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Treading Water

Content warning: Depression, COVID, death

This year has been really difficult for me. It almost feels harder than the previous two years of the pandemic, though there might be some recency bias. My mental health has been poor. I am having a really hard time feeling hopeful about anything and feel like I’m just treading water most of the time. I guess I am writing this post to have it out there? I don’t expect it to make things much better for me, but maybe it will help someone feeling similarly to realize they’re not alone.

I have felt extra lonely this year. I have worked from home since well before the pandemic, so I know the importance of making myself get out of the house to socialize. Before the pandemic, I was occasionally attending a meetup group. They started meeting again last year. I know I should try to socialize more, but I feel pretty anxious about it. I am still taking COVID very seriously and these are relative strangers that I have no way to know how seriously they are taking it. I did go to one of their movie meetups earlier this summer. There were only 3 of us and I wore a mask in the theater. I was glad to see one of them did as well. I don’t feel comfortable going to larger meetups, especially if they’re indoors and most will be unmasked.

It feels like a Catch-22. I know I should socialize. My options are limited due to the risks I’m not willing to take. Then with the small set of remaining options, I still don’t know how to trust these relative strangers. The whole process is mentally exhausting and most of the time it’s easier to decide to stay home. Virtual options have been a great help the last couple years. I even unexpectedly made a great group of online friends through The Liturgists’ open Zoom room. These happen a lot less often now, though. I am also very thankful for my good friends who live far away who check in and keep in touch. Unfortunately the virtual / long-distance nature means the positive effects tend to wear off quickly. At the end of the day, I’m still alone.

I lost a co-worker to COVID in January. I did not not know him well, but it was the closest COVID death I have experienced. It hit me pretty hard. He was only 40 and unvaccinated. I have felt tension with some loved ones about misinformation they’ve taken in. Losing my co-worker spurred me to try to persuade them to get vaccinated. I did not go into it with high expectations and unfortunately was not able to convince them. I have not lost relationships, but I definitely feel some tension and it feels like some relationship dynamics may have changed for the long-term.

Through most of 2021, I felt some level of solidarity with people, like we were (mostly) taking it seriously to mitigate the spread of COVID. That feels gone now. I try not to get frustrated at individuals who don’t seem to take it seriously anymore, but it still feels isolating. We’re all exhausted and I think the lack of clear, consistent public health messaging has led people to a point of shrugging their shoulders. It is mostly not their fault. I try to focus on the leadership and systemic failures.

I have been really angry at the response by US leaders and public health experts. It has been lacking for most of the pandemic, but this year it seems to have really gone off a cliff. In February, the CDC switched their metric to Community Levels, which measures hospitalizations and hospital capacity. It also only recommends wearing a mask indoors if the level is high. At the medium level they say to talk to your healthcare provider about if you should wear a mask indoors. Hospitalization is a lagging indicator (by weeks) of COVID spread, though, and hospital capacity does nothing to inform of your risk.

By contrast, the Transmission Levels metric actually counts new COVID cases, which is an earlier indicator of COVID spread and your risk. California used this metric for most of 2021 to determine if counties should require masks indoors, which is pretty reasonable. The CDC still provides this metric, but it is difficult to access on their site and downplayed with their note “Community Transmission levels are provided for healthcare facility use only.” Why would this metric be useful only for healthcare facilities?!

The Transmission Levels have been high for the majority of the US for months now, but you would hardly know it by our leaders’ response and the majority of media coverage. Overall the sentiment seems to be “assess your individual risk,” but that goes entirely against the concept of public health. Most people don’t have enough information to accurately assess their own risk, not to mention that focus totally ignores the risk you may be putting other people in with your decisions. Please wear an (N95, KN95, or similar) respirator indoors when there is substantial/high spread and stay up to date with your vaccinations. A couple good sources I have been following on this are Violet Blue’s Pandemic Roundup posts and the People’s CDC Weather Reports.

The CDC guidance has gotten even worse since I started writing this post. Sigh. I’ll leave it at what I’ve written though, because I believe those are still the most important.

The state of the world is pretty depressing, too. There is creeping fascism in the US and more attacks on human rights. It makes it hard to feel hopeful for the future. I have tried to limit my doomscrolling of the bad news. I like to be informed, but I also don’t have to be right up-to-the-minute on everything.

I was talking to a therapist for about a year and a half, but I paused that last summer. Sometimes it would help. Other times it felt like things were getting worse. I tried to remind myself that healing isn’t linear; there will be ups and downs. Ultimately I got tired of trying and put it on hiatus. I know I should probably start back up, but it’s hard to find the energy to. I did try talking to a psychiatrist last year and it was a pretty bad experience that cost a lot of money and went nowhere, so I’ve not really pursued that any further.

I know I have it better than some people. It has not all been negative, either. There have been some bright spots that I try to hold onto. Regardless of relative scales of privilege, though, things can have the same effect on our feelings and mental health, making life feel grey and hollow sometimes.

I’m not sure how to wrap this up. If any of this resonated with you, I hope you feel less alone and encouraged to talk about these things.

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