by Dr. Meredith Renda
As I sit at the computer trying to decide on a Valentine’s gift for my kids/husband, it occurs to me that I haven’t been to the mall in a year, I haven’t eaten in a restaurant, and I haven’t hugged my parents in 11 months. I am both shocked by and defeated by this realization. Time during this last year seems to have both sped up and stood still.
Fight or Flight
Over the last few days, I have read a few articles and seen many facebook posts about “the second wall”. That phrase has really resonated with me. Many of us have already hit a wall during this covid pandemic, and we have recently hit another wall. The question is, how many more walls can we withstand?
Early on in the pandemic, the body went into fight or flight mode. You power through each day with force and a purpose. With my husband being an Emergency Medicine physician, and myself as a pediatrician, we tried to stay as positive and strong for our kids and family as we could. As the pandemic has dragged on without much change or hope, we all have gotten tired. Our bodies can’t sustain that level of fight or flight all the time. Nevertheless, we are still living in the same stressful situation. How do we move forward?
A sense of hope
For me personally, there was a real sense of hope and a renewal of that adrenaline and purpose when the vaccine was introduced. The idea that my kids may go to school again next year (as they are virtual schooling to protect my parents and mother in law who help to watch them during the day), and the idea that I may hug my parents and loved ones filled me with hope. Honestly, I don’t care if I don’t go into another restaurant for another year. I can handle that. The idea that I am “wasting” precious time with loved ones by being distanced and apart is hard to swallow. That being said, I know that I am protecting them and loving them more fiercely because I am willing to adhere to those pandemic guidelines.
Over the past couple of weeks, the initial sense of hope and renewal has lost some of its luster. Please don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful and blessed to have gotten the vaccine, to help others stay safe, and to work towards allowing everyone to be as lucky as I am.
Hitting the second wall
I think that I hit my second wall when I thought about family members and loved ones who aren’t as lucky and who will have to wait their turn to feel what I feel. The vaccine isn’t a magic pill. It doesn’t suddenly mean that I can do whatever I want. I know that I need to follow the same guidelines as before until the people around me are vaccinated. Only then may I let down my guard a bit. That feeling has been hard to cope with some days since I know it is still a long road.
I am going to be honest, it really saddens me when I see people starting to go back to their regular lives, their travel, their parties. In my mind, this just prolongs the pandemic and the everyday slog. I think, what about me? Why am I sacrificing so much? On a more empathetic level, I totally get it. We are all fatigued, and sometimes it just feels easier to roll the dice and see what happens.
Although the pandemic has really surged in numbers, the emotional health of so many individuals is another global pandemic. How do we motivate those of us who have hit another wall to “stick with it”?
There really isn’t any magical answer to the question of how we move forward? For me, acknowledging that some days are really hard helps. As a physician, it feels wrong to say that I want to throw in the towel on a particular day. I feel that I should be motivating others. That, however, is not realistic.
Acknowledge your feelings
Acknowledging that some days feel very hard is ok. In fact, it probably makes me a better physician that I can empathize with others who feel the same way. On days when I am feeling down, I take energy and comfort from parents who are having a good day, or kids that bounce in and tell me they are happy to see me. This bolsters my resolve and pushes me forward. I try to pay it forward when I regain my positive attitude.
Even when I acknowledge that some days are hard, it doesn’t mean that I automatically start feeling or acting better. We all need to give ourselves some grace and sit with those feelings. When you let yourself wallow a little bit, the next day is usually better. If that isn’t enough, then reach out and get more formal help and guidance. Mental health is just as important as physical health. They usually go hand in hand.
Historically, some individuals have felt a sense of shame if they weren’t able to cope and handle all of their feelings on their own. Thankfully, times are changing and more people realize how important mental health is. If you are having chest pain, you see the cardiologist. The same holds true for your mental health. If you are having emotional pain that is affecting your day to day, then you see a specialist that treats that pain.
Years from now, I hope that this pandemic feels a like a bump in the grand scheme of things, especially for my children. We are, however, in the present, and we need to acknowledge that this isn’t a bump, it is a mountain. We can scale it, but we may need help along the way.
Please reach out to us at Doctors’ Pediatric if you feel you need some added guidance and support.