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The Hidden Cost of COVID-19

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

The Hidden Cost of COVID-19.... 
...and choosing who we want to be.
We're being flooded with information right now about the risks of COVID-19, and our duty to do as we’re told by public health officials because if we don’t “stay home” our ‘fellow citizens may pay the price’. Press conferences. Fliers in the mail. Businesses shuttered. Emergency alerts on our phone. Tape marks on the sidewalks. Waiting your turn to enter a store. It’s impossible to miss.
The barrage of rapidly changing information can be difficult to keep up with let alone process and integrate. People are confused and many are afraid. People are quick to judge because it makes them feel  safe. While on the one hand government officials use warm reassuring tones to tell us they have our back, they simultaneously use language that attempts to shame us into compliance with public health directives. The not so subtle subtext is that any individual failure to comply could lead to blood on our hands and this leaves many kind hearted people terrified they're going to do "something" wrong. We’re hearing messages that it is our “duty” to do as we’re told, and that we should be grateful all we have to do is stay home, because our grandfathers had to go to war. We’re told that they know it’s “hard” but we need to do it anyway.
For some people and families though, this situation we're in is so much more than "hard". For some people, staying locked in their home is more risky and even life threatening than COVID-19 is. Safety from COVID-19 isn't the only safety people need. And just because a "threat" exists in the world, that in no way reduces or negates the very real threats people live with every day in the form of domestic violence, abuse, addictions, poverty, and mental health struggles just to name a few. These threats are genuine but below the surface of the 'fight against COVID-19' and so remain largely hidden. 
While I understand why public health messaging is what it is, I have to wonder what we’ll learn in the future about the effects of this shame-based, blood on your hands, war-time style of messaging. I wonder what it does to someone who is mentally fragile, to be told that their very existence is a threat to others. What it feels like to be a mother putting herself in harms way to keep her kids safer from an abusive partner 24/7 with NO reprieve from the threat inside her walls. What it feels like for the alcoholic to be sworn at and chastised by a stranger when they buy another bottle at the LCBO. What it feels like to be a new mom with postpartum depression who questions whether she should have even brought a new baby into the dangerous world, and tips over into postpartum psychosis. What it feels like to be the couple who were barely holding it together before and now their relationship is over but they have to stay together until this is done. What it feels like to have an eating disorder when being told to avoid the “covid 15”, or OCD when ‘germs’ are everywhere, or autistic and allll your routines are changing, or disabled and unable to access the community supports you count on, or an elderly man who lives alone and is sure no one will even notice he’s gone, or a thousand other scenarios. There is no escaping the messaging and spots in our lives that started out as manageable cracks are being forced into gaping caverns by the pressure we’re all under. 
When you have privileges, “staying home” is hard. But when you don’t, what’s “hard” for others can be legitimately threatening to your mental health, physical health, or even life in ways that COVID-19 risk pales to in comparison for you.
Please don’t hear this as me telling you to ignore public health directives. That’s not what I’m saying. What I AM saying, is that you are the only one who knows -exactly- what you’re going through. You’re the only one who knows in your heart whether a video call with a friend is enough, or if you have to get out before the walls collapse, and talk to a person without a techscreen between you even if its the grocery store clerk through plexiglass or a stranger walking by. Public health directives are designed for the masses. They can’t possibly account for every individual scenario. They can’t possibly weigh up whether locking yourself inside for weeks on end will do you more harm than good. Only time will tell the full cost of the sacrifices being made.
Your safety at all levels - matters. Your mental health - matters. Your basic human need for connection and sunshine and dirt - matters. YOU Matter. Just as you are. Whoever you are. You matter. I see you.
I don’t have answers though. I can’t tell you whether its “worth the risk” to bring your elderly parent who lives alone in another city to live with you. I can’t tell you if its “worth the risk” to go for a drive on the backroads or a walk down a deserted trail. I believe your heart knows though. We can ask ourselves questions like “Who do I want to be? How do I want to feel?” and from those questions, combined with what public health is directing in their efforts to protect the country’s people, and what other information we glean ourselves, answers about what actions are best for us right now, will arise. Nothing in life is risk free, and sometimes there is no perfect solution, only ‘the best we can do for the circumstances we’re in’.
We ARE all in this storm together. But we all brought our own stories and unique lives (boats) to the storm . Public health advice and directives are issued to try and cover as many people as possible in their boats and keep them from capsizing, and that takes a toll on those people on the healthcare frontlines who are trying to stay afloat themselves too. Only time will tell what effects the hidden costs will have on our boats. Only time will tell if we chose the right collective direction, the right tools to keep boats from sinking. I trust that by and large, people are doing their best, even if it doesn't look like "best" to me because my story is different than theirs.
Please know this: if you’re struggling right now, that is normal. Its not because you’re somehow a failure, or not a good enough citizen. It’s normal if you’re feeling trapped or stuck or afraid. It’s normal if you’re confused. It’s normal to want an end in sight, or to look for loopholes that’ll get you through this in one piece. There’s a reason extended times of solitary confinement are considered a form of torture - humans are wired to be together. And right now what we’re being asked to do literally runs contrary to our nature. We are all experiencing what the Queen referred to as “painful separation” and there is more yet to endure, "but better times will come."
In the meantime, while this crazy storm is rocking us all,  if you feel you are at risk of harming yourself, your children, your partner, or anyone else you're feeling trapped with right now -- PLEASE offer yourself some kindness, grace, mercy... some LOVE. Seek whatever support you can muster up the energy to reach for. Make use of one of the publicly funded phone or web-based resources. Call a friend. Send a text or a letter. And if you need to, take a walk. Give yourself some room to breath so you can ride the waves another day.
And if you’re one of the people who feels a little more stable in your boat right now, please look carefully for those in your community, your circles of influence, who might need your help to make it through this. Offer whatever olive branch you’re able. A piece of art, a magazine, music... left at the door with a note that you’re thinking of them. An offer to supervise their kids from appropriate distance while they play in the backyard so the single parent can have a shower. Check if they need groceries, or medication or even flowers and if you can’t supply them yourself, connect them with community resources or people who can.
We keep hearing about doing only what is “essential” and if we’re gonna get through this well, it IS ESSENTIAL that we care for one another in whatever ways we are able.
It is ESSENTIAL that we offer ourselves and others kindness, compassion, and non-judgement.


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