David Mordecai’s first #MadCovidDiaries diary!
I want to keep a daily diary. However #MadCovidDiaries are published weekly. This is my first week of posts.
Tuesday, April 14th, 2020: Feeling okay about feeling okay … maybe.
This actually didn’t open fully until Wednesday. It’s such a source of gladness and joy for me cooped up in my apartment right now.
Yesterday I finished a piece of writing I’d been working on for a week that explored why my mental health has been noticeably better since the pandemic started. Oddly, yesterday was also the first day that I wondered if the solid wellness that I have been feeling for the past five weeks was ending.
Also yesterday, I had a conversation with my sister that really changed my perspective on longstanding dynamics in my family. It was sobering. I’m concluding for now that if my mood is shifting that’s why. And I am hoping it will be temporary. One of the things that the whole experience reminded me was how much every extended experience of feeling well can hold some promise that I am somehow “better”. I grasp at the idea that the cycling of my mood is over. But it never is. The fact is it’s rare for me to feel “good” for five weeks. Most of my life during the past couple of decades has been spent in a state of low-grade, somewhat functional, depression. A sense of futility around the intractable problems of climate change and income inequality is, I think, a big part of this. I’ve also concluded that my current work doesn’t give me a fulfilling enough sense of purpose, especially in light of our social problems.
However, I have more than thirty years of adult life experience that also tells me that my clinical mood will always be a roller coaster. No matter what I am doing, no matter what meds I am, or am not taking. It’s true, it no longer seems to shift to extremes, but it still shifts. When it shifts after a period of feeling well for as long as five weeks it’s a somewhat disappointing surprise. I guess we’ll see what the next few days bring.
I generally don’t feel strong feelings of fear or anxiety. It’s another trait that I’ve known about myself for decades. I once was diagnosed as alexithymic. I kicked that diagnosis to the curb. Right now when I read and hear about what others are going through with COVID-19, not having to experience intense anxiety or panic feels welcome on one level. But I also feel like a stranger in a strange land. Rationally I know that we are all going through hell right now; what’s wrong with me that I can’t feel it like others do? (This despite the fact that I burst into tears almost every time I see a death announced on Twitter.)
I guess I can relate to the anxiety most of us are feeling through subtle signs that my body and mind are offering of stress — such as bad dreams, which I usually never have. And it’s interesting to observe that while I pride myself on self-acceptance it’s difficult to escape self-judgment. Why can’t I fully accept that not feeling anxiety in these circumstances is a blessing, not a pathology?
Wednesday, April 15th, 2020: Walking in our new world.
I took this right around the corner from where I live.
I’ve been managing to go out on walks in the last week. All masked up. Before last week I was sick for quite a while (not likely COVID-19 but who knows?) and didn’t go out for weeks. At first my doctor insisted that I wear a mask, but today my doc said I’m not likely to be contagious anymore. Masks remain a really good idea, and distancing of course, and I will do both, but it’s nice to feel like I am no longer carrying the plague. I mean I realize none of us really knows but it’s nice to feel like I’m no longer officially contagious.
So yeah, walks. They’ve been good. I think I’ve done four over the last week. The only four times I have left my apartment. I was pretty awful at exercise before the pandemic but apparently nothing makes me more eager to do laps around my local park than spending many days on end when I don’t even open my front door.
Going for walks in pandemic times has brought some surprises.
I quickly realized that making eye contact and smiling, something I generally try to do if it seems welcome and appropriate when I am in public, is impossible when everyone is wearing a mask and trying to stay more than six feet apart. Most of us are paying more attention to keeping our distance than greeting one another. That was disappointing and felt odd. It made me think about this post by Hope.
I live right in the urban core of Toronto. The City’s largest shelter for homeless men is just one street over from me. Ten minutes away from me in the opposite direction from the shelter is the Eaton Centre, a major tourist attraction and shopping mall. I like that about downtown Toronto. Throughout the downtown core, affluent neighbourhoods and relatively poor areas are often only a few streets apart. Where I live is in-between.
The park I walk in is just on the corner of my street and takes twelve minutes to walk around briskly. Over the years I’ve gotten to know a few of the less fortunate folks who spend time on the street around my building. On one walk, Natalie, a woman in a wheelchair I usually am happy to give money to, was sitting on the corner by the park. She said hello and asked, but I had no cash on me. Or thought I didn’t, it’s been almost a month since I’ve bought anything so I forgot there was cash in my wallet – which is a sign of how much my life has changed – I regretted not realising it on time but wasn’t sure how I would have given money to her and kept my distance. Maybe put the money under a stone? Anyway, we managed to stay far enough apart as the sidewalk was pretty wide.
Then coming home from another walk I saw a man who often sits on the pavement outside the mini-mart on the ground floor of my building asking shoppers for money. Actually, he saw me before I saw him. Again we have a history, though I don’t know his name. I try to help him when I can. This time he seemed to run towards me, asking for help. I found myself feeling angry and frustrated. I backed away to maintain distance. I was pleased that I didn’t lose my temper with him but I was very assertive and my tone was not friendly when I said “no, we need to stay away from each other”.
Then I made my way into my apartment building and realized I felt sad.
How are these folks going to keep getting the help from strangers that they used to get? And I was reminded of that feeling of being contagious and how happy I was to be emancipated by my doctor. Are we all going to start always looking at one another as possible vectors of disease? How is that going to impact us? What new corrosive force is this exerting on our mental health?
Thursday, April 16th, 2020: Reason Chases Intuition
I took this a couple month ago before we were all in lockdown.
A psychiatrist I have come to respect, based on Twitter interaction and reading a fair deal of his writing, mentioned on Twitter that he was working on a blog post about the pandemic and mental health. Yeah, I know, he’s a psychiatrist, but I sense he’s a good one. I have had enough bad experiences to know that a handful of psychiatrists are Satan incarnate but I see most psychiatrists as well-intentioned but severely limited by their profession. And that is unfortunately more harmful than most realize. I’ve also met a couple over the years who have been amazing despite the contortions that medicine puts mental health through.
Anyway, I was surprised when he subsequently posted his piece. It’s a very wide survey of what’s going on, with lots of links. But there aren’t really recommendations on how to improve our mental health. Perhaps oddly, given that he’s a psychiatrist, I believe that that’s a good thing. Overall I see much of psychiatry as creating mental health norms that are far more hurtful than helpful. And these norms have kind of been taking over. So it’s really refreshing to see a psychiatrist with public influence refrain from recommendations which might turn into ‘shoulding’ us about our mental health.
I have this sense that mad folks “own” the territory the world finds itself in now. I feel like we have a lot to offer. Maybe that sounds crazy (hey, we own that too) and I’m still trying to understand what it means, but my gut has been saying something along those lines to me from before this pandemic happened and now it feels like the moment is upon us. I swear I’m not manic. But these insights come from a time three years ago when I was. I like that the banner for the MadCovid site actually acknowledges that we were here first, because it implies that we have something to offer.
I am curious about what you think and how you feel when I say that there is an important role for us to play in the world as it spirals into chaos over COVID. That really is still an intuitive insight for me. I like to say that reason chases intuition. Often the thoughts of others in response to an intuitive position that I take help me to understand what the reasons are behind it.
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