Is she seriously writing another column about COVID? I’m afraid so. Sad to say that there is no getting around it – it is THE health issue of our time. My hope is that the more you know, the better you can take care of yourself.
We are all getting tired of this pandemic and experiencing it in different ways – the health care workers who witness death several times a day, every day now; the folks who don’t know anyone who has even had a sniffle from this disease; those who have lost family members; those who have tested positive but did not need hospitalization; the people who are regretting some of their decisions regarding protecting themselves and others. COVID runs the gamut! Listening to the news and listening to the people you might disagree with on how to survive this challenging time – these are all things that can cause stress.
Just about everyone’s mental health is taking a beating these days. This time demands even better self-care. What’s the worst possible scenario with this kind of stress? Suicide. One unfortunate part of this whole scene is that truckers are at higher risk for suicide than the general population – even in the best of times. Why? Well, to start with, you are often alone. You may find yourself lonely (some people love being alone but others, not so much). Maybe you are sad because there is no one to talk to, and even when there is someone to talk to, now you need to do it six feet apart while wearing a mask.
These days, there is very little or no physical touch – no hugging – just elbow bumps (not the same thing). Human touch is essential to our well-being, so when it must be limited due to the infectious demons in our midst, we can feel the effects of that lack of touch, which can cause feelings of isolation and depression. On top of that, it is winter, and the days are shorter. Light is an important factor in our mental well-being. Lack of light can cause feelings of depression, along with the Holidays, which are unlike any other in our lifetime.
But what does depression feel like? Most people will not wake up one day and say, “I think I’m depressed.” Depression is generally pretty sneaky and physical symptoms may creep up on you first (for instance, you either can’t sleep or you just want to sleep all the time). You either don’t have an appetite or you just want to eat all the time. The things you used to get a kick out of just aren’t that enjoyable anymore. If you have chronic pain, it might feel worse. Having a hard time concentrating? Could be depression. You may feel very sad, overwhelmed, and even thinking about ending it all. Some of us will experience not only depression, but anxiety, as well. It is not unreasonable to feel anxious about the negative effects this coronavirus is having on us personally and as a community.
So, what’s a trucker to do? First thing is to be okay with the thought that you might be depressed. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy! Most folks have “blue” periods in their lives, especially when there are tough circumstances like a global pandemic or a strained economy. For anyone feeling anxious or depressed, or both, one thing that can make it worse is being bombarded by continuous bad news. Every few minutes there are reports of the latest numbers of deaths, the overwhelmed hospitals, and how many new cases in your county. Consider a news blackout or cut your viewing to once a day.
Your need to know what’s going on in the world should not become an all-day radio/TV-fest. If you like listening to the radio, consider your favorite music or plug in an audio book. Stay away from Facebook if you find yourself getting irritated with what people are writing. Focus on the positive – this won’t last forever and there is a vaccine on the way that could make the world normal by this time next year. I know it is not the same to eat special dinners celebrating events like birthdays or anniversaries with your computer on the table, but it might be the best we can do for company in these times. Maintain as much contact as possible with your friends and loved ones using virtual tools like Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Meet, etc. Enjoy daydreaming about all the things you are going to do when this is over.
Until then, what can you do that will make you feel like you didn’t waste your time during the pandemic? While many truckers are out working like “normal” (or even more now than before), some are not working at all and stuck at home. For those people, I would encourage you to do something – paint the room that hasn’t been painted in 15 years, organize all those old photos, or maybe learn another language (DuoLingo is free and fun). If you’re still working, focus on being grateful for having a job when so many people have lost theirs.
Okay, so what if all those helpful little hints don’t work? What if you find yourself not able to put on a happy face and go about your business? Well, that is serious stuff. Consider speaking to a therapist if you are feeling depressed or having serious thoughts of suicide. For some immediate help with preventing suicide, call 911 or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). This is a serious matter that can escalate quickly, so please do not wait to call if you are having these thoughts. There is also a Crisis Text Line – you can text SIGNS to 741741 for free anonymous crisis counseling 24/7. The great benefit to a text line is that, for people who are concerned about their privacy around these very sensitive issues, no one can hear you when you’re talking and no one will know if you are crying (which is, by the way, one of the most therapeutic things you can do for yourself).
These are extraordinary times, so we must take extra good care of ourselves and not let this virus win. We keep hearing, “Wear a mask!” and “Wash your hands!” and “Stay six feet apart!” Well, here are a few more things to add: “Be grateful for the things you have!” and “Limit bad news!” and “Talk to a friend or a therapist when you are feeling down!” and “Get some exercise!” Let’s get ahead of COVID-19 and stay ahead of it! Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy 2021.
~ Norma Stephens Hannigan is a Doctor of Nursing Practice who recently retired after a 43-year career providing direct care and teaching future nurses and nurse practitioners. Dr. Norma has treated many truck drivers at the various clinics she has worked. She currently writes for 10-4 from her home in Newburgh, NY.