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When Social-Distancing Is Triggering Due to Your Medical History

As I sit here refreshing and scrolling through the news updates with the rest of the world, I get transported back five years to sitting alone in my room under quarantine for a week. 

My concern for the state of the world is immediately compounded upon by new feelings.

Fear.

Loneliness.

Anxiety.

The feeling that no one in my life can truly understand just how encompassing this all is.

It takes me a few minutes to snap back to reality, to the present here and now. I brush it off. 

Until it happens again.

I force myself to take a real pause after the second wave hits. It clicks.

When I was being treated for my thyroid cancer, I was forced to sit in isolation for a week while undergoing Radioactive Iodine treatment. And if I did break that, even temporarily to grab food that a loved one prepared for me (so I didn’t touch anything I didn’t have to), I had to stay 6 feet away from anyone I didn’t want to risk radiation exposure to.

Loved ones, pets, friends. All out of reach when I needed comfort the most.

The thing is, the quarantine itself wasn’t what was so hard. It was all of the crushing, overwhelming feelings of having cancer and not knowing if this treatment was actually going to get rid of it. My body and mind were in turmoil, and my brain cemented that trauma.

And that’s what my brain remembers as I see the words “social distancing” popping up everywhere.

If this is happening to you too, I know how scary it is. I didn’t even know this was a trigger point for me because, since that time in my life, it hadn’t come up. What’s more frustrating is that it’s currently an unavoidable part of staying informed.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to minimize the impact it’s having on you. Here are a few things I’m trying that may work for you too.

  1. Writing about it. Believe it or not, just getting these feelings out of my head and into words is therapeutic. It’s helping me process the flashbacks and I can be proactive about what the next steps look like to make this concept less impactful on my mental health.
  2. Petting my dog. My dog, Bear, is already my emotional support animal (ESA), and since he can’t get sick, I’m taking as many pets and cuddles as I can bear.
  3. Distracting myself. When I get into this panic state, there’s little that can really be done in that moment to stop it. So I’m forcing myself to get distracted. I browse Tumblr, play a silly game on my phone, practice Duolingo, play my ukelele, sing, craft, whatever it takes to pull my brain and body out of that flashback and into the present moment.
  4. Connecting. If I want this to impact me less, I need to connect as often as I can. Phone calls, video calls, voice chat while playing video games, anything that can help me feel less alone as we get through this together.
  5. Relying on others for updates. This is arguably the hardest part. I want to stay informed, but it’s not helpful to keep looking at information that is going to keep me in a panic state. So I’m going to lean on those around me to help myself.

I know this is a scary, surreal moment in time. Take care of yourself, and take care of those around you. We’re in this together.

Getty image by phaustov.