SETBACK IS NOT FAILURE

I’ve been off social media and blogging since mid June. I took a short break after I felt my mental health suffer from the constant negative news of COVID-19 and the re-emergence of a second wave of the virus where I live. Many things have happened during my sabbatical – some funny, some embarrassing and a few not so great. I’ll start at the beginning; the moment that prompted my temporary absence.


Reflection from 26/06/20 – prior to the second wave of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown.

For the last six months, I’ve been feeling happy and mentally healthy. I’ve worked on improving social connections, reducing social anxiety and negativity, and lessening the need for control. ‘Let It Go’ has become my new mantra. In fact, not long ago, I suggested to my doctor that perhaps I had reached the stages of maintenance or recovery. Yesterday, I had a humbling reminder that achieving good mental health is an ongoing journey and setbacks can happen. In actuality, setbacks are part of the recovery.

Late in the afternoon, seemingly out of nowhere, I started experiencing shortness of breath, coughing and tightness in my chest. It felt like an elephant had nestled down on my sternum. My immediate thought was ‘grab the puffer, it’s an asthma attack’. If I hadn’t panicked and had taken a moment to think, I would have concluded that a random asthma attack while playing a Nintendo game was improbable.

Frantic to alleviate the shortness of breath, I puffed Ventolin like it was going out of fashion. It did nothing but gave me the shakes and dizziness. You’d think being an ex-pharmacist, I’d be a tad more informed but no, gasping for air must have killed all rational brain cells. My husband suggested I sought medical attention and question possible COVID-19 infection.

I was promptly seen at the medical clinic with the doctor checking all of my vitals, including oxygen saturation. When asked what triggered the symptoms, I was at a loss. In the morning, my three-year-old son and I had watched trains past at the nearby train station, played at the local park and had babychinos.

At the time of the attack, we were playing Animal Crossing, making ‘money’ through the sale of harvested fruit. It’s a big loan, two and a half million ‘dollars’ to be exact, so there could be some causality. It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility.

The most likely trigger was the discussion I had with my husband, which had taken place an hour prior to the onset of symptoms. We were deciding whether or not it was in everyone’s best interest to travel almost seven hours to stay with the in-laws amidst the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. It was a mutual agreement to can the trip.

The doctor gave me two options; go to the emergency department for oxygen nebulisation and get checked for COVID-19, blood clots and asthma or stay in the clinic’s treatment room for observation after taking a Valium for a suspected panic attack. I countered with ‘I think I’ll just walk it off. Uh… or go home and rest.’ In the end, I reluctantly took the Valium and waited in the treatment room for the dizziness, pins and needles, tremors and chest tightness to dissipate.

As I sat on the treatment bed, several nurses came in and out of the room to gather medical supplies and asked why I was there. I felt embarrassed having to repeatedly admit that I had suffered a panic attack and as a result, hyperventilated. I also felt ashamed for occupying a treatment room and wasting the doctor’s time, who could have attended to patients with ‘real’ problems. Stupid, right?

Instead of accepting it for what it was – a panic attack, I let the experience colour my interpretation of my self-worth. I failed. Therefore, I am a failure. I allowed myself to believe that falsehood.

That internal dialogue of mine can be cruel and critical, making me proficient at self-sabotage. I’m quite the high-achiever in that regard. I have such a negative perception of myself that every time I am faced with challenges or a setback, I am quick to accept defeat.

Ironically, I am fast to point out to others the importance of being kind to yourself and owning and valuing your truth. It’s high time I heed my own advice.

Copyright © 2020, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

My dad calls me every day, usually during his meal breaks. He works as a welder in a big factory and for the most part, his work is solitary. There might be a few words here or there with a passing coworker, but everyone mostly keeps to their own work section. I guess he gets lonely. He has a phone list of people he calls while he has lunch – mum, me (not my brother as he never picks up), his brother, his other brother … and another four or five brothers to choose from.

The phone calls are the same every day. How are the kids? What are you doing? Have you heard the gossip about so and so? As much as my dad’s calls can be annoying, they are comforting in their regularity. These days we talk a lot about the pandemic, which is to be expected. He doesn’t understand my concern with food or toilet paper shortages. His response to having no toilet paper? Ah, just go wash your bottom, like the old days. And to food? I have a stockpile of coffee. And lots of liver pâté and two-minute noodles to spare. Uh, thanks Dad.

Yesterday, my mum lost her second part-time job. She’s now jobless and not eligible for government assistance as my dad makes just above the family threshold for support. So now, my brother and I are supplementing her with a small income to help support my elderly grandma overseas. With spare time on her hands, my mum is now also calling me daily. My phone calls with my mum are slightly different than with my dad. Like today, my mum spent fifty-eight minutes giving me advice on wearing masks in public, cooking meals that the kids will definitely like, what foods to buy in a pandemic and what other measures I should undertake. My mum thinks I should be filling old milk bottles with boiled water in case the water gets infected. A bit drastic methinks.

After my talk with the parents, I felt unnerved and conflicted. I had one parent unaffected by the pandemic and another prepping like it was a zombie apocalypse. Fuelled on heightened anxiety, I went to the supermarket to restock on fresh vegetables and meat. I didn’t wear the mask, feeling self-conscious, and rushed through the grocery list in an effort to reduce exposure in the community. Staff were sanitising baskets; customers were wearing masks; there were no children accompanying their parents. Everyone was complying with rules about social distancing. There were green lines marking safe distancing for queuing. Fortunately, the shelves were looking less bare and there was toilet paper!

In my frazzled state, I didn’t check prices for anything. I just grabbed my listed items, chucked them into the basket and bolted to the cash register. It wasn’t until I got home and was reviewing the bill that I realised two heads of broccoli cost me ten buckaroos! We can’t afford luxury goods in this climate! Broccoli will have to go. I’m sure the children will agree.

We are heading into influenza season with winter and this COVID pandemic could last six months. If I can’t keep my wits about me during this time, I might be forced to take up my dad’s offer of pâté and noodles after all.

Copyright © 2020, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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COPING WITH COVID

The photo is of the toilet paper aisle at our local supermarket taken on March 3, 2020.

Late January, my entire family went to an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant to celebrate Lunar New Year. At the time, the outbreak of Coronavirus had begun to take hold in Wuhan, and Chinese authorities had just closed off its borders. The problem was largely affecting China, so we weren’t concerned about eating out and being in public spaces. The World Health Organisation had yet to declare Coronavirus a global health emergency.

And so, we celebrated with food and drink in the crowded restaurant. Several people sneezed on my sister-in-law as they walked past her to get to the food trays. We joked that she might catch the virus as a result. A few days later, we discovered that an infected man had dined in the same restaurant. Fortunately, for us, the man visited the establishment the next day, so we avoided being exposed to infected staff and surfaces. It was a near miss!

This close experience made me hyperaware and set me on a path. There had only been a handful of confirmed cases in Australia, but I had slowly begun building my pantry supplies, cooking and freezing meat meals, and preparing for the worst. My anxiety was heightened from the close call, and I became a prepper. I had been ready before the pandemic was even announced.

Fast forward two months and what has happened? People are panic buying everything. By the start of March, toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitisers were out of stock. Then canned foods, long-life milk, pasta and rice became hot items. Last week, meat, eggs and potatoes began to run out. Now, it seems people are stockpiling asthma relievers, children’s paracetamol and prescription medicines. These days, it’s not uncommon to see bare shelves in supermarkets, big crowds queueing at opening times, or agitated people yelling at staff.

Our family no longer participates in extra-circular activities like sports, swimming or gym (everything is closed or suspended). We don’t go out to restaurants or cafes. We don’t browse in shopping centres. We don’t go to parks or play centres. We don’t visit friends or extended family. We simply don’t go out, except for short walks for exercise and fresh air.

My husband is working from home. My three-year-old son has been pulled from childcare. I’m no longer volunteering as a classroom helper as the neighbourhood centre has closed to protect the community and staff. The only person exposed to public spaces is my seven-year-old daughter who still attends school as per the government.

The disruption to everyone’s routine is immense. Ever try keeping a three-year-old from barging into the study while his dad is on a video conference? Damn near impossible.

From a mental health perspective, these challenging times have, unsurprisingly, made me more anxious. The constant focus on Coronavirus in the news and social media have heightened my anxiety. I find myself reaching for the phone all the time, scrolling for any news on the pandemic. It is always at the forefront of my mind. There are nights where I can’t sleep, worrying about when schools will be closed. I think about worst-case scenarios – job loss, mortgage stress, maxing credit cards, children getting ill, hospitalisations, death. The list is endless.

Recently, my husband put his foot down and demanded I stop reading news on my phone. He insisted that it did nothing good for my mental health. I was exposing myself to massive amounts of negative information, mostly conjecture, that was making my anxiety spiral out of control. I was wasting all my energy and time on something I had no control over, and not keeping things in perspective. I was making myself miserable by trying to do the impossible – forecasting the future and preparing for unknown variables.

My husband encouraged me to redirect my focus on my health and well-being. That meant eating healthy, drinking more water that didn’t have caffeine, putting down the phone, going to bed early, going out for walks to get fresh air and trying to spend more time with the kids. All sensible and logical advice that I was not doing. We can try to put ourselves in the best health position to battle the virus, should we become infected.

So I’ve started walking instead of driving for school runs and hating every minute of it. I’ve reduced phone time and go to bed early. I started having breakfast that wasn’t just coffee. And whaddya know, I have begun to feel better. The sense of impending doom has lessened, and I’ve stopped feeling so panicky. The sight of bare shelves and people scrambling for toilet paper doesn’t make me want to rush in too for fear of missing out. I put back that pack of toilet paper that I didn’t need so that someone else has the opportunity to get one. I’m stepping away from the herd mentality. I feel like I have my anxiety under control.

Am I still scared about the future? Hell yes, but what can I do? The number of infected people will surely continue to rise. There will be overwhelming strain on our health system. People will die. I can only try to keep calm and live one day at a time. I’ll aim to keep in touch and blog our experience through this pandemic.

Keep safe and well everyone.

Copyright © 2020, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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