Alicia’s COVID-19 Diary: The Importance of Mental Health

A picture of Alicia smiling, sitting on a couchThose of you who know me or follow me on social media know that after I graduated from college late in 2019, a friend of mine had coined the year we’re in now, 2020, as “the year of firsts.” The phrase had a nice ring to it, and it carried me through the rest of 2019 with a sense of hope for a better year: a clean slate, a fresh start, newfound hope and motivation. I had a lot to look forward to.

2020 started out great. I wrote a post in January about flying to Houston to visit a friend, spending a week in 70-degree weather, making new friends and being out and about for 12 or more enjoyable hours every day I was there.

Once back home, I looked into teaching iPhone and iPad classes at The Chicago Lighthouse (I had seen a class while I was in Houston and thought to myself, “I wouldn’t mind doing this every day”). With so many possibilities in front of me, I couldn’t foresee a downfall. There was so much excitement that it was hard to keep up.

I still remember jokingly telling a friend back then that life needed to slow down just so I could process everything. And I think the universe heard me. Life didn’t just slow down — it came to a screeching halt.

March 8, 2020, is the last time I was in a room, face-to-face, with a friend. I am writing this on April 17, which means it has been one month and nine days since the last time I enjoyed a real live conversation with a friend.

But who’s counting?

If you know me, this is not normal for me. I am an extrovert. I get energy from other people. I’m usually out once a week…at the very least.

At first, I looked at this quarantine as a silver lining, a chance to get back into my hobbies. I wanted to read more, and now I had all the time in the world. I couldn’t see my friends in person, but I was able to connect with them online more – even some I hadn’t been communicating with on a daily basis before.

And then there’s this: I am spending more time with family now. I am staying at home with my parents, but I haven’t seen my siblings in person in a month. We do virtual game nights, but it’s not the same.

My two favorite country artists, Kelsea Ballerini and Ingrid Andress, released their albums one week apart, so that’s all I listen to. Ingrid Andress’ album didn’t have as many new songs, and the songs she did have were a bit more sad. I had to be in the mood for it. Kelsea Ballerini‘s songs were more upbeat, so I listened to that more.

But after a while, my attempts at keeping a positive attitude started to fade. Some days are tough, I won’t deny that. I worry for my friends, especially my best friend who is a certified nursing assistant at an assisted living center — she is likely exposed to the COVID-19 virus every day. I miss getting coffee with friends, and I know I could call an Uber and do the Dunkin Donuts drive-through, but I hesitate to do that. What if the driver had a passenger who had symptoms and didn’t know it? Then the driver is exposed, and we would be exposed, too. My blind friends and I talk about this a lot.

Right now I was supposed to be working – or, at least, somewhere in the employment process. And remember what I said about Ingrid Andress being one of my two favorite country artists? I was supposed to be going to an Ingrid Andress concert with a friend, which would have been the first time in my life I would have been going to a concert without a family member along. Due to the coronavirus, that concert was postponed — a major disappointment in what was supposed to be my year of firsts. My friend from Houston was supposed to fly here. We were supposed to get a group together and go for lunch like we always do. We were supposed to go downtown and visit friends in Chicago.

When I start to get overwhelmed and caught up in everything I was supposed to be doing – everything I’d had to look forward to – I pull myself out of it as best I can.

One thing that helps? I do yoga with my mom every day. It took me a very long time to get into yoga. At first I did it because I knew my mom liked it when I joined her, but after a while I have really come to like it.

Truth is, long before the coronavirus — I mean, wayyyyy before this, like three years ago — I was in counseling, and when I opened up about anxiety, counselors would ask, “do you do yoga?” They’d tell me it’s a good hobby to take up, especially if you’re feeling anxious.

The next time I’m asked if I do yoga, I can honestly answer, “Yes!” More than ever, it’s important to do what you can for the sake of your mental health (for those of you reading this who are into yoga, my mom and I are subscribed to Yoga with Adriene).

I spend time outside when I can, either going for a walk with my parents or just sitting on the deck drinking coffee and listening to an audio book. I make lots and lots of phone calls and am constantly texting. I’m still in touch with my friends in Houston — we have a group text chain going on What’s App Messenger – and everyone is asking me when I’m coming back to visit again.

So what’s keeping me sane…and hopeful? Those simple pleasures. They really put things into perspective for me.


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