You are Not Alone. COVID Stories and the Well-Being Initiative
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This year has been like no other. COVID has touched us each in different ways - and buzzwords like resilience, and self-care, and relaxation - may seem laughable, right? I mean, sometimes I cognitively understand the words but I cannot relate. You are not alone. I would like to share a bit of my personal journey with stress, anxiety, and depression, which has helped me, and what I hope will help you.
Looking back, it is easy for me to see the stressors led up to this moment. Our family suffered three back-to-back losses of close family members over a year's time - an uncle from ALS, and two cousins in their 40's - one died in his sleep, one of them fatally shot by police. On top of that, it had been a very busy fall season, and I was managing multiple large work-events, work on the unit, and going to school. I was stressed with no time to be depressed - which of course I was.
It was Christmas day 2017, I was sitting at the kitchen island at my sister's house. My immediate family and I were enjoying our usual winter holiday banter when suddenly, everything in my perception became distorted. Outwardly, I looked OK to everyone. Inwardly it suddenly looked as if my family's voices seemed to try to swallow me - they were so loud - a thick cloak of suffocating voices enveloping me. Time slowed down and I felt breathless. My heart was audible to my ears and seemed to pound out of my chest. A giant, overwhelming pit in my stomach bewildered me - as if my body needed to urgently jump out of my skin. Then a burst (Who's yelling, is that me?) "I gotta go." Before I really knew what was happening, I was in my sister's driveway with no coat and no shoes - I had left in a dash - leaving the doors open behind me. Still no relief. My husband followed - and as husband's do - he asked: "What the hell Dani? Are you ok?" almost rhetorically, and definitely concerned. I said; "I DON'T KNOW," and bent in half - in standing fetal position - gasping, in disbelief and frustration, "I think I am having an anxiety attack."
I had had bouts of feeling anxious. Whether we label it or not I think we all probably have. But this attack was different and I had a few more, at least two at work before I decided to go to a therapist (not a good fit), and then another therapist. We worked on mindfulness therapy, focused on goals, talked about these feelings of hopelessness and grief that I was having trouble processing. All of this helped but what I found most useful was guided meditation. After about 9-months I graduated with some tools in my pocket and a renewed understanding of the importance of being in tune with my body. I also started on a mild daily anti-anxiety/anti-depressive medication. I still have anxiety attacks, but they are far less frequent. Now I know what to do, and thankfully I had not had episodes of dissociation like I did that Christmas day in a long time. Needless to say, I have learned to "try" to think that what I feel - emotionally - is a wound that can fester. It is so important for my mental health to stay in touch and track stress and emotional burdens.
Fast forward to my COVID deployment. The first day was terrifying but after that I felt fine - heroic even. Then, the surge was over and I returned to my regular job. I was literally having deferred anxiety and PTSD symptoms. I still walk around with a feeling of dread - exasperating dread - in anticipation of the next wave. I have to tamper down visceral anger when people downplay the virus, talk about attending social events, going out to dinner in enclosed restaurants, or the right to not wear a mask. Sure, some of this is normal, but some of it is what I would call hypervigilance. I still feel a lot of stress from this - so I am not out of the woods. But I am keeping in touch and taking the time when I need it. Working on my MSN has been a great outlet for me.
There are many resources to help from my hospital. But the resource I like is called "The Well-being Initiative." There are some quick exercises, links to Apps, and some useful links by nurses for nurses - see link here.
Another tool is to have is a buddy. It can be comforting to check in with a peer from time to time. You may think you don't need it, take my word for it and just do it.
I hope this helps. Remember, at any given time each of us struggles with something the outside world knows nothing about. Please make it a point to pause, be kind, and check-in with your teammates. And remember, you are not alone.
If this helped you, please share it with a colleague, or consider sharing your own story. Thank you for listening.
Dani Moody, BSN, RN, CCRN
President, South Central Connecticut Chapter AACN