I’m one of the lucky ones. I retired in 2011 after 34 years working with criminal offenders. So, I’m lucky I haven’t had to deal with being laid off, losing my business, or worrying about rent.
And in the midst of COVID-19, I’ve had my best friend and partner, my wife, to isolate with. We met 45 years ago, and she has stuck by my side through health and sickness. If anything, socially isolating together has brought a greater sense of appreciation for our interdependency. As I said, I’m one of the lucky ones.
Others aren’t so lucky.
These are tough times. As I write this, 460,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and recently over 5,100 people died in one day. Estimates go as high as 600,000 dead by the time we get people vaccinated.
Millions have lost their jobs and are fearing eviction. Landlords are failing to collect rent, small business owners fear losing the businesses they struggled to build, and many go hungry. Uncertainty abounds, including the question: When can I get vaccinated?
A college friend’s son put together two businesses in San Francisco: a delicatessen and a restaurant. His restaurant was recognized as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the U.S., earning him a Michelin Star. Then COVID-19 hit. Both businesses were shut down. But not his leases. He owes $7,000 a month on the restaurant alone. After the shutdown, he told his father he was exhausted. My friend asked, “On what? The restaurant is closed.” He explained he had to throw away $21,000 worth of spoiled food.
You’re probably feeling a little depressed just reading this. So, it isn’t surprising that panic attacks, domestic violence, suicides, and depression are increasing. Prior to COVID-19, about 8.5% of Americans reported depression, but that increased to 27.8% in 2020.
Common symptoms of depression are:
■ Feelings of hopelessness
■ Difficulty concentrating
■ Lack of motivation
■ Avoiding social activities
■ Fatigue or lack of energy
■ Difficulty sleeping
■ Changes in appetite
■ Low self-esteem
■ Excessive worry
■ Decreased productivity
If you are one of the many Americans struggling emotionally, there are several interventions available to you.
First is a six-point depression management program that can provide a foundation for emotional healing. This isn’t a miraculous cure. The six points are common-sense self-care. We already know these things, but maybe a reminder will be helpful.
■ Get some exercise daily. Exercise releases endorphins and reduces stress.
■ Eat well. Being hungry can cause us to be irritable, increasing feelings of guilt/depression. Depression causes some folks to overeat while others lose their appetites.
■ Get enough sleep. Sleep is fundamental to maintaining mental health. Lose too much sleep and you will be irritable, anxious and depressed. Some depressed people sleep excessively while others suffer insomnia. Keeping a consistent sleeping schedule and daily exercise can help with sleeping.
■ Do something for fun every day.
■ Get some alone time every day.
■ Get some social time every day.
Common sense stuff, but how easy it is to forget these fundamentals. And in the time of COVID-19, following them has become harder. How do you have fun or balance socializing with alone time while isolating at home?
First, it’s OK to combine the items. If you go for a bike ride with a friend, you would be socializing, exercising and having fun at once.
I posted this six-point program on the local Indivisible groups’ Facebook page, pointing out that phone banking offered an opportunity to combine socializing and fun with activism. Phone banking gave me the best laughs I had all last year. After calling, we met to share stories about our calls. One woman reported a long chat with a fellow about voting for U.S. Rep. Dr. Kim Schrier. When she asked if he would vote for Dr. Schrier, he said, “No, I’m running against her.” It was candidate Jesse Jensen!
Calling Arizona to get out the vote, I spoke with a 97-year-old who said he had been voting Republican for years, but was voting Democratic this year. He said he had voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I had a fun visit with him about his growing up in Washington. How cool is it to speak with some who voted for FDR?
Of the six points, the one you can’t force is sleep. Everyone has a bad night once in a while. However, if you are experiencing chronic insomnia and the above simple actions aren’t working, it’s probably time to see a doctor. The old tricyclic anti-depressants aren’t used much anymore for depression, but their side effect — drowsiness — effectively treats insomnia.
Modern antidepressants have saved many lives, but there is confusion and prejudice against them. People mistakenly think you take a pill and get happy. This confuses antidepressants with drugs of abuse, where euphoria is immediate. Anti-depressants, selective serotonin re-update inhibitors (SSRIs), often take weeks to work. But when they do, the depression lifts, and patients feel normal and up to life’s challenges.
I was speaking with a friend’s daughter about chemical dependency. She had made a serious suicide attempt in high school, and was taking an anti-depressant. She asked me, “Am I chemically dependent?” I explained that there are destructive dependencies and constructive dependencies. Yes, she was chemically dependent, at least momentarily, but that it’s a constructive dependency that helps her be her better self.
The pandemic has changed talk therapy. Now counseling is being done remotely because face to face counseling isn’t safe. Counseling can help a person clear their thinking and help avoid self-defeating messages. My conversation with my friend’s daughter is an example. She didn’t need guilt over being “chemically dependent.”
Our current understanding of depression is there’s a strong genetic component interacting with negative life experiences. But individuals with a very strong genetic tendency toward depression can become depressed even when their lives are good.
A newish idea is that depression kindles. Little fires can grow into blazes, and little depressions can become major. It appears depression changes the brain, making sufferers more likely to become depressed in the future. Don’t wait too long to get help.
Take care of yourselves. The dark days of winter grow brighter. Yesterday, I noticed the green growth of the garlic and daffodils in my garden. Vaccines will free us from forced isolation. The economy, while damaged, will recover. This will be a better year. Take a little more time to take care of yourself and your loved ones. We’re getting through this.
Roger Ledbetter is a politically-active resident of the Valley. He and his family have lived in Snoqualmie since 1979. Contact him through the editor by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.