The order to shelter in place came down from our governor Monday March 23, 2020. As of 11:59 pm. all non-essential travel, work, and even medical treatment, including counseling, psychotherapy, and coaching must cease unless it can be done through technology from your home. COVID-19 put us in our place, and even as we shelter in place to save our lives, our mental and physical health remain vulnerable.
Isolating yourselves physically from other humans is particularly hard for those of us already self-isolated emotionally due to an eating disorder, addiction, or mental illness. I am pretty sure that if you have never dealt with anxiety or depression, you are now or will soon notice it seep into your lives. I have noticed my anxiety rising and at times it doesn't seep, it flows steadily day into night. Other times I have noticed it surge and crash, and ebb. It moves at its own pace within me.
I allow it to ebb and flow at its own pace, and I stop often to breath. I take a deep breath and allow for the long exhale to bring my mind and body down a notch or two. I invite the Holy Spirit to reveal something, anything to me in the breath. Breathing intentionally really does help release God's peace; the unexplainable peace that passes all understanding. So, as you read this, do yourself a favor and intentionality breathe. Philippians 4:7 "And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" 9 (NIV)
I am not sure how much of this COVID-19 sheltering in place, social isolation, and social distancing will effect me and my eating disorder recovery. I know from clients and friends that their eating disorder behaviors are more forward as is the shame that follows in the shadows of the engagement.
I want to reach out and hug them; wringing the shame out of their pores. I want to remind them that this is an illness that no one would choose, and that it lies in wait to rise up when we are at our most vulnerable. We are all vulnerable right now, and the enemy knows it. Now is the time to put on the full armor of God, tighten up the belt of truth. James 4:7 "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (NIV) Satan would have you sit in the murky waters' of shame when Jesus wants to wash you in the living waters of his grace and forgiveness.
The possible long term effects of isolation and social distancing in relationship to my ED recovery hasn't hit me yet because I was already prepared for two weeks of surgical recovery. I do know that this pandemic has already impacted my life as I prepared to have surgery to remove a melanoma. Nothing was routine or taken for granted as we arrived to the hospital navigating around barricades, check points and white testing tents being set up where cars should have been parked.
I was one of the lucky ones to even have my surgery proceed as scheduled, if by lucky you mean that my cancer is deemed as too aggressive to wait until this all "blows over." I am grateful and fearful at the same time. It has taken me years to accept that both fear and gratitude can exist at the same time within me. I wonder if those whose surgeries are deemed elective feel gratitude or fear as they live in pain waiting for the anticipated joint replacement, or reconstruction from breast surgery, to mention a few?
While many psychologists, theologians of all sorts, and self-help gurus would have you and me believe that fear can't exist in gratitude, I say, "BS." Most of us in the coming days will be forced to accept that fear and gratitude must be allowed to coexist, for if we do not allow them to do so, a formidable foe named shame will move in and grow roots. I invite you to feel any emotion and all emotions without shame! Feel it all swirling in your brain, spilling down your cheeks, gathering like a lump in your throat. Feel the fear, the gratitude the sadness, the loneliness, compassion and empathy. When you allow room for all of these emotions to exist, there is no space for shame. #NOSHAME!
I was stopped at the doors and interrogated by a frazzled attendant while my husband parked the car. No valet today! I was directed to register two floors up. Waiting for my husband to hold my hand and walk with me was not an option. I spoke to myself as I used to speak to my children as they faced something scary, "You are a big brave dog, you are a big brave dog." Big brave dogs can do anything...Right?
I found my way through the maze of nearly empty corridors to registration. The masked young woman behind the desk looked as fearful as I felt. My husband was checked for symptoms as he entered the doors. This unexpected delay felt like a lifetime. The check in process and COVID-19 prevention protocol was changing faster than my documents could be signed. "Take this beeper and have a seat, but don't sit within six feet of other patients or the one allowed companion." "No not there! Hold on! No beepers! Hand me all the beepers. A new mandate just came down from the powers that be, " chirped the cheerful nurse that checked us in. She was the breath of fresh air I desperately needed and I allowed myself to exhale. My companion/husband was initially asked to wait in his car, then in the waiting room separated by the required six feet from other patients and their companion.
Finally he was allowed to remain in the small sterile cubical where I was prepped and would be brought back to for recovery. He had to remain in my room for hours with no updates on my procedure moving across a flashing screen, no visits to the cafeteria for food, and only with permission could he use the restroom across the hall. Fear washed over me as I wondered if he would still be waiting for me when I returned as the protocol continued to change minute to minute. I knew I had Jesus by my side, but I wanted and needed my husband. There are times in our lives that we all need a physical, familiar hand to hold. This was one of them. This "big brave dog," felt more like a helpless un-weaned puppy.
My surgeon walked in my small sterile cubical, fully masked, gowned and gloved and extra PPE (you all know what this is by now) Picture Darth Vader! He marked my leg for the nuclear study of my lymph nodes while announcing that I was now having general anesthesia. By controlling my airway they could protect the staff from coming into contact with any of my potential secretions. I could see and feel my heart rate rise...FEAR! I knew this would mean a week or more of nausea for me post op, but seemed a small price to pay to protect those who may be needed on the front line of fighting this invisible enemy.
The atmosphere felt surreal as we tried to use our sense of humors to deflect the anxiety and fear of both my surgery, general anesthesia, and a pandemic. Praise God that he gave us to each other. I Thank God for humor, and each person he has placed in my path for this surgery. I was grateful to see my husbands face as I was wheeled back into the cubicle. I was grateful the surgery was complete and God came near to me.
A week or so has passed and my physical recovery is progressing day by day. My incision is slowly healing, although the swelling still persists. A sinus infection, diagnosed over the phone impedes my recovery and I can't help but wonder, "could this be COVID-19?" Or maybe God's way of keeping this restless child of his still? My Bed, antibiotics and Zofran become my new best friends. I accept this as a gift from God that keeps me away from the TV and the ever present doomsday reports. I focus on sleeping and pondering God's word and promises. He speaks to me in dreams and through a pen in my hand. I write 5 simple words that he gives me. "This is not the end." The warmth of His love pumps through my veins.
So much of the day to day medical system has shut down and been redirected towards the pandemic. COVUD-19 cancels my follow up appointment but not my pathology report. This passes through the system and I am thrilled that my margins and lymph nodes are all clean. I briefly raise my hands in praise and then bow my head in prayer. I see God's finger prints all over my situation. From the discovery of the cancer, to the surgery proceeding, and the clean margins and nodes.
He is good and I bring my sacrifice of praise and I bring the fullness of my heartache as well. "Honestly Jesus, I am tired of feeling crappy, tired of feeling anxious and tired of the fists of ED knocking at the door of my mind trying to get my attention. I do not want to be afraid. I cast all my anxiety on Jesus as I slide under my weighted blanket and remind myself that fear and gratitude can coexist under my covers with a box of Kleenex and my dog, and a whole lot of Jesus.