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PTSD & Mental Health During the Pandemic

Listen to The Mighty Podcast episode, “PTSD & Mental Health During the Pandemic.” We’ve also provided a transcript below. To talk about the episode or share topic ideas, join the Podcast Peeps community on The Mighty.

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Transcription:

Ashley Kristoff
Welcome to The Mighty Podcast where we infuse the health space with positivity, humor and vulnerability. The Mighty is a safe and supportive community here to help you find the people and information you need to navigate your health journey. We’re so excited to spend some time together today. This episode of The Mighty Podcast is brought to you by The Mighty app. We’ll share more on this later in the episode. Now let’s get into what the health we’re talking about.

My name is Ashley, I work for The Mighty running our events and video efforts. I’m also an avid makeup enthusiast, passionate about the cancer and mental health connection, and most importantly, I’m joined by three other staff members of The Mighty; Camara, Brittany and Sarah, and I’m going to let you all introduce yourselves.

Camara Rauen
Hello, my name is Camara. I also work in video and media within The Mighty. I am a podcast enthusiast, random dance enthusiast and just overall mental health advocate. I’ll pass it on to you Sarah.

Sarah Schuster
I was gonna say I feel bad because I don’t have much prepared besides my title. I’m Sarah. I do contributors at The Mighty and what are my interests? I guess, I like my dog. I have a pit bull, I live in Los Angeles and I like riding my bike. I’ll say that.

Brittany McCoy
Alright, I’m next. Hi, everybody. I’m Brittany, inside The Mighty I am also on the editorial team, outside The Mighty I’m an interdisciplinary storyteller. I do photography. I’m basically real-life Barbie, I just kind of do it all. I can’t go into all the titles. So yeah, I have a dog and I live in Orlando, Florida. There you go. I do a lot.

Ashley Kristoff
All of us here today are passionate about talking about mental health, about removing stigma. So with that being said, we have a fun little storytime corner to get this episode started. So I want everyone here to think of a moment a story, some sort of anecdote of something kind of light-hearted or funny that happened due to your mental health.

Sarah Schuster
I can go first because this is the one I had a lot of trouble thinking of one because sometimes I can’t tell if something that I’ve been through is actually funny or if it’s sad. If that’s relatable.

Ashley Kristoff
That’s kind of how I felt like this was going to go. So I think that’s 100% relatable.

Sarah Schuster
So I’ll try to keep this quick. But the story I ended up coming back to was if you have anxiety, you might experience what some people call magical thinking or mental rules, which is basically when you kind of make stuff up in your head to make sense of the world because a lot of anxiety has to do with wanting control over everything.

Quickly, once while I was traveling after undergrad I didn’t have a lot of access to the internet or to service, and I had left things very ambiguous with this gentleman that I was dating back home. And I decided some time along this trip, as a good coping mechanism, to be very obsessed with the number three. It was like my magical number, it was the answer to all my problems. I have like journal pages about why the number three was going to answer all my problems. But because this gentleman happened to be the third Andrew I had dated, I had this epiphany that I decided that he was my soulmate and I went hard. I wrote letters to him, I planned our future. I was so ready to come home and declare my love for Andrew number three.

It’s the last day of my trip, I finally have service so I decided to give him a call to let him know, and as soon as we started talking, he officially ended things with me, that he didn’t think it’s gonna work but I got home and it ended up being the best thing possible. And I remember literally sitting like in this cafe wherever I was laughing to myself because the number three spell was officially broken. And I haven’t had that much attachment to a number I never said so that’s my quick magical thinking. Don’t choose your soulmate based on an arbitrary number.

Ashley Kristoff
What a great life lesson. I’ll absolutely take that to heart Sarah.

Sarah Schuster
Thank you. Thank you.

Camara Rauen
I like that point of having numbers or having things that you kind of attach to. With my anxiety, I need to check that the burners are off on the oven when I go to bed, maybe three times. I will go and check that the door is locked. Also, I don’t like texting on exact zeros. I like to wait until it’s like one or two or three, but fives and zeros I’m not big on texting on. I’ll feel a sense of urgency or weirdness with it like I do have an attachment I feel like to certain numbers where I’m like this is the better time to put something to. This will, this is when it’s going to send out correctly and not not go through. I have kind of these attachments in that way to things and I recently learned that I’ve been, one of the things I’ve been working through, is things that I get done do not have action to things in the world. Woohoo.

When like the election was happening, I was having a lot of anxiety that if I didn’t get things done, certain things would happen and all of this and I kind of broke that in a way where I didn’t go on social media for a while and something to kind of break that spell and cursed is a big word for anxiety for me. I do not like the word. I do not like it when people put it out there. It makes me very mad. It’s the first year I’m like, “No,” I kind of take back that word. So that’s my little tangent of words and numbers on me. And Brittany, I’m gonna throw it to you.

Brittany McCoy
Alrighty. So this is when I had first started working. I was working with the Universal and in like the Theme Park City Walk area. And basically, I had been working at home for about two years doing different things. And in the past, like year, year or so before I started working there, I was diagnosed with cyclothymia which is in the bipolar family, it’s rapid cycling, right.

After I was diagnosed I changed all these different things about like my habits, because you know, medication is kind of hard for that, so I, for me, I had stopped drinking caffeine completely for like a year and a half. I start working at Universal and that was like eight-hour shifts, entertaining, laughing, doing all of that and I’m like, “OK, I need to try getting back on caffeine.” There was this day, I was super depressed. Super, super sad. And what I do is I’m like, “OK, I’m gonna get some mocha frappuccino-lino-wino thingy from Starbucks and I’m just gonna’ make it work, right. So I had my first taste of this contraption and all of a sudden, it felt like all my depression was gone. It was just gone. So I came to this conclusion that the key to just solving my depression was caffeine. And I walked to work, I was super hyped, super happy and I realized that I was just having a good day, it had nothing to do with the caffeine.

Sarah Schuster
That’s so good.

Camara Rauen
It’s great.

Brittany McCoy
Yeah, I have this tendency to, once I think something works, I will stick to/overdue that thing until it no longer works. But hey, I’m back on caffeine so it kind of did.

Sarah Schuster
Like it couldn’t have been that you just happened to be having a good day, it had to be that there was something.

Camara Rauen
Once you find a connection, you have to hold on to that and keep it going.

Brittany McCoy
Exactly. What this mocha-cookie-frappuccino-thingy is what makes, is what gives me serotonin. Let’s do it. I’m on it.

Ashley Kristoff
Oh my god, that’s so funny. I do the exact same thing. I like find this thing worked, this is the end all be all, which actually does transition really well into my story. I was watching Hoarders, some family member turned it on TV. It’s not a show that I normally go to, but it was on so I just, you know, watched it. And we got to this point in the episode where this woman who was kind of the subject of the episode, she found some old like divorce papers, restraining order papers and she wanted to go through them to like mark down these like significant dates in her life that had happened.

And there’s a psychologist on the show, I don’t know if you’ve watched the show, but there’s a psychologist that tends to be on the episodes and work with the people who are the subject of the episodes to kind of like help them figure out what’s kind of going on in their life to kind of help them work through things. And so she was telling this woman, “Why are you doing this? Why are you going through all of these dates and these like traumatic moments? Why are you like reopening up all of these old wounds, just to record them? They’re so far in the past, by holding on to them, you’re just holding onto the bad memories, you can’t move on.”

And like I was sitting there and apparently that was the advice I needed to hear at that moment because I was like sitting I was like holding on like, I’m going through some of my childhood stuff or teenage stuff right now. And, they’re literally I had a pile of like things that I couldn’t get rid of, because there was something sentimental attached to them, but it was only like painful memories. It was like knickknacks from like a friendship that I no longer have and ended poorly. And I just like, “Why do I have these? Why am I holding on to any of this when it just like doesn’t make me feel good?” And then I threw it away. And then I told my partner about this. And I like had the revelation that I just had, like, a big positive change in my life because of an episode of Hoarders and I can never unsay that sentence now.

Brittany McCoy
That’s like, I don’t, I relate to that. I’ve been rewatching 90s anime, and it kind of just got me through a weird, like relationship bubble that I’ve been in. So thank you, Inuyasha, I completely understand that, it’s very relatable.

Ashley Kristoff
That’s good. That’s good. Yeah. And I ended up telling my, when I told my partner about this, he ended up having his own revelation like three days later off of that advice as well. So clearly, Hoarders is doing some good work.

Brittany McCoy
And you always get that moment that you did not want where it completely relates to what you’re going through and you have to turn the TV off and completely walk away. Or maybe that’s just me, but it happens a lot.

Camara Rauen
This is why I watch Gilmore Girls.

Ashley Kristoff
Well thank you all for those stories and maybe we’re not super thrilled about them in the moment, but thank you for sharing them with everyone today. I’m very happy I learned all of these things about you.

But let’s jump into today’s topic post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and the pandemics’ role in trauma. Upfront, I do want to note that while we’ll be sharing some details about PTSD, like the definition, symptoms, and even personal experiences of ourselves, loved one’s Mighty members, we are not medical or mental health professionals. So if any of this information does resonate with you, we would definitely suggest speaking to a mental health professional, so you can explore those symptoms and feelings you may be experiencing.

To start this off, I want to start out with some of the information found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known as DSM, which is what I will try to say, because that is too long to keep saying. Just to give some context for anyone unfamiliar with it, I’m just going to do a short version because the entry for PTSD is actually really long. But we’re going to provide a link for you so that if you want to see the full breakdown and all of the details you are more than welcome to.

In the DSM five, PTSD has a bunch of different categories that you kind of have to fulfill in order to get a diagnosis. So an exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence in one or more ways, presence of one or more intrusive symptoms associated with the traumatic event, persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event, negative alterations and cognitions and mood, marked alterations in arousal or reactivity, duration of the symptoms, which some of the previous ones I listed is more than one month, the disturbance causes significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning and the disturbance is not attributable to physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition.

Camara Rauen
Dr. Margaret Rutherford is one of our live streamers that we have on our mental health page. She had a live last year about the pandemic and PTSD. And this was her definition of PTSD; slightly paraphrased. PTSD requires the diagnosis that you’ve been exposed to some kind of threat that is very outside of the ordinary, usually involving some kind of trauma. However, only 15 to 20% of people will actually develop PTSD, after such a trauma. Most of us don’t, there could be over 600,000 unique presentations of PTSD. The impact on one person is not directly tied or connected with the actual severity of trauma, which means that it is something that has a huge impact on you.

Sarah Schuster
Brittany, what’s it like hearing those kind of more clinical definitions of the disorder, as someone who has more personal experience?

Brittany McCoy
it kind of feels like call out, not going to lie. Like I’m literally sitting here. And it’s funny, because I’m personally like, I’m surrounded by a couple of different PTSD stimuli right now that I’m just kind of, bloop, ignoring. But with that being said, it’s like, when you were reading it, I just kind of glanced up, I’m like, ah, I can relate to this.

Sarah Schuster
Like hello.

Brittany McCoy
I think. I think for me, what connects the most is honestly, it’s to put it in my words, it’s the feeling of kind of being trapped in your memories, it’s kind of consistently being trapped in it as if it’s real-life again. And it’s not with all the different grounding techniques and all the different little things that you can do from at least for me, it’s harder than a typical anxiety attack to pull you out, because everything’s fresh again, the emotions the wound, it’s as if it’s all happening once more, and it’s a lot harder and it’s a lot more difficult, I think. In different ways from I think traditional anxiety, traditional stress and traditional, just, oh, here’s a bad memory. That is the easiest way to kind of put it.

Sarah Schuster
That’s so interesting. You said the word trapped we did a piece where we did a call out to our community asking them to describe what it’s like to have PTSD. And I pulled a few of the quotes that stuck out to me and Brittany, I mean like it’s so interesting that these really mirror what you said the one that I think mirrors the most this person wrote, it’s like being trapped in a time capsule, your surroundings change, but you’re forever in the state of your trauma, flashes of memories through all five senses, body memories nightmares, it consumes your entire being and never by choice and that was by Corey L. So this idea of being trapped in time trapped in a time capsule is I think really relatable and then I want to share one more, cause I think this hopefully captures the kind of the feeling you feel when you’re trapped like that. Holly M. wrote, “You know that feeling you get when someone jumps out and scares you and you are on high alert for a few minutes? That alertness never goes away for me. So just constantly that kind of hyper-vigilance right like constantly feeling like, you’re in the moment after someone just jumped out and scared you.” I think it’s interesting how all those descriptions kind of align.

Brittany McCoy
Definitely, especially, it’s funny that you say that moment, like right after someone just like jumped out. I think that’s a very eloquent way to put it. I’ve never thought to put it that way. But that’s basically that feeling 100%.

Ashley Kristoff
Yeah, thank you all for, for sharing all of those things, I feel like it helps really kind of round it out and paint a picture where we can kind of start to unpack and understand it a little bit more, especially if you know anyone listening here isn’t super familiar with PTSD, or even trauma as a whole and the impact it can have on you. But now that we do kind of understand a little bit more and have have kind of unpacked that, I really want to bring it to kind of the reality with some experience that that hit a little bit closer to home for us. So kind of talking about any experiences that we’ve had, whether it’s about PTSD, whether it’s about trauma in our life, and the way it kind of has presented so far.

Brittany McCoy
So it’s interesting because most of my life, my you know, trademark daddy issues, a lot of my life, it’s been a lot of PTSD in relation to childhood trauma and whatnot. And at one point without getting too much into the relationship with said, well, I did say daddy issues with my father, because we are on a weird, odd better track right now, so it’s one of those things where I’m trying to like move on. And at the same time, it’s because of that I think I’m doing better in regards to said trauma and PTSD, I’m in a very good place where I almost feel like I’m on the other side of the mountain.

But in difficult 2020 fashion, it’s weird because between sexual trauma and then death, it’s two separate hypes of PTSD that are kind of commingling right now. Long story short, it’s hard to find the words to kind of go into this without doing a complete, like emotion dump. But the easiest way to put it is I lost a life that was very important to me, that got me through a lot of really hard moments from age 11 to now. And basically, I was there when she died. And for me that moment, it was it was having her die in my arms that for me, I can’t not replay. And that usually happens at them at the oddest times, especially now that it was a dog now that I have another dog, there are these moments, especially when I’m sleeping, where she like, just lay her hand on my arm, and it’s just, I’m back. It’s that it’s a song, the song that I play it in those final moments. And right now, I’m not having a moment I like I’m choked up now. But it’s like, that is probably the most colorful PTSD that I am struggling with now.

Because yes, with childhood, it’s a, it’s so weird. The difference between the childhood drama, sexual abuse, that honestly it’s more of that’s more of a nightmare thing it versus it’s like the subconscious, but that is the most in your face, hard to avoid form of PTSD that I am currently experiencing. And it’s not due to the nature of grief due to the nature of that it was the first big grief moment that I’ve experienced in that I had a hand in it. Because you know, that’s kind of sometimes how pet that works. It’s very different. It’s not their time had come. There’s so much so many lingering questions and all of it. So that’s kind of the form of PTSD that I’m experiencing now. Kind of being pulled back to that veterinary room and going through those processes. You know what I mean?

Sarah Schuster
I appreciate you sharing the full range of your experience Brittany, like going from losing a pet who is so important to you, from you know, experiencing childhood trauma and abuse because I think that a lot of people maybe feel guilty that they’re like t trauma like isn’t big enough, right. But what I think what I took away from what you just shared is that it’s a lot of things compounded together sometimes that really can make you feel stuck in PTSD stuck in the traumatic memories. And I think a lot of people experienced that. It’s not always just one thing happened. And then you’re like, now you have PTSD. Sometimes for people it’s accumulation of things and thank you for sharing that cause I know that you’re going through at least part of that right now. So

Brittany McCoy
it’s I honestly I’m happy to share it just because like you said not everybody wants to say like okay, this is big enough for me to go through like a PTSD moment, because objectively speaking on paper, when you think of childhood trauma, childhood abuse, you think of sexual abuse, and then you think of like a pet dog dying. It’s It feels like at least for me, on the range of what is the most traumatic to what is the least I wouldn’t expect the pet death to be almost to almost to pass that childhood trauma at this point in my life. But I also think it’s because of so many different things because whenever we go through traumas, we all play with the what ifs, we all play with the what could have happened and the what role that I have to play. Sexual trauma is obviously very, very that is each the individual the way that we all process and deal with that, childhood trauma a little different because we’re children, like we can’t control what happened to us. And then somehow we end up chasing those horrible dynamics, but specifically in pet death are these death scenarios where we have a bigger hand to play, the what ifs are that much greater? So it creates a very a deeper cycle when you’re in the PTSD moment? It’s a lot.

Ashley Kristoff
Yeah, I really like what you had mentioned there about like, absolutely, some of these things like, quote, unquote, rank different in terms of how our brain processes them, and how our brain deals with them. Because the things that I wanted to talk about was like these two, very, very separate experience I had, that I’m still you know, to this day, kind of unpacking and learning and figuring out these, triggers is the best word I have for them, these moments that I don’t realize are happening and these feelings I’m feeling are happening because of those memories, and because of those associations.

So one of the things I wanted to talk about, which like, at first used to be like the really big thing for me, which was just the experience of medical trauma, and going through my cancer diagnosis, because it was very sudden, and I was very young, I was 20, turning 21. And that’s not something that as like a perfectly healthy 20-year-old I ever expected to hear was that I had a cancer diagnosis, that whole entire process from beginning to end from like, first noticing symptoms to the end of that whole treatment period. Like looking back on it, especially when I first did start talking to a therapist about it. It was really like unpacking how that those months that that process was happening, how that kind of engrained a lot of stuff in me and in the way that I react to the world in the way that I behave. And it’s been something that I’ve very consciously been like fighting against in some way or another.

On the other hand, I have something that felt so insignificant that like, very recently, I’m realizing how to way bigger impact on me than I thought it did. And it was the effect of like, in college, I had a bunch of friends, I had a relationship, everything was going well. But then I decided to end the relationship and an unforeseen consequence of that was that my partner who I had broken up with decided to tell everybody that I was close with, any sort of thing I had told him in confidence or secret, or like, that venting session, right? So like you go to your significant other a lot of the times to vent out one, one thing, someone said something that annoyed you vent it out, it’s gone, you actually don’t care about that thing. You just need to express that. He went and told every single person I knew anything that I had ever said about them negative. And I had promptly just lost my relationship and all of my close friendships in college. And so—

Sarah Schuster
So sorry.

Camara Rauen
Gosh that is terrible.

Ashley Kristoff
This made college super fun. But that being said, it felt so much smaller to me than that medical experience I had, that I brushed aside, I’m like, this isn’t a big deal, because this other thing was so traumatic and so stressful, you know, losing some friends. That’s not a big deal, right?

Camara Rauen
I think losing friends can be a big deal, though. I mean, I think people don’t realize the effect that friendships and relationships are very equal to each other. Within my experience, the thing that I found to be the most thing that has had the most impact on my life has been losing friendships. When I was in fifth grade, my best friend who, I don’t know why I picked her to be my best friend when I was five. She was very mean she did not like hugs, she would always tell me off. But we would always say we were best friends. And I was this touchy-loving, energetic kid, and she was just, she was nice and fun. But she did not like to be touched. She did not like to be creative as much as I did. But we were very close. And then there came a time in fifth grade where she told me, Camara you are a crybaby and I do not want to be your friend anymore. And that stuck with me. I don’t know why and going into middle school and having basically, my other friends who are friends with her leave off and starting something new feeling damaged and broken. Like no one would want to be friends with me because I’m emotional and you don’t understand what emotions are when you’re 11 and 10. And, and what that even means and basically playing out the same friendships.

In middle school, having similar situations happen. I ended up picking people who were going through their own emotional things so that I would feel better about my own stuff. Ended up getting into those kind of different debacles with friends. It was when I entered high school was actually when it got worse. I had a very close friend and we gained a really great group in my mind that was very supportive, very fun. And once she started dating someone who I didn’t like him too much and I let her known that, we slowly grew more separate, grew a little bit apart and eventually not her to mean but to the group, the group leader, which I’m not going to say names, came up to me one day at lunch, and said, so Madeline, we’ll get we’ll call her Madeline, doesn’t want to be your friend anymore. And we don’t either, since you don’t support her. And I was just like, oh, okay, do you want me to leave? And they’re like, yeah. So I left crying and went to go watch Lord of the Rings in the class lunchroom. And that is one of the reasons why I cannot watch Lord of The Rings and don’t like Lord of the Rings. And I also got a phone call later from one of my friends in the group and also a text saying, we don’t want to be your friend, and almost exactly the same time.

And I feel like since then, I’ve been very guarded about friendships, very precious about friendships, but also very afraid, I always have this fear that eventually friends will leave. Eventually, they’ll walk away. Even more than relationships with boyfriends or anything. It’s like, I’m more afraid of the friends that I make. I’m like, what’s it gonna take? When are they going to walk away, and that’s the trauma that I’ve had to work through. And obviously, I think a lot of people have gone through different things than I have. But I’ve seen that play out in my work in my relationships, and it’s something that I still work through today. And then I’ve worked through within trauma.

Sarah Schuster
Yeah. And I like, again, like I just keep going back to this concept where there’s like the traumas, we kind of all go through that affect how we act as adults. And then there’s, you know, the PTSD diagnosis, which can involve flashbacks, which could involve, you know, nightmares, these very specific things. And they’re all in this really, really valid spectrum of like the human experience, just some people who maybe are diagnosed with PTSD need different tools to kind of get through those very specific things. But it’s so important to talk about it. I think that it that validates all of it, right that even just having a specific friendship as a child can influence how you have friendships now, and that’s not something you could just get over. Just like all of this stuff, right? It all kind of carries with you and affects your behavior.

Ashley Kristoff
I think it also speaks really, truly to some of the kind of misconceptions that people have about PTSD and like the cause of how people can be diagnosed with it. Because for years, we’ve always heard like, veterans are people who have PTSD, but other people can’t really have PTSD. And we absolutely know now that’s not the case, that basically anybody can experience that as long as they kind of fit, you know, those traumatic moments. And they kind of fall along that spectrum as well. But it is identifying that these are the same experiences. And just because we can’t understand, you know why this feels like a trauma, when maybe it doesn’t make sense to another person that doesn’t change the fact that it is one and we need to address it as such, it’s not going to help by not doing that.

Camara Rauen
Exactly like the trauma is specific to you, not the outside world just because you haven’t gone through, maybe you have gone through war, or maybe you haven’t your own war is your personal thing. And like even you said, Brittany, about how your dog dying was a higher pain level at some points, than what someone else would perceive, maybe your childhood trauma to be the bigger one. But it really is what is personal to you, in your experience and not the outside. It’s like your self is yours, and theirs is theirs.

Brittany McCoy
100%. And like, I think something we’ve kind of already like mentioned, so important is the factor that there’s the subconscious ways that PTSD will still manifest. So yes, I do have these moments where like, I get sucked back into that vet room. But then I have other moments where you know, Cali, will the new dog will get into something she’s not supposed to get into. And then I’m going to be stressing thinking, Oh, no, is she going to keel over and die? So it makes me hyper-vigilant. So I think that it’s so interesting, all the different ways that trauma within PTSD will manifest and it’s not something that I think that anybody can judge. Like, I think an issue that should be talked about more in the mental health community, quite honestly, is gatekeeping mental illness, 110% and I think that a huge part of PTSD is almost this gatekeeping feeling within it like we get keep it enough for ourselves like I this isn’t traumatic enough, this isn’t bad enough for me to feel this level of grief. But at the end of the day, there’s also that other level of outward gatekeeping where other people just going to tell you it was just a dog, you’re just stressed. You’re still just going through it where it’s like, no, I really think this is something bigger. So I think that it’s quite honestly there’s so much that goes into it 110%

Camara Rauen
That makes a lot of sense. I think that we really value what our experiences but don’t feel like it’s good enough. And that’s something we need to start breaking down the stigma of.

Brittany McCoy
Exactly.

Ashley Kristoff
So with all of these details in mind of kind of the different ways we have experienced trauma, I really want to talk about what it’s like to be living through a pandemic. You know, how are these experiences actually influencing our lives, our mental health, the way we kind of go about our day to day nowadays?

Camara Rauen
Before the pandemic, the way that I dealt with my mental health, so I didn’t have to think about it was like, I will just spend all the time I can not with myself. I would hang out with friends, I always found if there was a networking event I could go to I went to it, if there was a class I could take, I went to it. If my friend wanted to go see a movie I didn’t want to see, I would go see it. Because it was something to do. I wanted to keep going and not stop. And I’ve learned when the pandemic happened when that lockdown happened. And I realized I couldn’t leave my house like to go see friends, the normal way to go do the events, everything was canceled, I had to actually sit and learn to be with myself and learn to be exhausted with myself. That was rough that still is rough to this day, like what I have learned within this is that I have a lot of things that I haven’t really sat down with myself and done the inner work and done the inner child work, to really just be okay with being alone with myself. I think I’ve become more comfortable with it. Tired, very tired. But I’m happier now to be able to be like when the pandemic subsides, and we’re able to go out again, like I can kind of have that choice. I don’t just have to fill my day, I can do what I want to that will bring me the joy and energy. And also know that I can find joy energy being on my own as well.

Brittany McCoy
You know, it’s so funny how you say you had to kind of sit with yourself most of my life. I’ve been chronically lonely. So it’s been nothing but sitting with myself. It’s actually the biggest reason why my imagination is what it is. I use my imagination as an escape. Yes, there were moments where divorced parents, I was at my mom’s house, which was the primary full time parent and thus I was seeing that kids at school every day. But I didn’t really have friends, you know, I didn’t really have people to talk to and then I would go to my father’s house. And due to parents being parents at times, other than cousins, I didn’t really have anybody to talk to at times, for entire weekends. So I already had this practice, perfecting being alone, perfecting loneliness. I moved away, moved to Florida, I gained friends, you know, I started going out with my friends, I have friends, what are these? And then they all went to college and all of a sudden I was alone again. And so once again, now as an adult, I had to perfect the art of being alone.

So when the pandemic hit, I was in this position where I am now a fully grown adult, I pay taxes now. I’m a fully grown adult and I was finally getting over so much trauma from high school, I was performing again, I was seeing friends, I had friends again, and all of a sudden now I can’t leave my house. Just like when I was a little kid I couldn’t leave my father’s and back when I was an early 20 something year old, I had no friends to go and visit. At first I was afraid because I was like are all of the coping mechanisms that I have developed about to go out the window? Because I was saved from my loneliness. And then all of a sudden, I just fell back into all the old routines. Walking around in circles and singing to myself, you know, throwing myself into work the pandemic, I don’t think it exasperated my loneliness. I think it just brought it all back up to the surface of what I’ve already gone through. So me handling the pandemic, me handling my chronic loneliness. There’s no difference, no change, of being stuck within these four walls and being stuck within the four walls that I’ve been stuck in different various times of my life.

Sarah Schuster
I think what I’m hearing from both of you that I can relate to is that living through a pandemic and having to spend a lot of time alone and having your support system kind of shaken up, it really does test your coping mechanisms for better or for worse. I feel like for me, it’s funny, I don’t have any specific throughline of trauma I’ve experienced that would shape how I’m dealing with the pandemic. But I do have my good old anxiety coping mechanisms, for good and for bad. And I mentioned earlier this idea of you know, needing to hyper control everything, so at the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself really doubling down with like lists making, it was trying to make like a perfect pandemic routine. We saw a lot the beginning where you know, folks were saying, okay, you have all this time now you better be working on five different projects and have like, you know, get the best shape of your life and so, at first I, my anxiety like eats that up right? So at first I fell into that trap and then it when it was clear that you know I couldn’t do that because I was setting myself up for failure with these really unrealistic, weird, busy pandemic schedules.

I went and I did the complete opposite, which was nothing. I’ve actually been stuck for a while. In this mode where I feel like all I can do is like work and watch TV, like it’s really really hard for me to engage in any activities, because when you’re a perfectionist like me, a lot of people I don’t think, realize this how much perfectionism actually leads to avoidance and inaction. And so I found my very black and white thinking has been, well, if you’re not gonna do this, like, perfect pandemic routine, you might as well be a blob and do nothing at all. And so part of my brain is afraid I’m kind of stuck in this mode of not being able to actually do things, but I’m working to, to crawl my way out of it, I hope. But it was an interesting experience for me to kind of go from trying to be like a pandemic-perfect Instagram person to being a blob watching The Office for the third time.

Camara Rauen
I relate so hard to that, there was that whole message of like, here’s the time, here’s the time. Shakespeare wrote a play during a pandemic like during the plague, like why can’t you?

Sarah Schuster
Like screw Shakespeare.

Brittany McCoy
It’s funny because I do the complete opposite, where it’s like, something super traumatic, PTSD related, starts happening. I become Hamilton. The girl is non-stop, and she just starts working. And that’s exactly it.

Camara Rauen
I feel like I’m a little bit more like Sarah, where it’s like, if I don’t do it perfectly, I shall not do. I shall sit here and plague and think.

Sarah Schuster
As you do zero things, then you end up doing zero things.

Camara Rauen
And you get even harder on yourself. And it’s not, that’s something we need to like, I feel like be even more lenient on it. So if you are getting out, and writing for yourself is what helps and that is helping then awesome. If being a blob and just being with yourself and watching The Office, that’s awesome too.

Sarah Schuster
Definitely pro, pro being a blob.

Camara Rauen
Yes.

Sarah Schuster
That’s my inspirational message.

Ashley Kristoff
My Friday routine is, Friday nights are couch gremlin nights, it is a sacred tradition. And like my partner 100% knows, like not to propose anything to do on Friday nights, because it is an automatic no from me, because I know what I want on Friday nights, it is couch gremlin. There was months and periods of times where I was literally doing nothing because I couldn’t do anything besides survive. And like, that’s all I had. There were periods where like, this has been really beneficial because, like you had mentioned Camara, like you made you force like sit with yourself, right? So I was forced to sit with myself and what, what came out of that was I was able to kind of actually look at my life and determine what was valuable to have in it and what was valuable to not have in it. So it really helped me like take that introspective time to find value and find what’s important and make sure that it is a part of my life because we’re spending so much time inside, we’re not doing the things we want to be doing, we need to be spending the time that we have in the way that fills us the best. And yeah, sitting on the couch, especially Friday nights, like that’s a guarantee, is one of the ways that that helps fill me for the week, for my life and acknowledging that is just as important as acknowledging the fact that I remember to drink water this year. That’s something I haven’t done for most of my life. I’ve been drinking water this year. And that’s also something that fills me but it’s on a completely different end of the wavelength from being a couch gremlin. So you know, a little bit of this, little bit of that.

Camara Rauen
I like that. I like what you said like find the things that actually mean something to you finding, like you said, like finding that day it’s like, you know what, yeah, Fridays are my couch gremlin day, and that is what I want for myself and I think it is important like reflecting on when you take that time for yourself, like what means something to you. I mean, with me like before, I was just trying to become friends with everyone in space at my time and just take up as much time so I wouldn’t be alone with myself. And this year, I have like, oK, which friendships means something to me, which new friendships that I didn’t realize could mean something to me mean something to me, and which ones right now aren’t serving me or maybe aren’t serving them, not in a way of breaking up necessarily like I would think in the past but just, like the people and the things that we have in our life really affect us. How do we really take the time to introspect and see how that makes us feel? I feel like that this time has been really beneficial for that.

Brittany McCoy
To a certain extent, I’m actually thankful in the smallest of ways to the pandemic, because I think that, I guess I’ll say I was a people pleaser, to a certain extent, it was that aspect of trauma of let’s keep everybody else happy so there will be no issue, so to speak. And when the only person you have around you is yourself, it becomes, “well, I guess I have to make myself happy. How do I do that?” I went from being somebody who, I like to say I try my best to be kind, I try not to be nice. I think there’s a strong difference between kind and nice. I realized how much I was still being nice versus kind and what that true differentiation was. Since the pandemic, I’ve had people try to guilt-trip me for not being as readily available to them. And once upon a time I would have internalized that and said, “Well, I guess I’m just a horrible friend. I’m so bad. Why can’t I be better? I should be there for more people.” But now it’s kind of like, it’s a pandemic. I’m doing my best. I’m sorry that’s not enough for you, so you staying or going because I’m good, I’m good, are you? If not, you have the full autonomy to leave, not in a toxic like threatening to go away. But just like, if I’m not good to you, then you don’t have to be here because I’m doing my best as a friend and if that’s not enough, that’s not enough. I don’t think I would have gotten to that place as quickly should I not have been kept completely by myself with no interaction for about 89 days straight.

Ashley Kristoff
I’d like to take a moment to share this episode of The Mighty Podcast is brought to you by The Mighty app. The Mighty is a digital health community bringing you the people information and tools you need to navigate your health journey. I like to use The Mighty particularly when I’m struggling with something due to my health, whether it’s mental health, physical health, anything. I can find the right communities of people who are going through similar or even the same experiences that I’m going through and either just use that as validation, use that for support, use that for resources, whatever I’m looking for whatever support and help I need, I can go to The Mighty and find it. To see how The Mighty can help you on your own health journey, download The Mighty app, which is available on the App Store and Google Play Store, or by typing in the link mgty.co/app. That’s m-g-t-y dot c-o backslash a-p-p.

I think all of the effects of the pandemic have really kind of hit us as people who either feel it closely with our own experiences, or I mean, we have to acknowledge the fact that we’re reading about it all the time. Something that I am curious about is what the future looks like. Is the pandemic actually a cause for trauma based on everything we’ve kind of talked about and everything we see right now. Is it something that we do need to be mindful about moving forward?

Sarah Schuster
Yeah, I think I can speak for myself, at least where I’m at right now with that question. I think that I tend to be like an after-reactor. So I think that the kind of the more collective trauma parts of the pandemic hit me relatively recently. I remember it wasn’t until, because I live on the other side of the country from my parents, it wasn’t really necessarily affecting me day to day that I couldn’t see them, because I wouldn’t necessarily have seen them anyway. And then, as soon as the holidays hit, it was actually Thanksgiving, so typically go home for Thanksgiving, all of a sudden, it hit me that like, I can’t go home and just see my parents when I want to see my parents and that fact had been true for months, right? That fact had been true for a while, but until an actual occasion occurred that I would probably go see my parents, that fact really hit me.

And I think that collectively, not just not being able to see family members but for me not being able to see my parents and my grandparents, I’m very lucky that no one has actually passed away. So it’s only a lot of what if. So what if someone passed away and I couldn’t be there? What if something happened to somebody and I couldn’t be there. And I think that collectively, a lot of people are experiencing either the reality of like, a loved one dying, and how you would want to honor their lives being changed because of the pandemic, or that constant feeling of what if. What if something happened, and I couldn’t just get on a plane to come home for something? Or, what if this was the last holiday I could have seen my grandma, but I didn’t see her because I couldn’t go home? And now I’m not going to see her again. So I think that how it’s changed our relationships and some of these kind of at least rituals that I think I sometimes take for granted. I can see having a collective effect later down the road of feeling kind of this frantic need to like, see your loved ones, make sure everyone’s OK, because there’s so much uncertainty, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. And I think that’s definitely something that has hit me a little later. As someone who I think you mentioned Ashley was kind of in survival mode for the first, most of the first half of the pandemic.

Ashley Kristoff
For me, I moved across the country because of a lot of those what ifs, right? I, you know, I had a nephew who was born during the pandemic, I obviously couldn’t go and visit my family because I lived across the country as well and a lot of those thoughts and feelings compounded to the point of like, to me, and what I find valuable in my life, I had to make the decision that I actually wanted to move back closer to my family because I couldn’t sit with those what ifs anymore because they were so impactful. They clearly were, right, I’m here.

Brittany McCoy
My what ifs I think are on the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s what if I’m wrong? There are so many people who are out living their best life right now, people who are seeing their family, traveling this and that, and my family is only two hours away from me, OK? I’m at one point there were three high-risk people just due to age well, 2.5 I guess, three high-risk people due to age now, it’s two high-risk people due to age, but at the same time, it’s this feeling of am I, it’s this it’s gaslighting myself. Am I staying away when I didn’t, when I don’t have to? How are people going to theme parks and having weddings and eating going to restaurants and they haven’t caught COVID yet and yet here I am. Am I blowing this out of proportion in my brain? Should I just go home and see my family? I live by myself, I haven’t had to worry about extra petri dishes I’m calling them, coming in that I’m not warranting. But at the same time, sometimes I feel like maybe I can and I’m being overly paranoid. It’s such a big back and forth in my head.

Sarah Schuster
Yeah, I feel like even like the calculation we all have to make now when we see a family or friend is like, it’s just like a new thing that no one should have to think about. Right? So you shouldn’t have to think, am I gonna fly home to see my parents and put my at-risk mom, you know, in danger? Or am I going to make a decision not to when in the reality if I did do it, everything was going to be fine, and now I didn’t see my parents for no reason? It’s just like, that’s like, not a calculation that we should have to make. And I do think that, again, like that’s, I don’t know how that couldn’t affect us long term to have to start thinking about our relationship. It shouldn’t be that high stakes to see your parents, you shouldn’t be thinking of like, but I’m planning a visit home. I’m like, OK, pack my bag, make sure I’m not gonna’ kill my parents on arrival. Like, that shouldn’t be like part of what you’re thinking about. But it is now, it is. And it’s just kind of it. Yeah, I think it messes with you.

Ashley Kristoff
Yeah and on that note, too, like, something that I’ve talked about in passing and as a joke, but like, is a legitimate question is like when you’re out in public now like, and people are wearing masks, and you hear somebody coughing, like, it’s now just like a high tension situation, right? That, I don’t know about you but like seeing people close to each other on TV, like in productions that were filmed years before this ever started. It’s like there’s this like, ball, this knot, I get really just like tense at the at seeing and hearing it and I’m very worried about what after-effects this going to have when we do feel like we can return to whatever a sense of normalcy looks like post-pandemic world. You know, how many of these like concerns and fears and tensions are going to stick with us for the long term?

Camara Rauen
Yeah, it’s concerning because like, as excited as I am for when things go back to quote-unquote, “normal” or whatever that’s gonna’ look like, I feel like there is going to be a period of what is this? How do we navigate this? I think people are still going to have that anxiety of even if things are perfectly fine like, can I hug people? Can I, can I be near someone? I think there’s still going to be that like residual cough is going to be something we’re going to be afraid of for a while. I think that’s a very valid feeling and such and it’s also it’s scary. It’s like when, when can I go see my parents? I haven’t seen my parents in a while. I was going to see them during Christmas and then I made the decision not to because of how high cases were in LA where I’m at. Going up to the Bay just didn’t seem like a good idea. I’m curious to see how we do navigate when things open up more, it’s still a weird world that we don’t really know what the future is going to look like.

Sarah Schuster
And just to give a shout out too, we talked a lot about collective trauma and I’m sure there’s so many more things that we missed. The people who are on the front lines, the people who are in the hospital seeing this every day, even people who work at our grocery stores who had to go to work every day and put their lives at risk. Earlier in the pandemic, we had one of our contributors, whose actually a nurse, respond to this video that went viral. She filmed a video of herself breaking down after her shift because of how traumatizing it was to witness everything that was going down in these ICUs that we’re full of COVID patients. And it’s like, our doctors and nurses like they’re tough. They like are trained to see stuff, you know, they know what they signed up for. These are people who have kind of signed up to surround themselves with a certain level of death, a certain level of uncertainty. And to see, a nurse in this case, but honestly to see other professionals I’ve heard talk out about this, ER workers talk out about it, it seems just beyond. I think that they’re definitely going to need extra support and extra love even as we transition out of it because they’re never going to be able to look at their ERs and their hospital spaces in the same way again.

Brittany McCoy
I have someone who’s very close to me who has been a nurse during this entire pandemic. And you mentioned them knowing what they’re getting themselves into, like, you know, when they enter the medical field and this and that and my friend, they’re one of the most courageous, selfless people I’ve ever met. Seeing how taxing, this is way down on them. This person needs support that I can’t give because one, I can’t physically see them. They are consistently around people who are positive with COVID. Also don’t have the words because what do you tell someone who is fighting death for other people every single day in ways that they didn’t know they would have to? There’s a certain collective trauma, I think, with the pandemic and with COVID-19, but then there are those first responders, there are the nurses, the doctors in that very, very niche sense of collective trauma that they themselves are going through that none of us will be able to relate to.

Camara Rauen
Definitely need to really treat our healthcare workers and our frontline workers just with the utmost respect, because there’s just so much that is put on their plate and also so much expectation. They’ve really handled a lot of it. Everyone needs mental health care after this, which I need some self-care right now.

Ashley Kristoff
Yeah, definitely do. Which brings us into our self-care corner, where we really want to share a couple of resources and support networks that you can reach out to whether or not you’re dealing with PTSD or trauma, but just some other general support. So Sarah, I know you have brought a resource here.

Sarah Schuster
Yeah I can start. So the one thing that I found that I want to make sure we shared with anyone who’s listening who feels like they need some extra support, specifically with trauma or PTSD, it’s the PTSD Alliance. Go to PTSDalliance.org/help. They have this really great page I just stumbled upon, they actually have a hotline for women who are in unsafe situations, they have a coaching app, they have a directory to mental health professionals who specialize in trauma, PTSD support groups. And so if you’re someone who like needs kind of more support than you’re getting right now, the PTSD Alliance is something that seemed like a good place to start. And I also wanted to give a shout out to if you’re someone who’s interested in just learning more about PTSD, think what kind of psychoeducation and learning more about each of the symptoms can potentially help you on your journey, our coworker, our friend, Renee, and our amazing Mighty staff person, put together this great resource that goes through PTSD symptoms, and beautiful easy to understand, so that you can really start to understand maybe specific parts of the diagnosis that maybe you don’t right now. So I’m sure we’ll link to that somewhere. It’s both an article and it’s really kind of easy to tap through, tappable story. And there’s some great information in there.

Camara Rauen
Any links that we’ve said throughout this episode, you can look at the description either on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you are listening, and those links will be there.

Ashley Kristoff
Thank you Sarah, for bringing that resource. I really hope that anybody who’s listening who needs it, feel free to use it. I think another piece I want to share here is just what’s been helping you during this time. This is a time of a lot. I just want to know what you know, in our self-care corner, are you using for self-care right now?

Camara Rauen
So my self-care, great thing, and those people who know me know that music and comedy are two things that just fill my soul with so much. I’m a connaisseur. Spotify, if you’re listening on Spotify, wonderful, but is my favorite app. What I’ve really liked is Spotify has a discover playlist for you that will kind of get, tell you what music you might like. And that has helped me find so many new artists this year that I didn’t even know I’d be able to find new musicians during this time and I have gotten more into music and just being with myself, dancing in my room. My self-care corner has been my room, dancing around it just enjoying my time and what brings me joy in that way. So eat good, dance well, and listen to all of the best comedy and music that Spotify pushes to you.

Brittany McCoy
On that note, I completely agree with some of that. Like I said earlier, a huge part of my escapism has been basically walking around in circles and singing to myself and pretending that I’m in my very own fairy tale. As a 25-year-old adult that hasn’t changed. I’m staring at like three of my big poufy dresses right now actually and like a couple of my tiaras. A big part of getting through this pandemic for me has actually been show tunes. Putting on my own one-woman shows in my apartment. That was a lot of the first half of the pandemic, that this isn’t sponsored, Wingstop. I wrote a whole book on nothing but wings. That’s all I ate was like Wingstop, show tunes, that was such a major part. Like I already spent so much time alone that it wasn’t super new. I do think though, once someone very close to me got a terminal diagnosis, once Roxy passed, and then after every ounce of grief that I’ve had to experience since a lot of the self-care shifted to I just almost want to say just surviving. In the weirdest of ways that it’s no specific, I did this and I did that or I’m even doing this or I’m even doing that because I’m still in the midst of it. A lot of it is just surviving, getting to the next day.

Sarah Schuster
Love it. I actually want to go before Ashley because I feel like mine’s kind of not the right answer, but I’m gonna’ share it anyway. My self-care, or the thing that I found comforting for myself during the pandemic was actually to like change the stakes of everything in my life. I think like a lot of people you know, living through a time like this gives you a very specific perspective. It sounds like kind of a downer, but I really feel like in different parts of my life I’ve learned to like not care as much. And I know it sounds bad, but if you’re me not caring is actually an improvement because usually I care too much. And so for me that looks like OK, redefining these things that used to kind of have these really high stakes. So like what is work? Is work, my identity? Is work the only thing that keeps me going? Like no, work is how I pay my rent, work is how I make some money and like pass my time. Is working out most important thing that I do? Nope, it’s just like a good way to spend time. And so I think that my perspective has changed for some of these parts of my life for the better, and it’s easier to take care of myself.

Ashley Kristoff
I don’t think that’s a bad answer, Sarah. I don’t think it’s a wrong answer, because that’s what’s working for you. Like, I feel like I almost have the wrong answer too. I learned discipline and while that sounds not quite like self-care, and ended up being really good self-care, because discipline made me do the things that filled me more. It was making sure that like, my body felt good. So for me, that’s making sure I’m drinking enough water and exercising, doing those things to make me feel good. And then, you know, making sure like, I have to dedicate one hour a week, which isn’t, you know, in the grand scheme of things a lot of time, but I have to dedicate one hour a week into working on some sort of art, which for me is really makeup. And if I don’t do those things, at the end of the week, I feel a difference. Even if I’m not in the space always to want to do any of this, I still do it because I recognize that thing helps me so much even when I don’t want to. So definitely self-care is not always pretty, but as long as it’s getting the desired result, I guess. But with that being said, I just want to wrap things up here with kind of a final thought. And I would love everyone to kind of briefly answer the question, what makes you Mighty? I will start for this one. So I think what makes me Mighty when I was thinking about this, is I think it is just showing up here today, being willing to be vulnerable and be myself in a space that it seems very hard to do that a lot of times. So to me, that’s what being Mighty is.

Sarah Schuster
I love that I’ll go. I think I’m Mighty because despite sometimes maybe having a downer outlook, I really do feel hope for myself. I really do like deep down, I do feel like I’m gonna’ be OK. And I think that I would wish that for other people. I think it’s a good Mighty place to not maybe always be 100% of the time, but to try to be at least some of the time.

Camara Rauen
I love that. I think it’s really important to be hopeful be basically a realistic optimist. And what makes me Mighty, I would say is kind of like a combination in a way of the last two answers is that I feel like I am powerful because I am vulnerable and because I’m open to share my story and be hopeful in the future. I am Mighty because I am ready to advocate for myself and for others.

Brittany McCoy
For me, what makes me Mighty is my empathy and my vulnerability. Being able to share my perspective, share my story without fear, I think is what truly makes the Mighty.

Ashley Kristoff
Thank you everyone for listening to The Mighty Podcast. If you want to continue this conversation, head over to TheMighty.com or download The Mighty app to become part of our community. Thank you so much to Camara, Sarah and Brittany for being on today’s episode. Join us on our next episode and Stay Mighty.

Sarah Schuster
Thanks everyone.

Camara Rauen
Stay Mighty, everyone. Bye.

Brittany McCoy
Peace out.

Sarah Schuster
Stay Mighty.

Camara Rauen
Thanks for listening.