You Are Never Alone

Attached below is a resource I have put together called You Are Never Alone. It is for anyone who is feeling challenged by the current Covid-19 situation and is experiencing feelings of isolation, loneliness, abandonment, anger, depression, loss of meaning or faith or hope.

If you find the booklet useful, feel free to share it.

Blessings,

Mona

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Covid-19, Stress, and PTSD

Who could have known that the last posting in January would be so relevant. I have attached below an updated version with some more current resources.

I have taken a break from my work as a hospital Chaplain, with much regret. But my physical and emotional health and that of my 71 year old husband have to be my primary focus at this time. I still try to offer support as best I can, but it is little.

Why did I find work so emotionally challenging at this time? Sure, it’s chaos at work. Overflowing morgues, 7 floors of Covid patients, staff stressed out, frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted. But my department members are mostly making it to work, so why can’t I? It’s not just my kidney stones – I had three last week but I’m pretty sure I passed one. When I went back in to work on Wednesday – having left Tuesday on account of the pain – I was pain-free. The kidney stone (#1) had passed. But I couldn’t stop crying, my chest felt tight, I was finding it difficult to breathe normally. But I had no fever; I wasn’t showing any signs of the virus. It took me a few days, and a FaceTime session with my psychiatrist to figure it out. My PTSD was being triggered. Big time.

How could that be? I wasn’t being abused, I wasn’t being threatened, my co-workers like me. Sure, the hospital, heck the whole country, the whole world, was in crisis mode, but most people were dealing with it. Being stoic and courageous. Couldn’t I deal with it?

Actually, no I couldn’t. And I’ve been guilting myself every day since. But the truth is I was diagnosed with PTSD for good reason some years ago. And, while most of the time I am completely symptom free, it does get triggered in moments of crisis.

So, right now I accept myself for who I am, and I am extraordinarily thankful for my colleagues who continue to serve.

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Post Traumatic Covid Syndrome

We are beginning to re-enter the world, but are we ready?

It’s wonderful, right? We’re talking face to face, meeting up and eating out with friends and families once again. We are striking up conversations with total strangers. (I say “we” because I don’t think I am the only one doing that.) As we try to return to “normal” I am increasingly aware of not being my normal self. But then again, what exactly is my “normal”?

I am from New Orleans and, for years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleanians needed to share Katrina stories. Standing in the newly opened grocery we would turn and ask: How much… (water in your house); Where… (did you evacuate to); When … (did you come back). Family members or total strangers would act as our in situ therapists, listening to our stories just long enough to give them the social permission to jump in with their own stories. But that actually made them really bad therapists because therapists don’t insert their own stuff into the therapeutic conversation. So these unsatisfactory attempts at having a “good listening to” left us still needing – neurotically and compulsively –someone to “hear us”. Someone to give witness to the chaos of words, fears, memories, and emotions swirling around in our inner cyclone.

This must be the same following any natural disaster: people need to talk. People need to share their horror stories about danger, rescue, and death. And they need to share them over and over. Having lived through the same Covid 19 crisis as others in our community, just like after Katrina, we can feel assured of a certain degree of commonality, of innate understanding. The locals will believe us. So, even though they may not be very patient listeners – waiting to jump in with their own trauma stories – they are nonetheless in the same metaphorical or literal “storm” if not in the same boat exactly. And there is comfort in that. We are not alone.

It is very different when the trauma or tragedy is personal. Although we have probably greater need to share, we are much less likely to risk it. Being vulnerable enough to tell our personal story of abuse or sexual trauma makes us vulnerable to re-victimization by having our memories denied. What if they don’t believe me? And that’s a valid concern, because without a shared experience it can be very difficult for outsiders (or even other family members who were not abused) to believe in the horrors you share. I have walked that uncomfortable and lonely path.

But here we are now living through the Covid-19 pandemic. Like Hurricane Katrina it is a shared experience so there’s an inherent understanding, we won’t be denied our reality, we are sympatico with our neighbors, or at least that’s what I thought. Appearing among us in large numbers are people denying our reality. Just like in a sexual abuse scenario where siblings and parents may tell us we are crazy and deny what we remember clearly and have always known to be true, so now the country is full of conspiracy theorists, covid deniers, and anti-vaxers. They are telling me that what I lived through as a chaplain in a large city hospital didn’t happen. The two overflowing 18-wheeler freezer trucks parked by the morgue loading dock filled to capacity with covid victims was a hoax. There are people who are willing to physically attack someone who threatens their right to be stubborn, to be stupid, to risk their lives and those of others by not wearing a mask. After all it’s just the flu. An abyss of reality and loss separates these individuals from those of us who have left a loved one to die alone in a nursing home or ICU surrounded by indistinguishable alien look-a-likes in white body suits and masks. Or those of us who have been working inside these organizations trying to communicate some humanity and compassion to the sick and dying and to victims of dementia for whom pre-covid reality was already fraught with fear and confusion.

This is bad. This is awful. But Covid-19 is not just a shared city or state experience, or even a national one. This is a WORLD. WIDE. EXPERIENCE. As a human community we haven’t had an experience like this since the 1918 flu which took about 1.5 million lives. As of June 17, 2021 Covid-19 deaths are estimated at 3.84 million. How in heaven are we supposed to process that number. To give a comparison, referring to 2018 statistics, that’s more than the population of Detroit; or it’s more than the population of Cincinnati and Cleveland combined.

I can understand the attraction of denial. If you haven’t personally lost a family member and been unable to visit them to say goodbye, then denying the existence of this horror is perhaps a form of self-care. You can sleep easier if Covid isn’t real.

I don’t have that luxury. I worked in a local hospital and one Sunday in early March 2020 I spent hours on the phone begging funeral homes and coroner’s offices to please take some of the deceased patients who lined our hallway outside the morgue and post-mortem suites. This wasn’t in my chaplain’s job description. But our Spiritual Care Department had inherited management of the morgue and had been left with it because we did such a good job. The curse of competence. Our secretary was the de facto morgue manager, and the on-call chaplains backed her up. We eventually had to resort to two refrigerated container trucks for a morgue back-up system.

My primary job as a chaplain was to offer spiritual companionship to the sick and the dying and to their families and to console and support the staff who shared in the grief and shock of their patient’s death. Because of their age or lack of experience with acute care floors many nurses I worked with in early 2020 had never had a patient die. As the pandemic kicked up there were nurses on the ICU’s who were losing two patients back-to-back in one day. Sometimes two at the same time next door to each other. It was devastating, overwhelming, unthinkable.

A year later I am only now beginning to write about what happened and how it felt. I am only now telling my Covid survival stories as I venture out into “normal” places where talking to strangers is acceptable – the hair salon, the spa. I haven’t swapped Covid stories in the grocery checkouts, though. Stories of morgues and refrigerator trucks are a bit too heavy for those few minutes. But in the hair salon and spa I had a captive audience for more than 30 minutes last month and stories just came gushing out along with the “dark” humor we shared privately in the Spiritual Care Department that had helped keep us sane – until it didn’t.

And now?

Now there is a fourth wave in Louisiana and people are still refusing to get vaccinated. Around the country individuals are being thrown off planes for refusing to wear a mask. Business owners are being harassed for attempting to maintain mask safety. The unvaccinated are dying in increasing numbers as the Delta variant rampages through summer vacation spots, family reunions, weddings. And the vaccinated are becoming infected. Remember, 94% efficacy means 6 in 100 are statistically likely to get sick anyway but are still much less likely to be hospitalized or die. I’ll take those odds. What about you?

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So much murder, so much racism, it’s hard to find hope today


Sometimes white is beige

And black is light brown

Sometimes truth is on hold


Sometimes adult is child

And silence is louder

Sometimes young is too old


Sometimes stop is run

And questions are curses

Sometimes badges are gold


Sometimes death is life

And living is dying

Sometimes warm is so very, very, cold

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

IN MEMORIAM 2021

Updated April 15, 2021

In picture order

Daunte Demetrius Wright, October 27, 2000 – April 11, 2021
Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Shot: Brooklyn Center Police Officer, April 11, 2021

Marvin David Scott III, 1995 – March 14, 2021
McKinney, Texas
Peppered sprayed/Restrained with spit hood/Asphyxiated: 7 Collin County Jail Detention Officers, March 14, 2021

Patrick Lynn Warren Sr., October 7, 1968 – January 10, 2021
Killeen, Texas
Shot: Killeen Police Officer, January 10, 2021

Vincent “Vinny” M. Belmonte, September 14, 2001 – January 5, 2021
Cleveland, Ohio
Shot: Cleveland Police Officer, January 5, 20201

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Covid-19 and Stress

A resource for stress management.

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Avoiding burnout

If you are caring for others, if you have recently lost someone … there is great wisdom in this quote.

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Blessing

Beannacht – A Poem by John O’Donohe

Beannacht” is the Gaelic word for “blessing.” A “currach” is a large boat used on the west coast of Ireland.

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There is a balm …

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Life is Loss; Life is Gain

I wrote the following post in 2011 about the diagnosis of diabetes. But I feel it has a message for today, and not just because we are all struggling with maintaining healthy eating habits.

The era of Covid-19 has brought many losses: loss of a feeling of safety, loss of family and friend contact, loss of co-worker support, loss of income, loss of peace of mind – if we ever had it. There are restrictions too: we can’t eat out as easily – if at all, we won’t be able to attend sporting events – if they even happen, we can’t stay in a hotel or go to a bar or a beach without fear of infection.

But I am reminded by this post on Loss that losses can bring Gains. Today, the air is cleaner, for one thing.  And people are rediscovering the simple pleasures of things like gardening, bird watching, or a hobby or skill they had forgotten. So my invitation today as you read the post below is to make a list of some positives about Covid-19. Even if you have lost your job, or God forbid lost a loved one, what are some personal or community Gains that you are experiencing along with your losses?

Life is Loss. We begin life with the loss of the security of the womb, our first
loss, and then it’s downhill from there. Every day, every second we are losing time, losing a piece of our lifespan, losing opportunities. Every year we accumulate more and more losses: relationships, jobs, friends, spouses, children, parents.

But life is also Gain. All is grace; all is gift. Undeserved. Unearned. With each
breath life animates every cell of our bodies, providing one more opportunity to claim our joy, pursue our bliss, eat chocolate, make love, eat more chocolate.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes I refused to accept it. I didn’t feel sick. I was overweight, but I had been overweight since my first pregnancy.

After I accepted the diagnosis I became angry – at God mostly. I used to joke that if God really wanted to mess with me God would give me diabetes. I have a suspicion that genetics and weight and a perennial sweet tooth have more to do with my diabetes than God, but I blamed God anyway. Blaming God is convenient, more convenient than exercise and diet for sure. God makes a great scapegoat.

Isn’t that ironic. We usually think God is using us as scapegoats – making New Orleans take the blame for the sins of the decadent South, for example. And all the time God is our scapegoat. We give God the blame for every bad thing, even things human beings are obviously responsible for: pollution, the spread of Aids, the abuse of children. If there is no God there is no excuse, and I am left with diet and exercise.

Back to chocolate or the loss of it. To a chocoholic like myself the loss of chocolate is no small thing. I can do without white bread, I only ever ate it at parties – you know those crustless triangles of mayonnaisey goodness. I can do without white rice, and I have learned to deal with whole wheat pasta. I have always loved veggies and whole grain bread. I can usually do without the cookies, and pass on the ice-cream and cake (unless it is Death by Chocolate cake or those brownies with thick fudge chocolate icing on top), but sugar-free chocolate is for the birds. Actually, no! It’s not for the birds, because if their digestive response is the same as mine I would need larger windshield wipers!

So…giving up chocolate, is it a loss or a gain? Surely a loss, right? Not necessarily. I thought it was a loss for a long time and was very bitter about it. But now, every morsel of real chocolate I treat myself to after a low carb meal is absolute and unmitigated joy, or it can be if I do it right. Like oxygen to an asthmatic, chocolate has the power to bring absolute bliss to every cell of my being. When I eat my chocolate miniatures, malt balls, or Hershey kisses one at a time, slowly allowing a piece to dissolve on my tongue and the sugary sweetness to suffuse my mouth, instead of shoveling down a handful at once, I can enjoy each moment of the experience. When I eat gobs at once I only taste the last one I swallow. So my gain is that I am learning to truly enjoy chocolate, to truly taste it. I am not saying that I am always able to control my shoveling compulsion, but I am getting better at it. And as a result chocolate has become more precious to me and now gives me more joy than it ever did in my pre-diabetic days.

What a paradigm for life this could be. Of course we hear it all the time: slow down and smell the roses. But if you have allergies and can’t smell, or have no garden, or have only smelled the indifferent vegetative aroma of store-bought roses, the metaphor is lost on you. Chocolate on the other hand is pretty universal. So how about a re-write: slow down and taste the chocolate.

There is another gain, too: Self control. Not something we are very good at in the over-indulgent, fast-food eating, immediate gratification seeking, poor impulse controlling Western hemisphere.

Maybe there’s a new book in here somewhere: God and Chocolate, or, How I got Diabetes and Discovered my Bliss.

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Love in the time of Covid

Love is a mask.

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