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If You've Been Depressed and Anxious During This Pandemic, Welcome to My Mind

The impact of the coronavirus is not so novel to me.

If the COVID-19 outbreak has caused you any stress, anxiety or sadness: welcome. You are now in the neighborhood of my mind. As someone who lives with regular, unpredictable bouts of depression and has been struggling with un- and under- employment for nearly a decade, the impacts of the coronavirus are not new or unusual to me.

I feel right at home with COVID-19 shelter-in-place order and social distancing guidelines. I had already limited my travel and only left the house for essential needs in order to keep expenses down. I was already sheltering-in-place on days when anxiety and depression consumed all of my energy and confined me to bed. I was already practicing social distancing as protection from the stigma of depression. Because of the coronavirus the outer world now matches my inner world. Things have slowed down, activities are severely limited and sadness has set in:

The uncertainties of the coronavirus may have created stress, anxiety and depression for you.

The uncertainties of my life create stress, anxiety and depression for me. More often than not.

You stay home because you’ve been ordered to. The days seem to blur together and you look forward to things getting back to normal.

I stay in bed because I have such low energy. The days blur together, I have trouble concentrating and a hard time remembering things, and that’s normal for me.

The COVID-19 lockdown causes you to lose access to pleasurable and interesting activities that you usually enjoy.

Depression causes me to lose pleasure and interest in activities and hobbies that I once enjoyed. I just don’t have access to those feelings.

You avoid gathering in groups or with people who may be more vulnerable such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. It’s hard for you but under the circumstances you understand the health and safety reasons.

I avoid gatherings and groups as much as possible. They make me feel vulnerable about my depression. It’s hard for me to be around certain people such as those who diminish my experience or those who lack the underlying empathy to understand my circumstance.

You practice social distancing because it is one of the best ways to avoid being exposed to COVID-19 and slow the spread of the virus. Being in public can be exhausting. It can drain your energy to anticipate others actions. You worry if they will stay far enough away or if you’ll need to move to avoid them.

I practice social distancing because it’s the best way to avoid being exposed to well-meaning people that say the wrong things like “why don’t you try exercise/therapy/medication?” or “let me know if I can help.” Being social is exhausting.

It drains my energy to talk and worry about what to say. Or worse, what you’ll say.

For you, the COVID-19 protocol can cause difficulty in carrying out daily tasks, frequent hand washing and irritability at others not maintaining it. You get frustrated and maybe even embarrass others with public shaming.

For me, depression can cause difficulty in carrying out daily tasks, frequent crying and pronounced irritability for apparently no reason. I get frustrated and embarrassed, and even feel shame, so I don’t like to talk about it in public.

Unlike typical sadness or worry, depression feels all-consuming and hopeless. My mind is constantly dealing with the uncomfortable and eerie feelings I get or the anxiety and sadness that gets created. Anne Lamott once wrote “My mind is a bad neighborhood I try not to go into alone.” When I’m in a depressed state of mind I don’t feel safe from the negative thoughts. Often I try to sleep it off. I can sleep all day and still feel tired. Then, I get irritated and frustrated that that didn’t work and try to fall back asleep to get rid of those feelings. Some friends and loved ones get annoyed or don’t understand why I can’t just “think positive thoughts” or “sweat it out” with exercise. I’ve been told all the wrong things by well-meaning people.

Many people mistakenly believe that being depressed is a choice. Like COVID-19, depression cannot be controlled and there are protocols and precautions that I follow in order to contain it, manage the symptoms and recover. To most people I appear to be getting by just fine. But I am suffering on the inside. We are called “high-functioning” depression types. On the spectrum, it’s mild so it often goes undetected and untreated because it doesn’t fit the diagnosis for depression which requires the symptoms to last for most of the day, almost every day, for at least two weeks. While I do have my own protocol of fitness, meditation, rest, routine and supplements — it’s not enough. To make it a beautiful day in my neighborhood, it also takes kindness and empathy.

My husband asked me what I would do tomorrow if the shelter-in-place was lifted. He really meant: what was I missing. I couldn’t think of anything other than a haircut or leg wax. I had found solace in our current circumstance. While each of us has our own struggles, the pandemic is a universal struggle. And it looks and feels very much like my own personal struggle with depression. People all over the world are now feeling what I feel. Or are at least exposed to the feelings.

My answer to my husband’s question was that I was actually going to miss the shelter-in-place order. Things have slowed down. People seem kinder to each other and to themselves. Being inside has caused many to go inside. As a society we are alone together practicing awareness and empathy. Dr. Brené Brown describes empathy as “feeling with people” and right now that’s exactly what is happening as we struggle with many difficult and shared feelings as we shelter-in-place. She goes on to say that, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.” If anything that I’ve written has resonated with you or if you’re feeling connected to me because of what I’m sharing, then we are making things better together.

When this is all over, your neighborhood will start to look normal again. Eventually you will go back to work, socializing and traveling like you used to. After a while, you will look back and recall this extraordinary and challenging time as a strange memory. When this is all over, the neighborhood of my mind will be the same. I’ll still be struggling with depression. Now that we’ve been there together, it’s a little less scary. When we experience real empathy, the separateness between you and me fades away. Empathy is the first step in making others feel safe. It was the first step for me to be able to share publicly about my depression. Hopefully this experience draws you closer to understanding depression in others and connecting in a new way. Alone together, we will be better prepared for the next global crisis.

At the time of this writing, there are about 4.18 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Globally, some 264 million people of all ages live with depression.

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Getty image via Lepusinensis