Scars of the Covid Age

Sisyphus, 1548 by Titian

It seems that I’ve been talking about mental health for so long, it no longer requires prelude or preamble. Whenever I write anything I have an inner need to make the opening feel like an epic poem. Something you would find in Homer or Sophocles. But I’ve talked about my mental health journey, battling suicidal thoughts and depression, handling anxiety as a new dad, and everything in between, what more is there to say? Honestly, I do get to a point sometimes where I feel that I have explored every aspect of it so much and so often, that my mind has no more surprises left. 

Then Covid came, and the lockdown started. And what may be the toughest year of my life began.

Like anything, it started as a lull. Not even an issue. Yes, the health crisis that shut everything down and locked us all inside was scary. Especially how sudden it seemed to occur. 

For those in the loop, you may have seen this coming, but for the full-time working father of a rambunctious, fast learning one year old, it’s hard to stay looped in on any current events for too long.  So, for me, it was a little out of nowhere. One day I heard about a new virus in China. The next day I had to be weary of those traveling internationally. And, finally then, we are all shut in. 

Honestly, the first month was like a new vacation. Not since the first month of my child’s life had I been at home with my family ne’er a distraction in sight. The months of working and seeing my daughter grow only part-time, had me believing that the first month of total dad-mode was never returning. 

But with every pandemic, there is a silver lining. I got what I wanted. I got to be with my wife, daughter, and poodle all day long, play more video games, watch more tv, and fall deeper in love with my sweet baby girl.

Then like everything in this life, money ruined everything. Bills came and, since I had not been working, it was tough for a spell until unemployment, my tax refund, and the stimulus money all kicked in. For a second it was all back on track. Only, I was too distracted to see the broken tracks up ahead. 

Then, as the summer came in and I began working online, the veneer of this peaceful bubble I had lived in started to wear away. After some months, I started working in person again and the heat turned up.

My daughter was getting smarter, stronger, taller, and more prone to tantrums. The terrible twos had come early, and just in time for my wife’s sleep and anxiety issues to start becoming a noticeable problem. But I was weathering the storm well, so like Superman I put the shield of hope on my chest and tied the cape on. Super-Dad/Husband was here to save the day for everyone.

Now, we would later find out (much later in fact) that my wife was suffering from sleep apnea. Not the type that I have, but a different one where the brain wakes up mid-sleep and thus the sleep the body needs is deprived. She was waking up every morning with headaches. She constantly complained about not feeling herself and NEEDED a large coffee with extra caffeine just to, in her words, “feel human”. And no, that is not an exaggeration. 

Beside all this, the lack of sleep led to a string of mild depressive episodes and panic attacks when our daughter was having a tantrum and seemingly inconsolable. I stepped in to help, of course, taking the first shift, always getting up with our daughter in the morning, no matter how early.

After a few months or so of this, it began to wear on me. Because I had a CPAP machine, I was getting restful sleep every night, but even that did not prevent the constant morning wake ups, day after day, from making me feel like I was stuck in a perpetual state of a drowsy purgatory. Add to that, whenever my wife was having a tough day, which sometimes seemed like every day, I would take a majority of the time watching our daughter – especially if she was not napping and in a constant ebb and flow of crankiness. 

After a few months of this, my Superman armor had some holes in it and was starting to feel heavy, but I pressed on. 

As if this was not enough, Fall had come and the election loomed like the Sword of Damocles. My gut said we were in for trouble and the fear spiked my already rising anxiety. The pressures of being a full-time dad, therapist, and husband caring for my growing and complex child, relieving my overstressed wife, and handling the stress of an upcoming election was cracking my once refined and reinforced armor. 

“I’m fine”, I said. Every time, I put on the mask and said, “I’m fine.”

But of course, I wasn’t. I was having more and more panic and anxiety attacks. I would have larger chunks of days mired in my depression. I once had a full breakdown and panic attack twenty minutes before I was supposed to leave for work. I called in sick but it took the full day and some of the weekend to recover.

Then Christmas.

It was Christmas Eve and we are in for one long day. We were spending the night at my parent’s place. Everyone had been careful and we had a bubble going that we were all comfortable with. We had the morning and afternoon with my parents as well as my brother and his family, and then in the evening we raced back to San Jose to spend it with Kim’s mom, brother, grandma, and sister-in-law.

But for me the day ended early. Around lunchtime, for no apparent reason, I had to be excused to the bedroom. I was having a full-blown panic attack and I had no reason why. My heart was beating out of my chest, I was sweating, and I felt light-headed, my brain swirling with too much thought like a hurricane crashing down on land. I was able to recover enough to go back out, but it was obvious something was wrong. 

My brother’s girlfriend came up to me as everyone opened presents and asked me if I was okay. I told her and she gave me an encouraging smile and some kind words that aided me greatly. But I was mired in anxiety for the entire day, and now all my memories of that Christmas are of how my daughter had a dad who was falling apart at every seam. I could not shake it off all day, and to some extent I still haven’t.

This was definitely a low point but by no means the last. My birthday had a similar feeling, as did random days here and there, but the Christmas experience truly speaks to the trouble of living through Covid in the shoes of someone battling mental illness. 

During this Covid age, therapy and people seeking therapy has gone up. Being sheltered in place for so long without the vestiges of normalcy has worn on everyone. It’s only natural. Those of us who previously had troubles getting through life, now had an extra weight pulling us down, sometimes to the point to feeling like you could never get up, because there was no definite end in sight. This was life now, and there was no changing it.

But if one thing this year has taught me, it is that we persevere. All of us, both the mentally ill and those ill of the moment have made it. Through anxiety and depression, lost hope and lost lives, we are still here. The ‘why’ does not matter, only the ‘what now?’ One day we might fall to our ills, our mortal limbs finally proving too weak to bear the burden of a life lived. And perhaps when it comes there will be no lesson to learn, not hope to pass on after us.

But that it is not now. That is not today. Today we have lived, and today we have proven our worth, just by enduring.

It is painful to life a mortal life. This is why the heroes of Greek Myth that truly still speak to us are not the gods immortal, but the weak and frail human heroes who often showed even the mighty Olympians themselves, what real strength and dignity is. It is enduring even the most painful of wounds. But wounds heal, and the scars are reminders that we lived and still live. As long as we are still here, we have another shot to change things.

Dissent, Good Trouble, and Forging Ahead

Some thoughts on the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and forging ahead in a Nation without the civil rights icons of old.

Dear America,

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about progress and the ebb and flow it takes in our history. Not just yours mind you, but all of human history. We make advancements and then regress. We fight in revolutions only to give power over to dictators, from Ancient Rome to the French Revolution. Two steps forward, one GIANT step back.

But I find it is often in these trying times when we find our true voices of hope and truth that echo in the pages and hearts of history.

Side note: why is it we as human beings only seem to shine best through conflict. It seems in history our greatest virtues and acts of courage and kindness emerge in severe times of war and strife and never in peace, the few times we can actually enjoy such a gift.

Anyway, back to history.

Right now, in 2020, it is a pivotal time in history. Climate change nearing a do or die apex, a global pandemic ravaging through communities worldwide, totalitarianism and strong arm tactics taking foot at the highest seats of power, division being sewn between races and genders, and the leaders of old who were our connection to the heroes who led us through such times in the past are dying. John Lewis in July and now Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September.

Without getting into the weeds of the current asshole, white-nationalist-in-chief and his evil turtle crony in the Senate, it is a scary time now that RBG is gone. Not only was she a stalwart judge to law and justice but she was an icon to women, feminists, and generally anyone in favor of equal rights and protection under the law. Now that she is gone, many fear who might take her place.

But this isn’t about that. Sure, we could talk the politics of the living document approach versus the originalist approach to the constitution, but frankly America I do not have the stamina, nor the insight for such a discussion.

No. Instead I want to talk about legacy. Right now as I write this in my living room, my daughter safely sleeping at her Lolo and Lola’s house and my wife playing Animal Crossing to the sounds of my dog barking, millions of people are flooding the void of the internet with tributes and depressed confessions the likes of which I have not seen since the day after the presidential election of 2016.

Yes, people feel sad. But more than that they feel not only have they lost a leader but also they lost a barrier between them and the totalitarian Trumpers who have seemly taken over the country’s major seats of power. It is a feeling not like when a baseball team, red hot in the playoff race, loses their best hitter to injury right as the World Series starts. It’s a feeling of “we chad a fighting chance” that is quickly destroyed by vampiric thoughts of “now we got no shot”.

Such catastrophizing thoughts are common when an iconic leader or inspirational voice is lost too soon or in a time of strife. And I can not help but feel that same way from time to time.

But a few months ago we lost another icon of justice and love in the late, great John Lewis. I recently and finally watched the documentary Good Trouble about Senator Lewis. It was inspiring and reminded me that the greats we hold up as leaders today, started as leaders when they were young.

Simple, I know. Just hear me out.

As I grow older I can’t help but feel a sense that, even though I was told when I was young that one day my generation would run the world, that, here we are in our 30s and yet the world and the seats of change are not ours. Perhaps it is partly our fault. We are apathetic, distracted, and at times focused on the wrong issues. But at times it does feel that our parents generation is unwilling to pass the baton they so fiercely fought for from their parents’ generation.

Regardless of the reason, the reality is – John Lewis is gone. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is also gone. We are without our metaphorical parents and it is time we did things for ourselves. There is another John Lewis out there and there is certainly another Ruth Bader Ginsburg out there as well, and now is the time they grow. When the fire is hot and the iron is ready, we need to strike. There will be a day when we marvel at the legacy of another RBG, at another John Lewis, but that will never be if we don’t start standing up and fighting.

It is time. We can’t rely on the heroes of old to lead the way. We are out on the wide open ocean and we have the helm. We have learned from the best and it is time to swallow our courage and forge ahead on our own. Yes we are young, but they were once too. Do not be afraid to be you, to be young and idealistic. Cynicism is not the marker of wisdom and experience, it is a sign of the truly childish.

We must have hope. We must believe there are hundreds, if not thousands of women and men ready to take up the captain’s helm and steer the ship. Those wiling to take a chance need to take it and those seeking it need to stop asking and actively take it. There will be mistakes along the way. Setbacks and half steps when there should be full ones, but it is all a part of the messy experiment of democracy.

Perhaps I am rambling on and on America, but I guess I am just trying to explain that we need to look to hope right now. We are without our legends of the past and if we want a future that is truly a more perfect union, then we must all get in good trouble and say to the hectic, backwards year that is 2020: “I Dissent!”

If we don’t America, then what else do we have but chaos and despair.

Thanks for listening. Excelsior!