Dear Dr. Smith,
I love your column in The Saunders Report. In fact, it's the main reason I subscribe. I have never been to a psychologist but feel comfortable writing to you.
I am a 56-year-old divorced woman who loves being alone. I'm what you call a homebody and my friends are always fussing because I never want to go out.
Here is the problem, though: now that the mayor of Durham and the governor have ordered us to stay in because of Covid-19, all I want to do now is go out. I am constantly looking for excuses to leave home, even if it's just to go to the store to pick up a loaf of bread. I recently went to Costco four times in one week.
Can you tell me why a person who has never, ever had a problem staying home except to go to work and to church now suddenly seems unable to stay home? Is it because I just want to defy authority or live dangerously?
How can I make myself get used to staying in when I have to stay in?
Chomping at the bit
To go out or not to go out. That is the question. To answer it, we would be well advised to reflect on the last pandemic that had such worldwide implications.
The virus that struck the world in 1918 was not taken seriously by many until it was too late. We know from the research the manner in which the virus was transmitted and the speed and rapidity with which it traveled the world. That was a century ago and most of us have no concept of what occurred. That makes this current unseen enemy a seemingly mild foe in the minds of many.
However, history and current numbers - more than 140,000 deaths - let us know that this is not the case. By now, most people have had someone they know or love be impacted by this virus.
In my family I have had one person die of complications and my college roommate, a physician, has been afflicted along with 5 of his 6 family members. The six degrees of separation suggests that if you have not already, you will soon encounter someone who has been affected by this virus.
"But I’m stir crazy. I want to go outside," you insist.
Ok, let's say you go outside - to a festival, to a concert or to the beach. You have an amazing time. Let’s say that while there, you encounter an asymptomatic Covid-19 carrier who passes it on to you. You also have no symptoms and go visit your mother. Of course you're going to hug your mother.
Her immune system may be weaker than yours, so she comes down with harsh symptoms of Covid-19 and has to be hospitalized. After 5 days on a ventilator, she dies.
At this point, are you still happy that you went to the event and enjoyed yourself? This is the type of real-life scenario that we must consider, especially when we are going "stir crazy" from being cooped up inside.
Being isolated is not an easy experience. What makes it particularly difficult is the inability to know for certain when this will end. Another difficult aspect is the inability to move through the world freely as we once could. Everyone must now adhere to stricter guidelines for interacting with each other that will likely be the new norm moving forward. Plans for the foreseeable future have been altered. All of which is unsettling to our psyche.
Similar to how carbon monoxide is an unseen killer that sneaks up on you, the depression or anxiety from managing this Covid-19 virus sneaks up on you, too. One day you are managing it and feeling well - and the next day you wake up and the depression slaps you in the face. The seeming loss of control, financial worries, job insecurity and concern about health all contribute to these feelings, but we have the capacity to understand this dynamic and do the things necessary to stay in a positive, healthy space.
Here are a few reminders to help you stay mentally healthy:
● Make sure to allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. This is a pandemic that is affecting the world, not just you. No one is moving freely. We are all compromised, and the sooner we can stay still and allow this thing to run its course, the sooner we can get back to some semblance of freedom.
● Identify things that contribute to your happiness and do those things consistently.
● Stay connected to friends and loved ones, allowing yourself to find a balance that allows you to vent - but not wallow in - your emotions.
● Remember – This too shall pass.
Dr. Anthony J. Smith, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and Executive Director of Alase Center For Enrichment. We are delighted to have him writing a column for the The Saunders Report and answering readers' questions concerning important issues in their lives.
Send your questions to Dr. Smith at email@example.com or to firstname.lastname@example.org and he will answer them in thesaundersreport.com.
To make an appointment, you can reach him at (919) 957-7357 or visit his website at www.alase.net.
His podcast is called Black Folks Do Therapy.