, when it took me a lifetime to heal and to get some control of what I wanted from the end of my life?


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