Building to the New Normal - Recovering from Inequitable Impacts of COVID-19
The Downer Theater in Milwaukee, formerly closed due to the pandemic. (Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash)
For those of us with mental illness, COVID hit us hard. But there’s good news on the horizon for everybody. The COVID vaccine basically means you can go back to normal, especially around people who have already been vaccinated.
In light of the vaccine and the declining rate of COVID, this summer and the future look bright. The CDCs declaration that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most situations is great news. It’s hard to tell when we will fully go back to normal. We seem to be on the right track, though.
Vaccinations are more available to people who can drive to get them. They are less accessible by poor and especially minority communities, who have a lower rate of vehicle ownership. (Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash)
Sometimes it’s tough to feel that, though. How much is left of the pandemic? Where does the pandemic’s impact on my mental health end, and where do I begin?
The prolonged pandemic extends the uncontrollable infinitely and puts stress on people with mental illness. I’m lucky. I have a lot of safety in my life that others absolutely do not. I have a lot of safety in my life without which I would have been broken.
(I’m going to make a lot of “I” statements; bear with me, if you would. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself. But my experience parallels others’. And sometimes, when I listen to other people’s thoughts, they help me make sense of my own.)
Sometimes, listening to feelings is the right call. Other times, thinking things through is the right call. I’ve been impulsive and done what felt better or easier at a given time. I’ve been overly analytical or forced myself to do things. The thing is, whether choosing feelings or logic at a given time is the right choice depends. It’s completely situational. And there’s no way to know if a decision is good except for hindsight.
My thoughts on this balancing game are: I can figure things out better if I look to past decisions. When were my feelings right? When were my feelings wrong? Did mental illness impact my decision making? And so forth.
Learning from the past helps you grow. Trouble is, getting stuck in the past is easy. You need support and good advice—both hard to come by.
Family/friends who won’t BS you are important. A good therapist is important. If you trust their words to guide you in the right direction, they will.
That’s the funny thing about advice meant for mentally ill people. The rule of thumb is: trust in friends, family, and get a therapist. But what if you don’t trust them? Or what if your trust fluctuates? Some days I’m really trusting. Other days I’m closed off. There are times I feel like I have no one to rely on, and it doesn’t matter how many willing friends I have.
What if you have bad friends? What if you don’t really have friends? I’m lucky enough to have some decent friends, and a couple really good ones. Which is all you need, really. I’ve come to realize that friendships are both found and built.
For a while, I expected friendships and everything else to fall in my lap organically. But I’ve learned that things that are worth it seldom fall into your lap. That doesn’t mean opportunities won’t fall into your lap—they will—but it means that, when they do, you have to take advantage of them, and ideally sooner than later.
I get pretty anxious when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities. I’m also super forgetful. So if I don’t do something immediately, I’ll either forget about it or procrastinate indefinitely. Especially during COVID, and as we look towards opening back up, it’s important to know when to capitalize on opportunities for friendship and personal and professional development. I think that’s one way you can build yourself up.
It is good to build yourself up. I hope I can build myself up so my day-to-day is even less dependent on my mental illness.
To be fair to all of us, mental health has been hard to regulate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and quarantine mean a lack of touch. A healthy amount of human touch is crucial for regulating mental health.
Koalas hugging. (Photo by C.Valdez on Unsplash)
A vaccine means we can do things in-person without the anxiety that we’re going to get someone else sick or end up in the hospital ourselves. We can hug our family and friends (especially if they’re vaccinated) without worrying about the consequences. We can relax.
That doesn’t mean be reckless. You still can’t lick your bus seat before you sit on it, unless you want to start another pandemic. That’s if your bus arrives on time. Jokes aside, the vaccine is a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.
Officials and medical professionals have been hard at work with vaccine distribution. Nevertheless, we’d be remiss not to mention the significant oversight, which has hurt already-disadvantaged communities hardest. The Wisconsin Department of Health has a fantastic article (with graphs) called “Unequal and unjust impact of COVID-19”.
An article from Wisconsin Public Radio details how hard it is to get vaccines to disadvantaged communities like Metcalfe Park. Metcalfe Park lies in the 53210 ZIP code, which was 75% Black and had an average income of $35K as of 2018.
53210 was one of the ZIP codes hardest hit by COVID. Nevertheless, it wasn’t on the county’s list for vaccine rollouts. Community organizations and nonprofits had to organize vaccine rollouts themselves. 53210’s Metcalfe Park is just one example of how poverty and racism interact to make healthcare access much harder.
It is important to DEMAND that Milwaukee County do more in the future to stand up for citizens equally across the income and privilege spectrum.
Woman receiving a band-aid after a vaccine. Band-aids keep dirt and other foreign bodies from entering the puncture hole created by a vaccine and infecting it. The area around the vaccine is rubbed with alcohol, otherwise you could be sealing bacteria or other foreign bodies in with an exposed wound. (Photo by CDC on Unsplash)
But it is also important to acknowledge the work done--albeit out of necessity--by community organizers and nonprofit organizations to facilitate vaccine access.
The work done by community members at a neighborhood level has changed and saved many people’s lives throughout the pandemic. It proves that individual initiative and collective effort can make a real c
And I think that’s a good lesson for what we can do for our own mental health.
Wisconsin: Vaccinations and Vaccine Equity
Wisconsin DHS (Department of Health and Safety)
https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/vaccine-data.htm (Vaccine Data) https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/disparities.htm (Vaccine Disparities)