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

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 it is more true than you might have imagined when you first read it.

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

Day 55 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Thanks to my sisters, I grew up with the music of Little Richard. I was born about 10 years after my youngest sister but all three were teenagers at either the beginning of his career or just as he was hitting his musical stride. In fact, I may have been able to say “a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom” before I said much of anything else.

Saturday, May 9, 2020 – Live to Blog with my head filled with “a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom”

Little Richard died today. To the best of my knowledge he did not die as a result of complications of COVID-19 as so many have recently. In 1955 Little Richard coined the phrase that is filling my head. Little Richard claimed to be the architect of rock and roll and his phrase became a part of rock’s musical history. It is the opening line of the song “Tutti Frutti.” In 2010 the Library of Congress added this Little Richard anthem to the National Recording Registry as one of its most culturally significant recordings. Since I can’t get the phrase out of my head, I may as well play it.

From 1956 – Little Richard’s screen test for the movie “The Girl Can’t Help It” starring Jayne Mansfield.

The Challenge of Personal Congruence

Thanks to my sisters, I grew up with the music of Little Richard. I was born about 10 years after my youngest sister but all three were teenagers at either the beginning of his career or just as he was hitting his musical stride. In fact, I may have been able to say “a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom” before I said much of anything else.

Both the music and person of Little Richard have fascinated me. His music is so distinctive. From the opening notes of any of his hit songs, we know immediately it is Little Richard. As a person he was also distinctive, especially as a performer. His flamboyant costumes, hair, and make-up set him apart from so many other performers of his time…actually, any time.

What fascinated me about Little Richard was his very human struggle to be a congruent person. To be personally congruent is to know ourselves and to be ourselves…to be comfortable, as it were, in our own skins. Author Parker Palmer describes the opposite of congruence as “the divided life.”

Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”

Parker J. Palmer, p. 4, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

Little Richard lived out the challenge of personal congruence in a very public way. He tried to speak freely of that challenge at different times in his career. There are two times I remember seeing him do this on television. Once was with Pat Robertson on the 700 Club shortly after he had given up rock and roll in the 1970’s to become a Bible salesman and to be straight. It was interesting, but painful, to watch because Little Richard was so very divided at that time and was, in fact, in denial about himself. I remember he sat uncomfortably in the guest’s chair, unsmiling, and refusing, when invited by Robertson, to perform one of his famous songs. Little Richard asserted he didn’t do that kind of music anymore.

Some time later, in an interview with David Letterman in 1982, I saw a slightly more congruent Little Richard but he was still divided between who he thought he should be and who he was. The following clip is the whole of that interview, including a gospel song from Little Richard at the end. It is fascinating to watch because Letterman is an outstanding interviewer and he helped Little Richard open up with more of his story.

Not long after this interview with David Letterman, Little Richard would once again return to the world of rock and roll. Little Richard’s love/hate relationship with his own sexuality and rock and roll, and his on-again/off-again relationship with evangelical Christian faith is well documented. In 2017 Little Richard gave one of his last interviews on a religious broadcasting network. In that interview he again denounced homosexuality and transgender identity.

I loved the rock and roll music of Little Richard. I was on the Mall in Washington, DC on the 4th of July in 2011 and so was Little Richard. Well, not in the exact same place I was. He was rehearsing to perform that evening on A Capital Fourth, the PBS live 4th of July celebraton broadcast. That was a close as I ever got to Little Richard.

There is, however, something about Little Richard’s struggle to achieve personal congruence that resonates with any of us who are trying to be fully human. In his struggle we saw reflections of our own. In a day when masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are in such short supply, it is ironic that we are all born with a plentiful supply of life masks. Throughout our lifetimes we try them on one-by-one to see which one fits us best. We hope we eventually find one that fits us, is comfortable to wear, and represents us more or less accurately. In acheiving the congruence of the undivided life we finally realize, though, there are no masks that actually fit us. We are who we are.

Early in his career, Little Richard made a gospel album. On that album he sings “Peace in the Valley” and it is one of the most beautiful renditions of the song I’ve ever heard. Today I hope Little Richard Penniman has been freed of his last mask and finally found the peace he sought. Rest in true peace, Little Richard.

Little Richard singing “Peace in the Valley.” A most beautiful rendition.

The Challenge of Public Congruence

Personal congruence is a struggle and, for most people, so is public congruence. To be congruent publicly is to let your life speak in a way that is consistent with your words. Parker Palmer also wrote a book about that. It is one that I required students to read in an MBA course I taught at Eastern University.

Public congruence is an expression of our personal ethics. To be congruent is to be an example. To be incongruent is to live by the ethic of “do as I say, not as I do.” Public congruence is something we tend to expect of leaders. I have to admit that today I’m struggling with the incongruence I’m seeing in Washington, DC at the moment.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence refuse to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, even when they know this is the recommendation of public health officials. In fact, Mr. Trump may have exposed very elderly veterans to coronavirus during a remembrance of the end of World War II this week. Now both Trump, Pence, and Ivanka Trump each have members of their staffs who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Rather than take the prevention steps which have been recommended for weeks, Trump and his staff (which likely includes Pence, Ms. Trump, and their staffs) will be tested daily. There is still no evidence they intend to be like the rest of us who take the prevention protocols seriously.

So, let me get this straight: at a time when many communities in the U.S. are begging for tests, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, and their staffs will now be tested daily because they refuse to follow the basic prevention protocols many of us are following?

Why is it that a famous Marie Antoinette quote comes to my mind when I read about the incongruent behavioir of this Administration?


The Adventures of Chickenman

You know, I’ve just got to hear from someone who is more congruent. Here is Episode 23 in which Chickenman flames out over a request.


The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I am afraid that I may lose my ability to understand body language once we get back to face-to-face interaction. Zoom/Skype/Wimba/Collaborate/BlueJeans/MS Teams…I won’t be able to figure out who’s talking without a glowing frame around them.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for the undivided life.

Tom