Today was another morning that I peeled myself from bed. I am sad and I am fatigued. Throughout 2020, I worked a second job in the service industry and never knew when I would be exposed to someone with COVID-19. Like millions of others, I stayed home for the holidays to protect my family.
Growing up, we celebrated Hanukkah by lighting the menorah. This practice symbolizes the miraculous eight days in which one day worth of oil burned, ultimately allowing for the continuation of the Jewish faith in the face of adversity. This year, we were not together, but the significance of the tradition was hyper-present. The story of endurance, resiliency, and perseverance is one that communities are fighting every day to heal themselves and generations to come. As we endure the darkness of winter and a long year of isolation and wrestle back our collective wellbeing, how do we make our fuel last and keep our flame burning?
You don’t have to look far to notice the mental health consequences of this pandemic. Many individuals are experiencing new or intensified symptoms of mental illness, such as stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, and PTSD. For those without access to health insurance, finding affordable therapy or counseling and paying out of pocket may be nearly impossible. Research also shows that beyond lack of coverage, there are nationwide clinician shortages, which intensify barriers for rural populations. The pandemic has forced many people to rely on telehealth for therapy, which has expanded mental health care options, but doesn’t fit every need. And, an increasing number of individuals are confronting new or intensified symptoms of distress, stretching resources thin. Comprehensive and accessible care options are needed to meet the physical and mental health needs of this moment.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Center for Health Progress has been focusing on power building and meeting the needs of community members through an outreach process called the “phone tree.” We just completed the fourth round of phone tree conversations with immigrant families across Colorado and are lifting the critical health needs they identified to the attention of policymakers. A common thread connecting each round has been the fluctuation of fear and hope in the age of COVID-19. In the first round of conversations back in March and April of 2020, 41 of the 98 people we spoke with indicated significant emotional distress due to the pandemic. Months later, feelings of isolation persist in our communities. Beyond social stigma, the fear of seeking treatment is often tied to anti-immigrant policies such as public charge. Trusted community members, organizers, and leaders across the state are working to dispel false information and make sure people get the care they need for themselves and their families.
With vaccine distribution ongoing now, there is at least a light at the end of the tunnel. As the fight for health justice continues amidst a pandemic, we must all be diligent about caring for our minds. We must slow the burn of our candles. Treat yourself gently and forgive yourself often. You deserve to feel cared for and you are not a burden. What fills you and helps you heal? Here are some free ideas and suggestions that have worked for me:
- Go inside: Practice mindfulness. Journal your thoughts for ten minutes each day. Draw pictures. Write poetry. Tell yourself a daily affirmation or keep a gratitude journal.
- Connect: Bathe in nature. Call your family members. Send your friends a letter. Use technology to see a smiling face.
- Get active: Exercise body or mind. Teach yourself a new skill. Join the fight for health equity!
I’ll leave you with this poem I wrote as part of my own mental wellness practices:
This work moves quickly, but we move faster.
Each day we grab our shovels to dig deep inside a sand storm
with steady eyes peering over masked mouths
on bustling production lines
across empty restaurant dining rooms
fixed down at dining room tables turned school desks.
Trudging forward our flames dance through months of cold night,
but not without a cost.
When we are all
how will your body remember this moment?