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Change Psychology Racism

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

via MEME

As you can imagine, things have been a bit busy at Seattle Direct Counseling. As of June 1 2006 at its inception, Seattle Direct Counseling has been owned, operated, and maintained by myself, identifying with the BIPOC community, and it should be no surprise that the majority of people who seek help and healing here do so, in part, because of that identity.

At this historic time in 2020,  King County, Washington’s most densely populated area, moved to Phase 1 Modified in regard to the Safe Start reopening guidelines issued by Governor Inslee on June 1 2020 in response to a global coronavirus pandemic, more businesses, personal services, outdoor recreation with up to five people not of the same household, construction, household helpers, and other activities have seen new changes. Update: King County has met criteria to be moved to Phase 2 as of June 18 2020, which opens more businesses, including day and overnight camping in state parks and campgrounds.

This means more people are out and about. And the coronavirus has not gone away. 

With a recent series of even more needless and cruel deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, as well as a white woman calling police while using her power to threaten a black man, the nation, the world, and locally in Seattle, protests have continued on a daily basis, calling for accountability, the end of police brutality, justice for those who have died at the hands of others who have used excessive force, and a wake-up call for all peoples to come together to end systemic bias and racial discrimination in all its subtle and gross forms.

This means more people are out and about, shoulder to shoulder, shouting and crying for change. 

Because of the pandemic, unemployment rates rose to 14.7 percent in April 2020, with a small decrease in May 2020 to 13.3 percent. Yet, demographic data shows that unemployment hit black people harder.

This means more people have less means to take care of their physical needs for shelter, medicine, food, clothing, mental health activities, childcare, and other essentials. The pandemic has hit the black and brown communities disproportionately harder, and this is something that I have witnessed with my own eyes. I have volunteered hours as a nurse in COVID-19 testing sites, private and community based, as well as conducted nursing rounds treating presumptive COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 symptomatic people in quarantine.

Truly,  the convergence of two pandemics — COVID-19 and Racism, are showing their devastating effects. What can we do from here?

“No One’s Coming to Save Us” 

One of the most startling truths I have read since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was the statement, “No One’s Coming to Save Us.” I had seen this as a quote applied to taking responsibility for one’s life, and then I saw it again as applied to the coronavirus’ effect on densely populated cities around the world. It cruelly has applied to the lives of black people in America, who have watched the effects of systemic racism as well as overt violence take one life after another, and kick too many people down into a cycle of depression, poverty, addiction, and hopelessness.

Healthcare workers caught in wave after wave of sick and dying people grew exhausted, yet plugged on. No one was coming to save them. In the U.S., governors were told that they were on their own in getting masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, and respirators. Public Health officials scrambled to get test swabs, transport media with a way to seal it once the test has been conducted, and mobile testing sites with medical personnel. If they didn’t have the means, no one was coming to save them. 

When black writers and activists took to the Internets with videos, posts, photos, and calls for peaceful protests, they too made it clear that no one was coming to them. It is we who protest, and we keep protesting until people hear our demands for justice and change, because no one is coming to save us. The outpouring of support has been breathtaking. And the story is not over.

When you realize nothing will change and no one else is going to save you, you step up and do what you can. Every single person has a role to play towards creating change in both of these pandemics. You simply offer what you have, whether that is time, money, energy, a skill, a voice, a conversation, or a power that you have to share (influence, credibility, connections, knowledge).

What Can You Do?

First, we can acknowledge that this truth: no one is coming to save us. It is not a bleak statement devoid of hope; it is an awakening point to help us understand that each of us has within us the power to assess what is within our abilities to act on what we see and what is needed.

Second, we can acknowledge our own shortcomings, what we lack, and where we can improve. Own your own denials. Own your past lack of compassion. Acknowledge when and where and why and how you’ve failed to act upon what you know, when you’ve participated in actions that have hurt and grieved another person or community. Make a plan to alter your course.

Regarding COVID-19:  I encourage each and every person to take responsibility for themselves. Become a mini public health expert on such topics as personal hygiene and handwashing, disinfecting of commonly touched areas, wearing a mask while in public and taking care of a COVID-19 positive person, preparing for isolation and quarantining oneself and any household members for a full fourteen days if you become sick,  recognizing the signs of illness, getting your annual flu shot (and pneumonia vaccine if recommended), and getting tested for COVID-19 if you show symptoms, and if asymptomatic after an exposure with someone who has tested COVID-19 positive, get tested and isolate while waiting for results.

Be compassionate. Even if COVID-19 cases are slowing down in your locale, remember that it is raging in areas of the world like India, and Latin America, and other countries are still bracing for impact.

As of this writing, I am still receiving reports of people dying of complications from COVID-19, or struggling with the long-term effects during recovery (lung damage, organ damage, disabling fatigue, etc).

For some of you who have underlying co-morbidities and health conditions that warrant more vigilance, you will want to continue your life as much as possible as if you are in a long-term quarantine. Just because other parts of the country or your local region are progressing to Phase 1, Phase 2, or Phase 3 reopening does not mean that the coronavirus is gone. Case in point: over the weekend, King County has the largest increase in COVID-19 positive cases since the highest point in April 2020.

In summary, it’s to be expected that there will be more positive cases. This is, in part, because we have more testing available, so people who wouldn’t otherwise have known for sure if they were COVID-19 positive have access to testing. Yet, it was expected that with reopening our area, there would be an increase in these numbers, because the coronavirus does not magically go away. If those numbers increase too quickly in any area, city officials will step back down into an earlier phase or quarantine, to prevent an outbreak. And this would be difficult to do, as you can imagine.

Regarding Racism and Black Lives Matter: I encourage you to use what you have and take a role in helping to change the outcome of this pandemic that has raged in America nearly 400 years (1619 is one citation for slaves brought to a British colony in Jamestown).

Some of the actions you can take include: starting a conversation about Black Lives Matter, starting a conversation about what non-black people need to understand about power and privilege in relationship to Black people, supporting a local,  black-owned business or a BIPOC business (stands for Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) , donating to the Black Lives Matter movement,  joining a local protest (please wear a mask, do your best to practice social distancing, and get tested for COVID-19), writing letters to your local mayor, police department, and state government officials, signing petitions for change, learning about what it means to be an ally and not a collaborator in systemic racial bias, taking a course on bystander intervention.

While no one is coming to save us, the truth behind this statement is even more clear. YOU are the the hope you have waited for.

All that is needed is COURAGE.


COVID-19, Physical Illness, and Depression

It’s no wonder the Disaster Distress Hotline in the U.S. has seen a 338% increase in crisis calls from February 2020 to March 2020.

Yet as a Nurse and a Therapist, I never imagined that deep into April, I’d be sitting at my desk in my Seattle artloft, gazing out the windows that look out over Elliot Bay and the stadiums, and see roads empty of people. An occasional pigeon flies by, the Olympic mountains shout their glorious presence, and all the humans of this city are under a Stay Home Order by Governor Jay Inslee.

More than 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past four weeks. Over 23,000 Americans have died from complications of COVID-19. Children and young adults have had their educations interrupted, their graduations to higher education still promised, yet the immediate future seems difficult to predict as we anticipate a recession. Healthcare workers in some areas are scrambling for appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) so they can do their jobs with less risk of becoming ill themselves. And the correlations between disasters, financial strain, and a rise in domestic violence calls to authorities are proving to be true as well.

Could it be worse?

Chronic Illness and COVID-19: A Disaster Within a Disaster

Yes, it can be worse. And for many of us, the dangers have been lurking everywhere for longer than the coronavirus pandemic has been in existence in the U.S.

Those who have compromised lung function (i.e. asthma, COPD), are immunocompromised (cancer, HIV/AIDs, malnutrition, some rare genetic disorders), or are otherwise more susceptible to infection (i.e. you get colds, flus, pneumonia easily), are people who have been warned to stay away from public spaces and take extra precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These people have been asked to take more extreme measures than the rest of the public. For example, in the early phase of the arrival of Patient Zero (the first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S.), one of my health team members got my attention by emphatically stating, “You absolutely cannot afford to get sick, do you understand? Do whatever it takes to keep yourself away from the public, starting now.”

Although I already have theoretical and practical training in dealing with infectious diseases, I admit that I left the doctor’s office shaken. I was supposed to schedule another follow-up appointment, but we cancelled it, understanding that there would likely be no point of putting it on the calendar unless it was absolutely necessary.

I began to think along the lines of what this novel coronavirus does to the bodies of those who don’t have the recovery path of the 80% who experience moderate to severe flu-like symptoms but recover over the course of two weeks:

  • You experience shortness of breath and respiratory distress that is absolutely frightening
  • You are separated from your loved ones, taken to hospital surrounded by people who look like astronauts or Peeps with plastic shields
  • You may be intubated and aware of that intubation (before being put under to tolerate being placed on a ventilator), which is uncomfortable and also frightening
  • You may be placed into a temporary coma
  • You may or may not have recollection of procedures, surgeries, medications, or other heroic acts done to you to keep you alive

So on the one hand, it’s very likely that those who experience more complex and complicated illness and recovery from COVID-19 could also become depressed in the short term. And it’s possible that that depressed feeling from what you’ve just been through can lift as your body returns to more and more normal functioning, such as being able to breathe on your own, get out of bed, and leave the hospital.

And, it is also possible that depressed feelings around being ill can linger long after the body has recovered from a primary illness.

As we learn more about this coronavirus, recovery from long-term effects of COVID-19 suggest that many people who survive their battle with this disease will still be feeling the effects of it for one to two years, in the form of secondary organ failures, scarred lung tissues, disability, and chronic depression.

From this point forward, your life has changed due to the trauma of care, the disruption to your life, and the road to recovery afterwards. It’s the kind of recovery path that can wipe out your finances, even with good healthcare insurance, because the cost of recovery goes beyond the billable event.

Speaking as one who lives with an incurable autoimmune disease and a genetic kidney disorder, I can say I experientially understand what a fast and tremendous change, foisted upon someone who was otherwise healthy, can do to your life.

Some of the trouble begins, however, when you realize you’ve survived something like this, but you still feel terrible. You get told you’re one of the “lucky ones,” and behind a grimaced smile, you’re wondering”

…what if I can’t find work again? What if my body never feels normal again? What if I feel depressed and anxious for a long time?

It’s a crisis, a disaster within a disaster. Even if the body heals, the mind might take much longer to pick up the pieces and try to move on. Depending on how you as an individual responds to the trauma you just underwent, you might be feeling grief, sadness, a lack of energy or motivation to return to more pleasurable things, anger, denial, or even, a feeling of nothingness. Meh. Blah.

Post-COVID-19 Depression: A Need for Support

There is a strange relief when you find out you’re feelings are not abnormal, and you’re not alone.

While most of us would never wish another human being to have to face the terror and pain involved with physical illness, we gravitate towards those who have shared experiences with our own. Support groups are a good example of this. So are Social Media groups that gather people with a similar interest or experience. To be a fly on the wall with a group where every member has been struck by lightning, yet lived. Cancer support groups, alcoholics in recovery, victims of domestic violence — all kinds of groups for all kinds of experiences.

I do think that post-COVID19, there will be support groups formed that gather individuals together to help process what happened to them, beyond the facts and figures, beyond the statistics and politics.

We will create safe spaces for people to process their fear, anger, sadness, and uncertainties about what comes next.

We will encourage people to talk about feelings of depression and anxiety as they come to grips with what may be a longer, more drawn out “normal” regarding the way they respond to everyday events.

We will be trying to meet real, human needs, even though others make light of their milder cases of COVID-19. We will meet those with complex recovery issues with compassion and understanding.

Update: as of 08.01.2020 I’ll be assisting with closed debriefing groups among healthcare and healthcare related workers processing trauma, exhaustion, and racism experienced during the pandemic response. I believe that while those interactions will be confidential, what I will learn from the process of helping will be transferable to my work as a therapist in the greater community.