Day 63 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Sunday, May 17, 2020 – Live to Blog from the 4th Wave

#alonetogether

Zoom had a system wide problem today. Can you believe it? We attempted to join our Quaker Meeting for Worship at 9:00 AM but to no avail. FYI, there is a service you can sign up for with Zoom that will alert you if there is a current issue with Zoom. For those of us who depend on Zoom these days (that’s pretty much all of us, right?), it is an invaluable service. You can sign up here.


The Fourth Wave

Victor Tseng is a medical doctor working in a VA hospital in Georgia. The first thing you may notice about him from his picture on his LinkedIn profile is that he looks young. He is. When you examine his LinkedIn profile closely you’ll see that he started university at age 13 in Washington State in 2003 and graduated in 2007 in bioengineering with honors. His minors (or maybe additional degrees?) were in music composition and mathematics. On his Twitter feed (@VectorSting) he featured this illustration titled the “Health Footprint of Pandemic.”

Illustrated by Victor Tseng, MD. Follow @VectorSting on Twitter

Fiona, a friend and colleague from Canada, first shared this illustration with me. From the first time I saw it, it resonated with me. A health segment on a local television station in Denver featured another medical doctor who used Dr. Tseng’s illustration and explained it in breater depth. The video of this segment is less than four minutes in length and is worth watching to more fully understand the meaning of this graphic.

The first three waves have specific implications for the health care system. If we escape the health challenges presented by these three, the 4th Wave remains as a threat to all of us. However, we all can have an impact on the 4th Wave, too.

The 4th Wave is about the adverse impacts of trauma on people. We can expect that the various traumas associated with the pandemic will be so significant for many that they will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for some time to come. In some cases the stress of the pandemic will impact the brain health (language many are beginning to prefer over the term “mental illness”). These may also be exacerbated by the economic injury many will suffer as well as burnout, among first responders, essential personnel, and, more generally all of us, related to the stress of simply enduring the pandemic and “getting by” day to day.

There are two things about the 4th Wave that I’d like to highlight.

First, the 4th Wave does not happen after the first three waves. It actually begins in the midst of the 1st Wave – right now. Since it has already started, it means we are actually living in the midst of two waves.

Second, while it is principally our health care system that is tasked with mitigating the impacts of the first three waves, each of us can help mitigate the impact of the 4th Wave.

Our mitigation efforts may be as simple as checking in on people whom we know well to find out how they are doing and how we can offer them support. For example, a committee at our Quaker meeting has been doing this by phone. We received a call a couple of weeks ago from a member of the committee asking how we were doing and if there was anything we needed. A pretty simple act, huh? I reported that we were fine (we are) and still Clemencia and I really appreciated the call. Also, Clemencia and I both host weekly Zoom groups of people we know and each time we gather we always do a round of check-ins.

Another way we can help mitigate the impact of the 4th Wave is to reach out to people we may not know as well but whom we are concerned about. These may be the neighbors we know by sight but have never really talked with. They could be the people who pick up our garbage, deliver our mail, deliver groceries or prepared meals, mow our lawns, and clean our buildings. When we reach out to these folks the conversation may start a little differently. Instead of saying, as we would to those we are closer to, “I’m calling to check in…” we might say something like, “You’ve been on my mind recently and I’m wondering how you are doing and if there is anything you need that I can help you with.”

If we want to take our involvement up another notch, we can even find ways to help people whom we don’t know at all but who are in significant need. We can do this by volunteering with organized groups and service organizations. With the economic injury that is being sustained by our country there are a lot of nonprofit organizations which could use our hearts and hands, as well as our donations. These include organizations serving homeless populations, jobless people, disabled persons, immigrants, and those who are struggling with brain health issue (mental illness). These organizations, as we navigate the 4th Wave, will need our help now more than ever.

Because of the stigma of mental illness it may be most difficult for us to reach out and help those struggling with brain health issues. My friend and colleague, Patrick McNamara, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who worked on the front lines for many years. Today he is the President and Chief Executive Office of Palm Health Foundation in West Palm Beach, Florida. However, he retains and acts on the lessons he learned in the field.

Recently Patrick was a guest columnist for Stay Thirsty Magazine in which he recounts those lessons from the field which inform his work today. I’ve known Patrick for over two years and have been privileged to work with him and his staff at Palm Health Foundation. I have seen for myself how he lives out these lessons in his professional role. It is an excellent column and worth reading, especially if you want to make a difference in addressing the 4th Wave.


On a Very Personal Note about the 4th Wave

I was knocked down by the 4th Wave after the national trauma of 9/11. I was vulnerable already because I have had throughout my adult life a formal diagnosis and an informal diagnosis related to my own brain health. My formal diagnosis is PTSD resulting from ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). My informal diagnosis is a mild case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It is an “informal” diagnosis because it is one that I’ve made of myself based on my training as a mental health therapist. It is expressed by “checking” behavior, particularly in the kitchen. It is not unrelated to my ACEs as I can trace it back to a time when my father, an alcoholic, tried to cook while drunk late at night and, on several occasions, nearly set the house on fire. My anxiety, of course, is that a fire could start in our kitchen putting us all at risk; hence my checking is related to making sure nothing in the kitchen can cause a fire.

Irrational? Of course it is…now. However, one of the things I have learned about PTSD and it side effects, including some OCD, is that it is a normal response to abnormal circumstances. Overtime we learn to manage the PTSD. We do this by learning that the anxiety and behaviors of PTSD originally served the purpose of self-protection and preservation. Even more, we learn over time that we don’t need them any more. We also learn to spot and avoid the triggers, the things that remind us of the trauma and which can throw us back into it. However, some triggers are not always known.

The 9/11 tragedy was a horrific trigger for my brain health issues. It set into motion a series of personal events that included rapid, extreme loss of business revenue, ultimately the loss of my business and bankruptcy, and – even worse – a total loss of my sense of self. I fell into a personal hell that was deep and frightening, made deeper and more frightening because of the decisions and choices I made in that period. The losses I sustained in family and other important relationships were staggering. Though I have received grace and forgiveness from many over time, the sense of shame and disappointment I feel with myself remains at a very deep level. They fuel the nightmares which occasionally haunt me in the darkest hours of the night. My journey into that hell and back is one I never want to make again. My former father-in-law kindly explained it to my son as a “break down.” At the time, I wasn’t very appreciative of that interpretation, but I now know it was accurate.

When I first started this blog…62 days ago…I wrote these words to explain why I was writing it: I’m mostly doing this for my own sanity and well-being. In fact, as you now understand, it is more true than you might have imagined when you first read it. My understanding of my own brain health issues has continued to expand and grow over the past 19 years. When the trauma of this pandemic hit, I knew I would face a similar trigger to what I faced in September 2001. I did not want to be unprepared this time. I knew this blog would be a therapeutic intervention for me and it has been.

I know. This seems a very personal thing to share with you in a drivel blog. I share it fully expecting that the stigma which exists around brain health (mental illness) may drive a wedge between me and some who read this blog. That would be unfortunate. I also expect, though, that it will connect me even closer to some readers.

I began to think about sharing all of this when I first saw Victor Tseng’s illustration a few weeks ago. I wrote earlier that it resonated with me. Even more, it spoke to my condition and described something I knew was true from my own experience. I chose to share it now because I know the reality of the 4th Wave. I felt compelled to raise the alarm as strongly as I can to get your attention to say five things to you:

  1. It is real.
  2. We are not waiting for it to hit, it is hitting many already.
  3. Realize you can also be taken down by the wave, even if you’ve not previously had a brain health challenge.
  4. If you feel yourself going under the 4th Wave, do not wait to seek the help of counselors or friends who can help you set an anchor.
  5. Be aware of those around you who may be getting pulled down by the 4th Wave and consider how you can help.

If you need help connecting to local resources, let me know and I’ll do what I can.


Now Back to Our Usual Drivel

The spread of Covid-19 is based on two things: 

1. How dense the population is. 

2. How dense the population is.

With appreciation to Cynthia

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 32, the Maternal Marauder takes her son, Benton Harbor, the now Invisible Chickenman, to see Dr. Marco Polo to try to restore him to visibility.


The View from Jeff

It’s Sunday, which means another comic from Jeff Logan to start the week.

Jeff Explains: I always get a great farmers tan in the summer – I think it is a genetic disposition from my prairie upbringing. I think that there will be a new addition to the usual tan lines from wearing masks. Although it snowed today so we may be a ways off from beach attire!!

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep aware of the 4th Wave.

Tom

4 thoughts on “Day 63 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place”

  1. Tom. Thank you – very deeply – for today’s blog. I appreciate your candor and forthrightness, your sharing the horrible journey you took. I think it took courage to be so self revealing and so open and vulnerable. Just wanted you to know that rather than moving me away from your blog, I appreciate it even more. Thank you.

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