Monday, June 1, 2020
Discombobulated? Anxious? You’re Not Alone
NAMI-WRV has been offering videos, like this yoga session by Victoria Ropeer, to spell people through the pandemic. But, while Zoom and other video platforms seemed fun at first, many are now suffering from Zoom fatigue.
Monday, May 18, 2020


We went to bed one night and the world seemed normal. By next morning it was unrecognizable.

Almost immediately, Wood River Valley residents began eyeing others in the post office with suspicious glances, wondering if they carried the coronavirus.

We became terrified of others and the air that we breathed. We experienced panic attacks leading to breathlessness that made we think we might have COVID-19.

Thisis a vision board from one of NAMI’s peer groups about what the future looks like.

No place was safe as human touch became something to be shunned. Our normal sources of comforts, including the companionship of friends, became off-limits.

We began experiencing a collective trauma foreign to anything any of us had gone through before save, perhaps, for the polio scare. And we didn’t even know if our trusted doctors could protect us.

We became numb, enveloped in a brain fog fueled by anxiety. We became hypervigilant, in a constant state of fight or flight. We couldn’t sleep as our dreams became nightmares brought on by an invisible enemy. We became depressed, hopeless and increasingly germaphobic.

And, while some of us took advantage of our stay-in-place order to learn new hobbies, bake bread and start gardens, others of us began grieving what could be seen as a lost year without the Sun Valley Writers Conference, Sun Valley Film Festival and many other events that we love.

And, with no need to turn the calendar page…

‘I am really discombobulated, mentally foggy, lost in time and space,” said one Hailey resident. “Even when I volunteered on a fire lookout, I had a schedule and required to-do’s.”

While the focus has been on hospital workers and first responders, the Wood River Valley’s mental health professionals have also been hammered—asked to deal with an invisible enemy they never learned how to deal with before.

Robbie Sawyer, a trauma specialist and family counselor, is among those who have seen requests for counseling skyrocket since Blaine County was ordered to shelter-in-place in mid-March.

Fortunately, she said, rules around telehealth counseling have been relaxed, making it easier for counselors to counsel by phone, FaceTime, Zoom and Skype. Blue Cross and Blue Shield has stepped up to cover such services in full without a co-pay.

She’s even doing walking therapy in areas where she and her clients won’t run into others, thanks to rules that no longer mandate she see clients inside an office.

“The pandemic has caused a great deal of anxiety because so much is unknown. Isolating has put a great deal of stress on families and couples. And, it’s magnified the problems for those who have underlying issues, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders and PTSD,” she said.

That said, Psychiatrist Susanne Choby said many people are coping well with the situation, "which I think is a reflection of our tightly knit, active community. Access to outdoor activities has been very helpful. A few are reporting increased stress related to economic anxiety and relationship strain from being in close quarters, which is not unexpected. Others report the situation has created positive change, giving the opportunity to take stock of what they value, enjoy a slower-paced life and reconnect with family and friends, although remotely."

 Some COVID-19 survivors who spent days in hospitals hooked up to ventilators and watching scary looking people in Hazmat outfits hover over them have talked of nightmares where they thought their IVs were poisonous snakes. And Choby says that colleagues working in large cities like hard-hit New York have said there will be a lot of PTSD both from residents and health care workers who suffered from the constant fear that they, too would get the virus, while watching so many in their care die.

"Moving forward more will be revealed about the long-term effects, but I suspect there will be significant fallout for those directly involved," she said.

“In the beginning they were looking at it as a form of trauma. It’s too early to tell,” said Sawyer. “Certainly, if you had trauma in the past, this has made it worse. People are more susceptible to being triggered right now. They’re at home watching more news. And watching more news is even causing people who have suffered trauma not related to coronavirus—like rape—to be triggered.”

While nightmares were of the coronavirus itself early on, now the anxiety tends to be more about work—Am I going to get that unemployment check? Sawyer said. Even reopening businesses is causing anxiety because we have so many questions about how to make it safe.

“People don’ know if they’re going to have a job this summer. They don’t know if tourists are coming back,” Sawyer said. “College students, however, seem pretty optimistic and resilient—they seem to have the attitude school will be there for them.”

Crisis Hotline Director Tammy Eaton Davis and Herbert Romero, an advocate for the Latino community, went into overdrive as the county shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“We knew that Hispanic families, already marginalized, were going to be affected by this and we didn’t want them to slip through the cracks,” said Davis.

Quickly, they added a bilingual support line, trained a couple volunteers, switched to a new phone provider to handle excess calls and got it up and running by March 28.

“It had been one of my objectives since I took over the Crisis Hotline, but I hadn’t anticipated rolling it out that quickly,” Davis said. “But it had to be done so we just did it.”

Some callers, especially pregnant women, were scared to go out their door for fear they would get infected. Others asked how to get protective personal equipment, help with landlord-tenant conflicts and immigration concerns.

One man asked if he could give Tylenol to his wife who had a fever of 105. They arranged for her to go to the hospital.

“There’s been a lot of frustration, anger and confusion, a lot of mixed messages,” said Romero. “This has hit Latino families hard. Families want to go back to work, but they want to make sure the situation is okay. There are childcare challenges. And social distancing—who social distances in the Latino community?"

NAMI-WRV put all its support groups online and it will continue to have an online presence for the next six months to a year, even if in-person groups are allowed to resume, for those fearful of meeting in person, said NAMI Director Christina Cernansky.

Brittany Shipley is running six Bluebird groups a week via Google hangout for students at Wood River High School and Middle School, Silver Creek High School and Carey.

“Students understand what’s happening, but they still feel the deprivation of not being able to get together,” she said.

Shipley has the students do an emotional check-in at the beginning of each meeting, in which each names one positive thing that happened the past week. They also identify one struggle and tell how they got through it.

They name a favorite song and describe how they’re body responds to that song and the memories associated with that song. And they play guessing games.

“I remind them how important it is to go outside and feel the warmth of the sun, how they need to walk around and smell the flowers, how they need to feel the stress in their body shift with every step,” Shipley said. “We talk about how, even though we’re physically distancing, we don’t have to be socially distancing—that we can text messages to one another, call one another on the phone, do a video chat.”

Sawyer says she emphasizes to her clients that the unknown is part of life.

“It’s just that it’s so exaggerated right now because there’s so much unknown about this disease,” she said. “I tell people: Stay as healthy as you can and focus on what you do have control over. You can exercise, you can wear a mask. The rate of people drinking is way up. Maintaining some kind of sobriety to stay healthy is important right now.”

Most of all, it’s important to talk to someone you trust, said Roger Olson, who leads many of the support groups for NAMI.

“And be mindful of your friends and neighbors,” he added. “Say an extra ‘Hello.’ Do an extra wave. Even if someone doesn’t have a diagnosed mental health condition, this whole affair is kind of bearing down on everyone right now.”

"When things are going well, we seem to need each other less,” he added. “At times like this sharing both our successes and failures helps us to connect and strive for a better tomorrow and remember that we’re not alone.”


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