On Pandemic Suicide and Sadness

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I felt oddly elated as I parked in front of my neighborhood Target store and hopped out of the car. Then, steps away from the entrance, I realized I wasn’t wearing a face mask. As I slogged back to grab one from my glove compartment, the thought, “what if this is the way things are forever” sat on my heart.

Then I thought, I’d rather die than live this way in perpetuity.

It was a fleeting notion that, as a recovering undercover melancholic, I promptly corrected. Being someone who believes in the ability to manifest thoughts, I hesitated just now to even admit that one out loud. The hesitation confirms for me that I do want to live. I aim to live and adhere to whatever guidelines are required for me to do so, especially those as noninvasive as shielding ourselves and others from a rampant virus.

My stance wasn’t just in response to wearing the mask but to all of the pandemic’s ramifications. The sobering number of people who have succumb to the virus. The separation. The isolation. The economic uncertainty. The absence of concerts, festivals, and outings that often serve as a mental break from the world. All of it, all at once, is a lot.

I’m not someone who revels in socializing. In fact, I’m an introvert who has no issue with group gatherings but is perfectly comfortable alone. Yet, it’s something about not having the option to socialize that makes aloneness hit different. Forced isolation conjures a feeling unlike what you experience when the circumstance is chosen.

I felt fine when stay at home mandates were first implemented. I was using the extra time to relax in between dreams and working towards my goals. My to-do list of projects got significantly shorter.

Then something changed. I became less and less motivated to seize the day. Then I beat myself up for not seizing it. It was a cycle of sadness that awakened the beast of despair that had seemingly only been playing possum.

I’m genetically predisposed to depression. My most violent bouts with the condition occurred when I was a child. I’d randomly burst into tears while brushing my teeth before school and cry so hard sometimes that I’d regurgitate whatever was resting in my stomach.

I just felt sad. All the time. Though sometimes sadder than others.

Now, I meditate, exercise, eat well, read self-help books, and do all that I can to remain on the winning side of that oppressive battle. Now, to say that I’ve struggled with depression would be shocking to most as I appear and believe that I’m joyful or at least at peace most of the time. Yet thoughts like the one I had at Target while retrieving my mask remind me that the war may have lost some of its ferocity but still rages within.

Like most of us, I want to get back to living the fullness of life.

When a friend mentions the high probability of COVID-19 raging on in the US until the end of this year, it exhausts me. When Dr. Fauci declares that we may still be wearing masks in 2022, I feel overwhelmed.

When is this going to be over? I know I’m not the only one who mentally and audibly repeats this question and grows frustrated with there never being a definitive answer.

I have to believe the end of the pandemic is imminent. Even if that’s not true. So every month, I tell myself, “one more month.” Maybe next month we’ll start to see significant improvements.

I have to break it down into smaller chunks of time that feel more manageable. Because to believe that this is just going to continue indefinitely is an idea too heavy for me to carry.

Dying to live. Our pandemic disconnection, inconveniences, and anxiousness weigh heavily on many.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with mental health challenges related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to mitigation activities, including the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders. Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

In late June 2020, 40 percent of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Of this group, 31 percent reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. Ten percent said that they’d seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days.

Psychologists warn that the pandemic may even be increasing the risk of child suicide. An NPR story details a high school senior who took his life after graduating with honors but having his final year cut short and deciding against beginning college online. He’s one of 19 Las Vegas students who have died by suicide since schools shut down last March.

Experts are careful to point out that others can never know exactly why anyone chooses to take their own life. Suicide is complex with both biological and environmental risk factors. But a rise in adolescent suicides that parallels the pandemic shutdown isn’t believed to be coincidental. This rise also isn’t contained to one particular region.

Several studies show that young adults may have been hit hardest with mental health challenges during the pandemic. In a survey conducted by the CDC, 63 percent of 18- to-24-year-olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, with 25 percent reporting increased substance use to deal with that stress and 25 percent saying they’d seriously considered suicide.

These are the tragic results of our COVID-19 protective measures. Results perhaps unforeseen and certainly for which we were ill-prepared. The mitigation of one health crisis appears to have fueled another.

This knowledge makes my fleeting thoughts seem trivial. My heart weeps in knowing that there are those for whom the thoughts were too heavy to carry in reality, not only in theory.

There are many who weren’t so fortunate to be able to run, read, or meditate their way to an improved state of being. I ache for them because I know the suffocation of that space and how your mind tells you there is no relief in sight. No air. Even when it appears to the outside world that you’re breathing just fine.

For those still in the struggle, you aren’t overreacting. Our unprecedented circumstances are uniquely challenging. I hope that my sharing makes you feel less alone. I hope it gives you hope — and reinforces a belief that no matter where your mind goes, you can find your way back.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 (en español: 1–888–628–9454; deaf and hard of hearing: dial 711, then 1–800–273–8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.


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