"COPING-19"

Those who have met me would never guess that I have overcame youth homelessness or survived commercial sexual exploitation in my short life. As a survivor leader, peer outreach specialist, co-chair of the Worcester County Youth Action Board, and as a Young Adult State Commissioner working on behalf of the Commission for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, I am sure that I come across as self-assured and well-adjusted. That perception, and the “he can handle just about anything” mentality that comes with it, can leave a person feeling very alone. As such, I can only imagine how compounded and exacerbated that feeling must be inside those who are normally involved very minimally in such causes, or who always thought that friends, colleagues and companions would always be nearby and at hand if that person is feeling isolated and needs to reach out. Let’s face it: quarantine sucks.

Covid-19 has rattled the cage and caused a radical shift in the ground rules. We can no longer just “show up” to a group gathering, party with friends, dine with relatives or hang out for an afternoon at the ballpark. Our world has shrunk dramatically, and all because of a tiny speck we will never see with the naked eye. It is bewildering, confounding, and challenging beyond belief. This is why I come to share a message of hope with you today. We need to stay connected to ourselves, each other, and the community. I learned this during those years when I coped with trauma, and I hope to share some truly helpful pointers and suggestions with you today, as we all grope for a lifeline in these difficult times, especially those who suffer from mental illness or other diseases that make them feel different or disconnected from others. We all need to work together, now more than ever.

So that people don’t lose it entirely, let’s first look at the reality with which we are confronted. It is clear that the CDC’s unprecedented recommendations to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted life as we know it. Contact has been reduced, social distancing has changed the entire landscape, and listening to the news can make things even worse, as there is fact, opinion and myth to sort out. Stores are closed and jobs are being lost, so bills will become harder to pay. Life has truly changed, but caving in to the hysteria will only cause people to shut themselves in, frightened beyond reason, and this will worsen feelings of isolation as well. No one wants to feel cut off; the loss of control can be wrenching. This is what we are now forced to confront, so here are my thoughts, as a trauma survivor and as one who truly cares, as to how to make the best of bad situation.

Get adjusted to utilizing virtual platforms. Skype, Zoom and FaceTime all exist to keep us connected. Figure out how to use them and do so.
Pick up the phone and call those you love and care about. Make an honest attempt to connect in a genuine and meaningful way.

Take walks, making sure to keep your distance from others. When you encounter strangers, say “hi” as if your life depended on it. Because it does.
Use safety guidelines when buying, cleaning and preparing food. Use this time as an opportunity to eat more healthily than you normally would.
When you do need to go somewhere, such as the grocery store or pharmacy, use hand sanitizer and gloves when making contact with all doors, counters, shelves, products, etc. Think of it as an exercise in conscious awareness.

You may have already implemented many of these ideas. Add to them! We are all missing our daily routine and the certainty that comes with it. Now may be the best time to learn new skills, take on new hobbies, or re-engage with some old passions and interests. There has never been a greater need to apply the rules of self-care, nor to manage your current situation using the best coping methods available. We can use this time in the best possible way, and in so doing so, lift each other up to a pinnacle of human connection previously unseen. It is my sincere hope and desire that every ounce of energy expended to defeat this virus and bring us closer to each other will be well worth it!