EDITOR’S NOTE: We have been publishing blogs from the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation for several years, and this is a good one for everyone. And one of the most “frequently asked questions” what is it going to look like as we emerge from the stay at home order? Linda Tate’s suggestion is timely as everyone anticipates lifting of Oregon’s “stay home” orders and closures, which are likely to be in place for weeks to come. Oregon has accomplished flattening the curve, but there are other criteria that must be met before the governor will lift the closures.
By Linda Tate, Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation Communications Director
This week, we are going to talk about “the day after.” Wasn’t there a popular movie by that name? I think it involved the end of our world as we knew it, and how people survived moving forward.
For purposes of this blog, we aren’t talking about the near end of the world, but we are going to talk about the day after. The day after they tell us we have the “all clear” to go back to our “normal” lives. What is that going to look like? Have you put any thought into that moment?
Everyone reacts differently to changes. Some folks just roll with it. Some have anxiety which can lead to panic attacks. Some can get very irritable, withdrawn, unable to sleep, sleeping too much…depressed. Big sweeping changes like the ones we are experiencing right now, can be very, very stressful, especially if you don’t like change.
How affected you will be by this event will vary, depending on several factors.
1. How severely were you impacted? Did you lose your job? Get laid off? Have trouble filing for unemployment? Miss paying large bills? Did you catch Covid-19? Lose someone who couldn’t fight it off? Financial insecurity is a huge stressor for most people. Definitely anxiety-producing stuff right there.
2. What kind of coping skills did you already have in place? Do you already see a therapist? Do you have money set aside for emergencies? Can you self soothe or do you need people around you to help you maintain emotional stability? Do you have a good sense of humor? Having support (therapist), financial/food security, being able to self soothe and having a sense of humor, are all things that will serve you well in a crisis such as this one.
3. Do you live alone? Did you have support during quarantine? Were you able to connect with your family/extended family/friends/coworkers through Zoom/Telephone/Email? Staying in touch during these events helps keep our spirits up. Technology today is very good and most computers will support Zoom/Go To Meeting programs.
4. Did you have pets in the house that were a calming factor? It’s especially important for people who live alone to have something else that’s alive in the home with them. Be it a roommate, or a pet, having something/someone there besides just yourself is helpful.
5. Are you an extrovert? A hugger? A people person? Then this event was probably very traumatizing/anxiety-producing for you. Especially if you lost your job or had to work from home.
6. Did you already have hobbies in place? Knitting/sewing, puzzles, reading, baking/cooking, gardening, genealogy work, singing, writing? Having something to help pass the time is critical when you face an event such as being quarantined.
I want you all to start now to prepare yourself for “the day after.” If not for your own benefit, then for all the people you will be coming into contact with, both in person and on social media. Everyone will deal with this differently, and if you understand what’s going on around you, it will be easier for you to demonstrate compassion and empathy.
One example I can give you is my friend “T”. T lives on Long Island, in New York. He survived Hurricane Sandy, but it was very traumatizing. His family lived on the second floor of their house for days because the first floor was full of water, listening to gangs roaming their neighborhood at night, kicking in doors and looting. They had no heat, no running water, no way to get their dog out for potty breaks, an elderly mother to care for, and no way to get to work. Their cars were floating down the street.
Fast forward to this event. T has already lost two cousins and one childhood friend to COVID-19. The bodies had to be cremated and nobody was allowed a funeral. On top of that, he’s lost his livelihood, as he’s a professional musician. It was clear to me as I talked to him and his wife, that they were still traumatized by Sandy, and now this was piled on top of that. In this case, 2+2 didn’t equal 4 anymore. In this case, 2+2 equaled 5. It was too much and they were on overload. He found himself worrying about Easter. What were they going to do? How would the family eat dinner together? How would he get to church? It was easier to focus on something small than to take in the bigger picture. The loss of control was just too much.
“The day after” for T will look much different than the day after for someone like me. I already worked from home. I not only have my husband, but our bonus son lives here. We have pets. We had already stocked up on food in case of an earthquake. My husband didn’t lose his job. We had numerous projects we hadn’t had time for, and they have kept us busy. I was already in therapy for an unrelated issue. We used Zoom to see and talk to our loved ones. Going back to the real world will mostly entail giving those I love the biggest hugs ever. My transition won’t look like T’s.
So as we ease back to a new normal, please be aware of these factors, and just be kind. Allow people to feel however they feel. Reassure them that things will get better with time. Offer them your understanding and compassion. They may appear to be daydreaming a lot, or have to go home due to free-floating anxiety (it appears there is no cause but trauma is the cause). People may still be irritable (those bills won’t get caught up overnight), or they may have taken on a bad habit like drinking too much over the course of the event.
However they present, just remember that we have all been through a really rough time. Be gentle on each other…be gentle on YOU.