ON MENTAL ILLNESS: How I Am Affected by the Pandemic

Jack Bragen
Saturday June 27, 2020 - 03:54:00 PM

The shelter-in-place in Contra Costa County was the definitive moment at which I realized coronavirus is serious business. At the time it began, my wife and I were partway through a move within our apartment building. Because we are dependent on a subsidy from HUD to be able to afford rental, there is a lot of paperwork and hoops to jump through to accomplish even in a small move like this one. 

The office of Section 8 was closed, but they continued to conduct business via phone, fax, email, and through the ability to drop documents through an opening in their front door. 

Since I am a semiprofessional writer, I have office equipment at my disposal. So, I was able to send and receive almost all of the necessary documents by printing, scanning, and emailing. This is not an extraordinary feat. Yet, I believe there are many renters on Section 8 who don't have their act together enough to have computer systems. Others are more disabled than I am, and many are helped by having a case manager who handles business for them. 

Moving during a pandemic is challenging. Additionally, the Social Security Administration wants to make sure I am still disabled, and they sent me a questionnaire during the middle of all this. I filled out their paperwork thoroughly. It is not a good idea to go the route of pretending to be too disabled to answer their questions--that doesn't work. I decided to copy their forms and fill out everything in pencil so that I could edit my answers. Then, to simulate filling out everything in ink, I copied everything except for my signature, and mailed them the copy. 

These are stressful times. I am concerned for the safety of my mother, who is in her eighties. Yet, I am dismayed because prior to the pandemic it meant a lot to me to occasionally drive to her house and visit with her.  

While all this was taking place, the venue where I get psychotherapy and psychiatry had turnover in staff. The counselor I'd meet with every week had switched to meeting with me on Zoom. The psychiatric nurse practitioner met with me once on Zoom. And, during the meeting, he informed me that he was quitting at the end of the month. 

In my final meeting with the psychiatric nurse practitioner, who I'd never thought of as someone to whom I would feel any real connection, I was surprised at my sadness. 

At about this time, I discovered that my therapist, with whom I'd been working for more than two years, an excellent person and an excellent therapist, someone to whom I felt very connected, was discontinuing with me. 

In order to let go of her, I'd had to employ an "off mechanism" which is something I invented and installed for situations like this. (The need for this mechanism came about because in my past, I'd created serious problems for myself from not being able to say goodbye.) 

In the case of both of these people leaving, I could not meet with them in person. It was done through Zoom on my computer. 

The $1200 check was very helpful, and I am always glad when a lump sum comes to me once in a blue moon, due to the caprices of fate. Normally, I am inclined to stay home whenever possible, so a shelter-in-place seems to me like a small adjustment. I despise driving. Therefore, not having to get in the car and go anywhere, to an extent at least, seems like a gift. Not being able to see family--that's very hard. 

Concerning my psychiatric condition, the COVID pandemic seems to have no direct effect. My symptoms have remained at a level that would be expected with the changing circumstances. 

Concerning writing, the pandemic has led, by necessity, to a shift in subject matter, at least some of the time. The pandemic provides subject matter at times. But because all of the news media is focusing on it, there is less demand for mere mental health pieces. Also, fiction may be affected. I've written and sent one fiction piece inspired by the pandemic--I'm waiting to hear back. 

Am I afraid of getting sick? Maybe just a little. I assume I would survive as do most people who contract it. But if and when I do catch it, it could be damned uncomfortable to get sick from this pathogen.