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Episode 2: Anxiety During and After COVID: Re-entry Syndrome

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

This is an edited version of a podcast episode. If you prefer to listen, click Make Me Whole Podcast to find this and all my other episodes.

Warning: brief strong language

Not too long ago, I had a dream that myself and 30 other people joined together to go on a cruise. I'm going to guess it was a Disney cruise because I remember seeing yellow, white, black, and red. Anyway, we got a special group price, but we had to wait for everyone to get there. I thought, “Wow, this is pretty great! We can go on cruises with huge groups of people again!” I found myself both relieved and surprised. We finally get to the gate and get checked in. The staff was so nice and so welcoming, and then one of them stopped me and said, “You have to be wearing a mask to come in.” “I don't even think I packed one,” I said. I looked around at my companions and no one had one. At that moment all I could think was, “Is this still happening?”

COVID, COVID, COVID, you beast. You came into our lives, made yourself a plate of food, sat down on our sofas, propped your feet up, and turned our worlds upside down. Something I learned from dealing with the pandemic is that I have no choice but to accept change. Life is not the same as it was, and often we have misguided ideas about what we should be preparing for. That is to say, we thought we had this all figured out, but we really don't. There's always something new coming our way. I've witnessed many people, both personally and professionally, processing their own pandemic experiences, and it has me both hopeful and horrified. Not everyone has managed it in a healthy way, and I think there's something interesting to be learned from what we've all been through.

Consider this: we have all been traumatized. Let me say that again. We have ALL been traumatized. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, a patient, a student, a teacher, you name it. This is one of the few times in our lives that we can say we have shared pain and uncertainty as a full community. As a Gen Xer, I’ve been through some shit, but COVID has them all beat. I know it's left so many people wondering if they’re ever going to be able to recover. On the mental health side, the number of people who experienced anxiety and depression increased by almost 30% in 2020 (and that’s only reported cases). So, if you feel like you're the only one overthinking or scared to make your next move, understand that you are not alone.

Okay, yeah, we all got screwed up as a result of the covid pandemic, and more people are in therapy. We all have our own thoughts about what we can or will trust, but there's something I really feel is important to mention about how we have handled things. We need to prepare to be inconvenienced and disrupted as well as actively gain tools and techniques to deal with it. This isn't a new concept. It isn't something groundbreaking. When things shut down, people weren't able to fall into their regular routine. Systems broke down, and so did our ability to recognize that not only had we been through uncertain times before, but also we might as well accept that it will happen again. And guess what? We moved on. We moved forward. Let me give you a really good example. My first experience ever in life with computers included a floppy disk that was the size of a piece of sliced bread. You had to be careful to make sure you loaded it just right in order to have it save whatever you typed on the screen. Fast forward to March 2020. Until this point, I'm just minding my business, seeing my clients as usual. All of a sudden, we’ve got a shut down. No, my clients can’t come into the office. No, I can’t just close my practice and tell people to wait it out. This was a critical moment. This was when my clients needed to hear from me most. I had to figure out how to securely do video sessions, how to create and send consent documents to my clients virtually, and how to troubleshoot any issues they had with the new systems (in 2 languages). All the while, I didn't have a good relationship with technology. We were not friends. But, after several hours on the phone with customer service companies and a pretty significant ugly-cry breakdown while on the phone with Adobe Acrobat, technology and I called a truce. Happy ending, right? I promise you, I still have my struggles, and some of them involve significant bouts of cursing. However, I've made an intentional commitment to not avoid learning something new, especially if in the long run it's going to benefit me or my business.

However, the challenges of technology was nothing compared to being separated from family and friends. I was already hundreds of miles away from most of my family in New York, and here in South Carolina I couldn't even hold my favorite cousin or share moments of peace and laughter with my greatest friends. In the months leading up to the pandemic and lock down, I was able to spend some time with some of the most amazing people in my life. There were some truly epic holidays and birthday celebrations, but then suddenly everyone was so far away. None of us knew who was going to make it or who we would never see again. So, instead of focusing on where I couldn't be or who I couldn’t see, I took it as an opportunity to step up my game and enjoy the things I could. I got to spend time with my kids. They did school at home while I worked. We got to have most of our meals together. We brought back family board game nights. We watched movies and cooked together. Most importantly, we made sure to authentically acknowledge one another so that no one ever felt alone. Was it easy? Hell no, it wasn’t. But we made it work because we knew we had to meet the challenge and be intentional about appreciating the roof over our heads and the people under it. No matter how difficult it was, we were going to get through.

Am I saying that my only response to the COVID pandemic was, “Don’t worry, be happy!”? Let's be clear. I definitely am not. I have shed many tears while comforting and praying with too many people who experienced their own private hell, losing their loved ones, their own health, their jobs, and their lives as they knew them. My point here is to emphasize that if you're listening right now, you're on the other side of this. You’re breathing. You’re experiencing life and have the opportunity to improve the quality of that life. If you're here, you have a desire to reach your potential and reignite that fire inside of you. To face your obstacles and the challenges head on. And since we have this shared experience, this shared trauma (I can't say it enough), we need to move forward while supporting each other so we can continue to fight the good fight. I know you agree. Alright, so what's going to be? Are you going to make your goal to live fully and intentionally? Are you going to fear what you don't know? COVID gave us the reminder that tomorrow is not promised, but, honestly, today can be amazing. Think about what you could achieve if you just gave yourself the chance.

This episode is dedicated to my godfather and uncle, Adalberto Mejias, who lost his fight with COVID in April 2020. I know you're listening and are proud of me. I miss you very much, and I always will.


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