Hello, I’m Troy McClure (Jess Grey) and you may remember me from such hits as Invisible Disability, Living With Passive Suicidal Ideation, and International Panic Day. So, of course, in this bizarre, frightening, and mental-illness-exacerbating time, I’m here to talk about just how much all of this is really fucking with us mentally ill folk.
We’re trying our best.
Now, on the one hand, having recently transitioned into freelance work, I stay home most of the time under normal circumstances. So, basically, my lifestyle hasn’t seen a big change. On the other hand, I do have a contrarian streak that has left me fighting with some big “you’re not my supervisor” energy. I’ve been trying to channel the latter into creating silly content on TikTok, finding new music and having solo dance parties, pulling my hoop out, going for walks, and getting some things done around the house. Still, even though I have a roommate, the self-isolation thing is sometimes hard: my anxiety is steadily rising and I’m finding that I’m having a more and more difficult time sitting still. While the latter has a lot to do with the former, it’s also because it is spring and the world is supposed to be waking up! It’s supposed to be softball season! It’s supposed to be Flash Chorus season too! My body is finally coming out of “seasonal depression + regular depression + the cold making my fibromyalgia flare”-induced hibernation and the necessary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 are clotheslining my usual methods for shaking off the wintertime funk.
There is a part of me that is handling all this super well, on a surface level anyway. I’ve been living in Anxiety Thunderdome so long that this is just the same ol’ panic, different disco. Part of that is because of C-PTSD: I lived in situations where so little was under my control, where I was on lockdowns of different kinds, where I felt as though there was no safe place for me in the world… so, this is like returning to normal. Is that toxic? If not kept track of with regular check-ins and reminders that this is not the same, sure. But if I do keep checking in with myself and seeking out reminders that circumstances are different, it’s kind of helpful. Knowing that I know how to survive situations that have felt somehow similar is helping keep my anxiety from blowing up to the point that I can’t function at all. At least, for right now, I am able to be functional enough to make sure I take my meds, eat, shower, brush my teeth, do some dishes or a load of laundry, mow the yard. I have seen myself get to a point where my anxiety and depression tag team me to the point that I can maybe do one or two of those things with any kind of consistency. Nevertheless, the anxiety I do have is keeping me from being able to focus: I can’t read right now, the words just drift in front of my face; I’ve been struggling to write this because my brain is flying through things so fast it is hard for me to get the words down before my thoughts are three states over; I haven’t been able to sit down and work on any of my art since all this started. So, my old friend Panic is certainly still making themselves felt, even if they don’t show to the rest of the world.
Sometimes the anxiety still hits really hard, though.
For those of us with traumatic interactions with the medical field, this time is especially scary. I grew up with a younger sister who had leukemia. For five years, we adjusted to protect Missy since her immune system was compromised. I learned quite early how to wash my hands properly, to cover my mouth when I coughed or sneezed and to wash up as soon afterward as possible, and to keep my distance as soon as I started experiencing any kind of symptoms that could indicate I was sick with something contagious. This is old hat for me and my family. At the same time, while I’m not experiencing any kind of difficulty consistently performing those behaviors, the fact that I have to worry about them so consciously is stirring up a lot of old feelings and reactivating trauma and grief responses.
In the face of huge tragedies that can leave us feeling helpless, I try to content myself with doing smaller things. Yesterday, I went to donate blood, figuring that is a small thing I could do that would be helpful, given the donation shortage. They checked my temperature when I got there and cleared me to go inside, at which point I was given a mask. I understand why they made us wear masks—I’m even glad they did! But, despite the new CDC guidelines, I’d been avoiding wearing a mask because wearing one sends me hurtling back to being nine years old, dressed in too-big scrubs, booties, head cover, gloves, and a mask to go into my sister’s room in the bone marrow transplant unit. During one visit, she fell asleep while we were snuggled up on her hospital bed watching a movie; I reached up and scratched my eye, itchy from allergies, and didn’t think a thing in the world of it until I went to leave the unit and I was taking all the protective clothing off. My sister died a year later and I spent the next six years absolutely convinced that I had killed her by touching my eye and not immediately decontaminating myself.
Having that mask on my face stirred every bit of that back up and, because that particular drive was overbooked, I had to wear the damned thing—shaking and near tears—for two hours. But, by Maude, I gave them the unit of A+ I signed up to give them and I will do everything in my power to do it again as soon as I am eligible. It still took a lot out of me. I slept for thirteen hours last night and I am still exhausted. (If you can donate, though, please do!)
And that’s not even touching on my being at a higher risk, where COVID-19 is concerned, because of my long history of chronic bronchitis and asthma. Nor does it touch on the level of terror I am experiencing on behalf of my family: my sister, a manager at a big box store that does grocery and pharmacy, is an essential worker and my mother is incredibly high risk and I am hundreds and hundreds of miles away from both of them. I’m unable to help either of them in any material way, so I worry. I worry and I hope and I do my part to slow the spread and try to have faith that people near my mom and my sister are doing the same; which is why watching others not care about performing those very basic tasks properly absolutely enrages me. I don’t understand how to explain to people that it’s not just their health they’re risking: it’s mine, it’s my loved ones’, it’s their loved ones’.
Seriously. What will it take for folks to understand this?
So, I bust out my hula hoop for the first time since moving to this house. I record silly videos on TikTok. I have solo dance parties in the kitchen or on the deck. I make friends with the carpenter bee that has decided our backyard is its turf—their name is Sam and they are lovely. I go donate blood. I wash my hands A LOT. I sit down and write about the fact that your mentally ill friends are not okay right now. And I try so hard to not compare myself to other people on social media who are using this time for huge craft projects or learning a new language or whatever and I try to content myself with what I can do.
I can walk!
Yeah, what he said!
I do all of that because I AM NOT OKAY right now. And it is perfectly okay that we are not okay right now. We’re trying to survive a collective trauma: trauma isn’t just about being in danger, it’s about feeling in danger and I can’t imagine that there are many people who are taking this virus seriously who don’t feel in danger right now. So, stay safe inside, if you can. If you have to go out, please take every precaution possible. Check in with your friends and family members, especially who struggle with mental illness. We may have to be separated right now but we don’t have to be alone.
Stay safe, friends. Be as well as you can. Take care of one another. And