ink drawing of dandelion seed heads growing in grass

Observations From the Garden

I got up at 6 and walked through my routine because that’s what I always do, depressed or not. I fed the dog, made the coffee, poured a bowl of cereal, and then stared into it while the dog did her rounds in the yard. But by 8, I was beginning to wonder why I ever got up in the first place. So, back to bed with the window open and my blankets pulled up to my chin.

Lately, depression has overtaken my days with sleep and restless boredom. What time is it? Doesn’t matter; every day feels like a week. At night, the anxiety comes. I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin. Or like I want to reach inside my chest and pull out my lungs, let them spin out the twist in my trachea. Maybe then I could breathe.

To pass the time when the sun is up, I move between sleep and hobbies. Sitting outside in the backyard, my sketchpad page is still blank. Pen or pencil? I pick up the pen but am unable to draw more than a few dandelions from the scene I’m observing. A flock of house finches has found our backyard – it’s more dandelions than grass, and they’ve all gone to seed. The birds are foraging, bobbing their heads and moving among the unmown grass. One finch struts up to a tall dandelion, and, with an almost imperceptible flutter, attempts to perch on its vertical stem. The dandelion head begins to bow to the ground, and the finch rides the bending stem to meet the grass. Foot firmly planted to hold the flower down, the finch returns to bobbing and pecking.

There’s a sound behind me, and I turn to see a five-foot garter snake glide through the raspberry bushes, following a taste in the air. A busy robin chatters while it gathers last year’s grape leaves for nesting material. Stella digs a layer out of the hollow she’s claimed as hers, then situates herself in the cool dirt she’s uncovered. A hummingbird trill draws near, then it whizzes by on its frenetic journey. Everything around me moves, yet I feel like I’m in stasis. Animals and plants follow their daily rhythms, foraging, hunting, racing the sun to get enough calories, and I feel disrupted – out of sync.

I don’t know how to fix it. Usually, I keep up with my treatments — meds, therapy, ketamine — and simply wait for it to pass. I use what coping mechanisms I can—preferably the good ones, and let the turning of the Earth carry me from one day to the next. This time, I can’t help but feel the uncertainty of the time we’re living in. The disruption is not just to my mind, but to the world. When will this sense of weightlessness, of falling through empty space be soothed? When can we once again feel the ground beneath our feet, knowing by its predictability that it is moving us inexorably from today to tomorrow?

Connecting During the Pandemic

As a highly introverted person, I didn’t expect social distancing to have much of an effect on my mental health. After all, I don’t get out much to begin with. But what I’m finding, and what I’m hearing from others, is that the few social interactions we introverts had prior to pandemic life were more important than we realized.

I’m starting to really feel cooped up. I miss my library, my dog park, volunteering with other humans, and not sucking air through a mask while I run. My world, small as it was, has shrunk. But perhaps more than the social isolation, it’s the uncertainty about when it will end. Before, I might have chosen to stay in, but it was a choice. Now, this strange, lonely way of life stretches on indefinitely. I’m feeling restless, anxious, and sad. I sometimes joke that I’d like to go live on a mountain by myself, and while I’ve always known that wouldn’t actually be good for me, it still sounds tempting. But now, the social interaction that used to threaten to overwhelm me is in short supply, and I’m finding myself a little bit lost.

Luckily, we have options for connecting with others from a distance. I’ve been enjoying video calls with friends, yelling across the fence to my neighbors in their backyard, and texting extended family members. We have social media, phone calls, blog posts, any number of ways to get in touch with people who are far away. Even when digital methods fail, there are still connections to be made at home, and creativity goes a long way.

Towards the beginning of the pandemic’s reach in the U.S., when schools were closing and people started staying home from work, some kids in my neighborhood took it upon themselves to spread some positivity. I stepped out the door with Stella’s leash in hand and headed down the sidewalk for a quick walk around the block. At my mailbox, there was a message written on the sidewalk in chalk. It said “keep calm” and had a pink heart and a blue flower next to it. It made me smile and, frankly, gave me some warm fuzzies. All the way around the block, there were short messages encouraging everyone to stay safe and some adorable drawings of flowers and butterflies. It was a great reminder that we are all feeling the stress of the pandemic in our own ways and in our own homes, but we can still find ways to connect.


COVID-19 and Loss

I haven’t been able to bring myself to post much lately because everything I write feels out of place, especially without acknowledging recent events. My family recently lost someone to a COVID-19 infection.

The mundane feels surreal. A lawnmower hums in the distance. The neighbors’ girls are playing hopscotch in their driveway. The dog pokes me with her nose, begging for another walk. We spent last week waiting for phone calls. Our tension was evident when the ringing drew us together in the house– “Another telemarketer.”– and then we dispersed. Waiting for phone calls was the best we could do.

Picking up the pieces must be done differently in a pandemic. You can’t hop on a plane and be with your loved ones. You can’t hold each other in your loss. You can’t have a funeral. You can only sit in your house, listening to the words that come through the phone. It’s not the same as a hand on the shoulder or a long, tight hug. Human touch. Most of what we do to create ritual and familiarity during crisis is dangerous now. We have to make new ways to find comfort. I’m enjoying photo albums, warm cookies, and afternoons in the grass, watching butterflies and house finches.

I know that consuming content not related to COVID-19 is an important distraction for many of us, myself included. I’m hoping to put my writing brain to work again soon.

Hope you’re all staying safe and well.


COVID-19 and Anxiety: Caution vs Compulsion

Yesterday, my city declared a local disaster emergency. A growing number of presumptive cases of COVID-19 in my county have led officials to close all city facilities. This has given me pause when it comes to the complexities of COVID-19 and anxiety.

I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder when I was about 11, and I dealt with many different obsessions over the years. Perhaps the longest-lasting obsession I had revolved around contamination and germs. For the last several years, I’ve been blessedly free of OCD, and when an old obsession pokes its head out, I’m fairly quick to oppose it by doing an exposure. Since the start of the media coverage of COVID-19 in Wuhan, I actively tried not to let it worry me too much. I could feel the pull of anxiety, coaxing me into watching the news coverage and letting it take over my life. Of course, I stayed informed but did my best to not obsess.

Now, my own city is seeing dramatic effects of the virus, both in increasing cases and in the social results of widespread, repetitive media coverage. Many of our city facilities were closed several days ago, and our city council has decided today to close them all. This afternoon, I finally made the trip to my pharmacy, located in a grocery store, to pick up my medications. The sight of so many empty shelves was unnerving. The only fresh vegetable remaining was lettuce. The bread aisle was sparsely populated with hamburger buns and a few loaves of whole wheat. A man asked the pharmacist where the thermometers were and was told there were none left.

I bought my items and went home, then washed my hands several times between unloading groceries, putting them away, and cleaning the counter they sat on. I’ve been cleaning my phone case, our door handles, and even my sunglasses after touching them while out. Am I simply being cautious, or have I crossed the line into compulsions?

For people with anxiety disorders, dealing with COVID-19 and anxiety during the pandemic puts them in a confusing position. People are being encouraged to be extra careful about handwashing and touching potentially dirty items. Events have been canceled and gatherings are recommended to be limited, making it easy to justify complete isolation due to anxiety. So when the behaviors that normally indicate a disorder are socially sanctioned, what do you do?

I can tell that going to the pharmacy triggered something, and where before I was simply careful, I’m now afraid of things in my own house because they came from outside, and I haven’t cleaned them. This alarms me because it’s exactly how I used to feel in the grips of contamination OCD. It’s overwhelming to suddenly feel like nothing around you is safe to touch.

This coronavirus could live on surfaces for two to three days, so maybe constant cleaning and disinfecting are completely warranted. I imagine many people are feeling this despite never experiencing feelings like it before. Nobody really knows how much is too much, and this is exactly why OCD is so tricky. In non-pandemic times, contamination-focused OCD is fed by a seed of doubt (indeed, every kind of OCD is fed by doubt). It can feel shameful because you know that your compulsions are irrational. Now, it’s unclear what rises to the level of irrationality. Maybe the compulsions I usually try to avoid are precisely what I should be doing.

There is no blueprint for handling COVID-19 and anxiety. I think it’s reasonable to increase your awareness of surfaces you might normally touch and to wash your hands more frequently. However, I know that for me, allowing myself to engage in my old compulsions is a slippery slope. It might be acceptable to do right now, but it will be harder to stop the longer I let it go on. It’s a balancing act, and I have to decide how much my anxiety is serving a purpose now versus how detrimental it is and could be in the future.

I’m certainly not going to tell anyone how to keep themselves safe. I am, however, going to tell myself to be cautious about being too cautious. As long as I can leave the compulsions behind again when life approaches normal, I’ll be okay.

Stay safe,