Sheila Sharpe, Ph.D. | 15th Street
This can’t be real, I thought, walking down Del Mar’s ghostly streets during the first month of Lockdown. Sight of an occasional masked figure and the cheerful blue sky above made the scene seem more creepily surreal. Like many people, denial was one of my early reactions to the Coronavirus Pandemic. At the same time, the psychologist/writer side of me aimed to turn an out-of-control crisis into a harmless sci-fi fantasy—the intrepid humanoids, armed with paper masks, disinfectant, and fear, battle and defeat an invisible lethal invader.
But when I review the emotional roller-coaster of the past two months: the early scrambling for supplies to the blues and blahs and loneliness of Lockdown to the angry protests against isolation, we are now up against a mutating virus along with another mutation of fear—Will this never end?
As the pandemic swept down the coast and the numbers of the sick and dead mounted, the terror of catching COVID-19 gave us insomnia, nightmares, body aches, racing hearts, along with hoarding, cleaning, and hand-washing compulsions. We may have calmed down, but keep in mind that every panicky, crazy way you’re feeling is normal. Our lives are in constant danger, and the economic crisis worsens. Taking short breaks from these realities helps maintain sanity. Therapists like me advise minimizing exposure to the media’s bad news. Position yourself in the mid-zone between Catastrophic Trumpian Denial and Cassandra’s Voice of Doom.
Establishing a daily structure that includes safe methods for getting food and other supplies is necessary to feel fundamentally secure. Dr. Felise Levine recommends dancing, meditation, yoga, breathing, and stretching exercises for managing anxiety.
Lockdown has threatened our basic needs to feel in control, effective, and to have meaningful connections with people. Rising to the challenge, Del Martians have found many ways to stay in charge of their lives, be productive, and help others. DMCC ensures that those in need get groceries and other essentials. My neighbors make fetching masks, bake bread for others, take on-line courses, write creatively, and sing together on Zoom.
Near the end of the second month of isolation, many friends, family members, and former clients have expressed feeling frustrated, bored, depressed, and lonely. Palinkas’ studies show that people manage the first half of being confined with active coping, but at the perceived half-way point their resolve weakens. This kind of let-down has now set in, fueled by warnings of a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall with no rescue from a vaccine anytime soon.
Zoom fatigue plagues us. Deciphering expressions on-screen is difficult and feeling more alone can result. It’s helpful to give up the wish of making the same kind of connection as was possible in person. While we’ve lost the way things were, zooming gives us a visual way to sustain our friendships, have group meetings, family dinners, and celebrate occasions.
Boredom also has upsides. Time slows down. You’re convinced two months have passed, but it’s really only been one. You’re younger than you think. And you are safe, unlike the unmasked rule-breakers out there eating, drinking, waving flags, and infecting each other. Practice the lost art of delayed gratification, bearing in mind that quarantined, cautious introverts are the most likely to inherit this earth.
Lockdown has profoundly intensified our fears of feeling and being alone, a condition already considered an epidemic in the US. Research indicates that loneliness is more dangerous to health than smoking or obesity and causes ruinous stress and anxiety. Emotional health requires feeling connected, now more difficult to achieve, especially for those who live alone, are disabled, or strained financially. In our town, dedicated DMCC volunteers are contacting isolated seniors to provide support in any way possible.
To combat loneliness, Levine suggests doing something kind for someone daily and recognizing what you’re grateful for, like living in our beautiful town. People are calling friends and relatives more frequently, and I see couples making efforts to overcome their intimacy blocks and develop new ways to connect, like cooking together. A creative pair I know makes funny short films about domestic trials, one aptly called “When Life Gives You Lemons. Forget lemonade, make ambrosia.” And remember to hope, advises plague maestro Stephen King—“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”