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The COVID 19 pandemic has transformed all of our lives in some way. But some are feeling the impacts more than others. Take healthcare workers, for example: As the United States surpasses 38 million COVID-19 cases and 637,000 deaths as of August 28th, 2021, many healthcare workers continue to be overloaded by caring for COVID-19 patients. Globally, COVID-19 has presented unique challenges, leading to increased mental health issues among healthcare workers.
Others are feeling the impacts while struggling to find or maintain housing, and balance parenting during the pandemic.
- Shanette Jackson, a working professional and a single mother of four children.
- Derrick, a pseudonym – a husband and father on a four year-old daughter.
- Amy Arlund is a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center’s dedicated COVID-19 unit.
- Asantewaa Boykin is a registered nurse in Sacramento, Ca and a member of the Anti Police Anti-Terror Project (APTP) Sacramento First Responders
- Daja Mayner, MSW, LCSW · Regional Director of Psychotherapy-Western NC Region at MindPath Care Centers
- Kerry MacKey, Sr is a Psychiatry Specialist in Raleigh, NC at MindPath Care Centers
Making Contact Staff
Host: Anita Johnson
Executive Director: Sonya Green
Staff Producers: Anita Johnson, Monica Lopez, Salima Hamirani
- Web Updates: Sabine Blaizin
Andy G. Cohen- Our Young Guts, Prisma
Blue Dot Sessions- Curiously and Curiously
Blue Dot Sessions- Plasticity
Blue Dot Sessions- 3rd Chair
Blue Dot Sessions- Order of Entrance
Xylo-Ziko- Phase 2
Anita: The following program contains material that may be disturbing. Listener discretion is advised. I’m Anita Johnson and this is Making Contact.
Amy Arlund: The youngest patient that I lost was 20 years old, which was devastating for me because that’s not my patient population. And I have children of that age.
Anita: This week’s episode “Life During COVID” is a chance to understand how some people managed to balance work, family, housing and sanity during the height of the covid-19 health crisis.
Shanette Jackson: A lot of people right now are going through a hard time and a lot of people are dealing with things that they may not want to talk about.
Derrick: There have been moments where suicide did, in fact, come into into my mind and I have had to try to bypass that by focusing on my daughter.
Anita: We’ll hear from people who have been struggling to keep patients alive in the emergency room, striving to find work and trying to balance parenthood during the pandemic.
Anita: We begin with Amy Arlund, a registered nurse at the COVID(19) unit at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center. Amy, considered a seasoned medical professional, had never experienced anything quite like COVID.
Amy Arlund: You know, when you work 20 years in an ICU, you build up a level of knowledge and experience, you’re considered an expert because you’ve taken care of the same kinds of patients for so long, and with covid, it just threw a monkey wrench and all of that. We didn’t know anything. And it was very frustrating and very scary because you don’t know what’s coming through the door every day and not every covid patient is the same. But with covered the changes were minute by minute, second by second guidelines were all over the place. We didn’t know who to trust because everything changed on a dime.
Anita: Keeping up with all of the rapidly changing information about COVID was hard enough for Amy and her colleagues, but by the time the 3rd wave of infection hit Fresno, California, Amy’s COVID unit was completely overwhelmed, and at 0% capacity.
Amy Arlund: By that point, we were at 100 percent ICU mortality for our covid patients, we were losing them all. And that was the biggest kick in the gut for us because we were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at these people and they weren’t working. This was death on a massive scale. I mean, we went from an average of maybe two to three deaths a month in our ICU to having 23 deaths a month. I stopped counting after about one hundred and seventy five death.
Anita: Due to the rising number of COVID deaths, and the ICU consistently being short-staffed, the responsibility of body disposal regularly fell on Amy.
Amy Arlund: We were short staffed most of the time to bare bones, barely scraping by. So I would have to be the one to take that patient down to the morgue. And when the morgue was full, we had to take them outside to a refrigerated truck. And yeah, we usually just stack them like cordwood.
Anita: As of August 2021, an average of more than 700 people per day continue to die of COVID-19 in the U.S. Many healthcare workers like Amy Arlund continue to be overloaded by caring for COVID-19 patients. Globally, COVID-19 has presented unique challenges, leading to increased mental health issues among healthcare workers.
Amy: There were many nights that I didn’t think I could go back and do it again. You know, you only are responsible for two patients as an ICU nurse, and when you lose them both in one night, after you’ve given everything you’ve got and you really start to feel like what you do is pointless, there are many times that I almost called it quits. I didn’t think that I could do this anymore. I could be a nurse more. I reached a really low point where I started to resent that I hated my patients. I hated the people I worked with. You know, it was a pretty miserable few months when we had our third surge. And I said, if I survive this surge, that’s it. I’m done.
Music Fade In –
Anita: Daja Mayner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker based in North Carolina. She offers perspective on the realities of trauma and grief.
Daja: You know, in particular and all of the other, you know, health care frontline workers who decided to push through, you know, we’re still pushing for it would be inconceivable for them to develop any kind of resiliency to sort of all the all the things that make such a such a situation like this distressing to continue their work.Right, the length of the pandemic is kind of like this subsequent retraumatization. Right. This person is constantly in the same situation that, you know, cause that sort of those initial trauma wounds. And so I think that trying to trying to do our best as those outside of it, you know. This is kind of sort of splitting the difference here, because I am a therapist, but doing our best to try to to try to understand, you know, sort of the depth and breadth of that is kind of where that that empathy and that support, you know, that genuine empathy and support, I think can come from, you know, where we can really sort of make it OK for people to talk about their grief. Right. The grief is immense. We understand grief absolutely. When people pass away. But I mean, I often talk with my clients about needing to grieve expectations to the loss of a safety net, you know, recognizing that before they could save most people to realizing that most people, they’re not going to be able to save that, is it? And in its own necessitates its own grief process.
Music Fade Out –
Derrick: I was staying with some friends that renting a room out to me and my family and we stay there for a while, but once things started shutting down due to covid, they were getting scared themselves. So they basically gave us a month to move out.
Anita: That’s Derrick, a pseudonym – he, his wife, and child found themselves homeless at the start of the pandemic.
Derrick: I couldn’t find a place within the city, the area or even the state that I could barely move to. So I have to literally move out of state. And because I had to move out of state, I had to quit my job. I couldn’t continue to drive back and forth, you know, from another state eight hours away just to get to work.
Anita: Before experiencing homelessness, Derrick worked at Amazon in California. Then COVID hit, and the little bit of security he had was stripped away. In an attempt to locate affordable housing and greater job opportunities, he moved his family to Nevada where the cost of living was cheaper.
Derrick: My first big concern was trying to find housing. That’s where I ended up, where I’m at now, which is the budget suites. It’s like a hotel, but they rent either weekly or monthly, this particular place to buy weekly or monthly. But now it’s like trying to find work, which was difficult during a pandemic because there were quite literally no place hiring. And casinos were shut down to a lot more people were going on unemployment. I mean, it did and literally at one point the unemployment rate in the state reached 30 percent. Very recently, over the last month, you know, they dropped back down to below 10 percent. So I’m still trying to be hopeful.
Anita: Since relocating to Nevada, Derrick has had some successes. He found housing and was able to get some temporary assistance. But he has run into other challenges trying to navigate complex social service systems.
Derrick: I feel grateful for being able to get what we’ve been able to get. And it’s funny, after talking to lots of people in and out of the government assistance sector and so forth, a lot of times they have said, you know, it’s very easy for a woman and child to be able to get assistance, but to include the man. It’s not quite so easy because lots of times they they think or consider that the man should be able to go out and get a job.
And hearing that my daughter and wife will be better off without me. Felt. It has a particular type of sting as far as how men are being supported. I know for a while, you know, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. And things are quite unfair for women, but that just doesn’t mean you got to make things unfair to men to help support women. I mean, I’m a man, I’m trying to support women, you know, I have a daughter, I have a wife, I’m trying to do the best that I can to be able to support them, but you know, I am limited with I’m with what I’m able to do at this moment and I need assistance in assisting me, is assisting these women as well. [00:01:05]
Kerry MacKey: In this situation with and losing his job during this period of devastation, for many people, depending on what the logistics of their home was, but this could be many of us in these types of situations.
Anita: Kerry MacKey, Sr is a Psychiatry Specialist. He offers a perspective on feelings of hopelessness and vulnerability.
Kerry Mackey: You know, this is typical. This is common, you know. And I think what we need to understand not only as you know, as people of color and men, but as a people in general, that people go through stuff and that it is OK not to be OK at times. I think we have this built up foundational structure around us of resiliency and feeling like, you know, we can’t have any weakness, we can’t have any moments of fragility. But that’s not the case for many people. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to kind of make those efforts to reach out and try to seek assistance. And I think with so demean in all of this was the fact that, you know, he put his pride to the side, you know, as a man that was the provider for his family and reached out for help. And then as a family, they were told that, oh, it would be better off if you weren’t married, essentially because more would be afforded to your wife and your child. Essentially, they said that we could take care of your family better than you could take care of your family. And that would in itself is the meaning that would in itself is the is the the probably one of the most in one of the easiest things that could make a band that is primarily the provider in its household to feel hopeless. [00:01:45]
Derrick: I keep trying to keep my head up because I’m afraid of having doubts. At times, I feel like. Whenever I do have a doubt something bad happens, I feel like it comes in the form of. You know, if you start thinking it happens, so I want to fill out the domestic, like, you know, the best is going to come and the best is just right there on the edge. And I know it’s not that far, but it becomes difficult and seeing it being there. But I have faith that it’s there and. Is this a struggle in trying to. Be so negative, Marty, and see myself back. In a sad position and feeling sadness and being sad and being doubtful, I mean, it’s a struggle. [00:01:13]
Anita: You’re listening to Life During COVID on Making Contact. To stay up to date with our shows and get more information about the people profiled in this episode, visit radio project.org. Now back to the show.[11SECS]
FADE OUT MUSIC –
Anita: For most parents, balancing children and a career can be stressful. For some, simple everyday issues can become magnified and seemingly insurmountable. For parents, like Shannette Jackson, anxieties were heightened while balancing both work and parenthood during the pandemic.
Shannette Jackson: I was taking my phone call from my phone for this particular meeting because I had to pick up books from my children’s school and so on, on my call with the executive staff and some other members of my team. And I’m thinking that I muted myself. And I told I was telling my children to put their shoes on because we had to run out and go pick up their books. And so my son kept asking me why, where are we going? Why do I have to go to your shoes? And I try to visit him just on your shoes so we can go. And he kept repeating why I’m in this meeting. And at some point during this call, as I was moving around, and unmuted myself and I did not know.
And so he asked me one more time and I said, can you please go put on your blankety shoes? Thank you. And my boss says, shanette, you know, the mute button works, right? and I was like, oh, God, Lord have mercy. I would say that was the height of my anxiety right there, that moment.
I was completely stressed out and thoroughly embarrassed by it. I got several text messages and emails that were like that was like the best thing ever out there. People were like, so like really happy to hear me be a human being, like, to be normal. Someone emailed me was like that was like the real estate that I’ve heard all week. It was like the best thing that I’ve heard because a lot of us were dealing with the same thing. But I just happen to be the one that got caught, like really kind of barking and like snapping at one. It helped people go, yes, I’m not the only one, but two, it actually helped me realize, like, you’re going to have to exercise more patience with these children, because if you said anything to them that you didn’t want your team to hear, that you shouldn’t say it to them at all. So it actually kind of put me in the place to where I was going to have to be a lot more understanding towards them because we were in this together and I didn’t want it to be a negative experience of just like our anxieties bouncing off of each other the whole time we were at home. That would be disastrous for the children. It would be disastrous for me as a mother would be epic fail. So I think that was the point at the height of my anxiety where I realized that I had to change the paradigm. I had to really rethink how I was going to proceed with homeschooling and balancing out my work and my children’s.
Daja Mayner: For a lot of professionals, this pandemic has really like the kind of ethos is that people are to become superhuman and in that, you know, like kind of forego the humanity. And and what I mean by that is, you know, if you’re you’re working from home and that’s also where you’re parenting and all these other things, you’re human.
Anita: Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Daja Mayner offers insight about Shanette’s situation, and the all too familiar challenge of juggling kids and work during the pandemic.
Daja Mayner: They’re showing up. You know, you should almost be expected. And instead, it’s kind of like, oh, my gosh, people are sort of like mean people are in a position to be embarrassed by that. And so I feel like that’s sort of where my mind initially came up with. This is just this weird kind of like juxtaposition about how human the pandemic has kind of made us made us realize that we are or this kind of force us to be sort of speak juxtaposition to this. Like, you know, you’ve got to do more. You should be available. You should like all of these kind of like internal narratives about what we should be doing and how we should be handling it. And that ultimately turning into some pretty unrealistic expectations for people. That’s kind of the first piece. The second piece, though, specific to that profound insight that that this person had, like, you know, like sort of her encouraging herself to do a little bit more probing, probing deeper, like, well, what is it about this that made me embarrassed and realizing that it’s literally about I wouldn’t want anyone to know that I talk to my kids like that. It seems like it really set up the circumstances for her to consider how her child is impacted and encourage her to make a change. And I think that that is phenomenal. I’d be like, you know, if she was sort of my client, I’d be praising her not only for the grace that she’s extending, but also for her, her willingness to sort of like take ownership of what’s happening and kind of commit herself to wanting to do something different.
Anita: For many parents the struggle to incorporate their new normal and meet realistic parenting expectations was a challenge. Therapist Daja Mayner.
Daja Mayner: parenting in general doesn’t come with a manual. And so but to be going through something that is a once in a lifetime kind of situation, a couple of lifetimes situation, you know, for you to even conceptualize any kind of expectation around yourself and then. What’s the word like villainize yourself for not meeting that expectation is a bit far fetched and I would try to come to it from that perspective, like, you know, the way you’re sounding. What are you talking about? This it sounds like you’ve been to this before. Maybe like, no, I’ve never done this before. Exactly. You are. You’re flying the plane as you build it. And that sort of that that recognition alone has to has to necessitate some grace. I would also say, you know, this the port like the boundaries piece. I think a lot of people know what I should say the other way. I feel like many people my. Had already kind of had some ideas about how they could improve maybe the work life balance or, you know, their boundaries around work as to how it’s impacting their family. I mean, I think the pandemic, or at least it’s been in my experience, the pandemic really exploded people’s concerns around that because there wasn’t any any more like strict demarcation between like when you’re at home and when you’re at work and the ways that you had previously been able to encourage people to use that as that kind of like signaling. Right. Like when you hit the door from coming home from your office, you’re in mommy mode and it’s OK to leave everything behind. But really, you know, with the kitchen table became your office, too, as as well as where your kids you know what, you have dinner with your kids, whatever it that. That kind of a conceptualization, you know, those strategies no longer worked, that is that sort of clear? Yes. And so I would say people really kind of struggled with. Sort of feeling like they just were not doing a good job because they did not know how, and I would just encourage people like you would not know how. So we could work together to create some some, you know, realistic expectations, you know, and understanding that you’re not losing your footing with your children because they have never seen you like this way before.
Anita: Over the course of the pandemic …many people were trying to figure out their new normal – for many, the “unknowns” were humbling and caused people like Derrick to reflect on what’s most precious in life.
Derrick: I want to be a man who stands up and works and help provide and and be there for his family. I want to be in my daughter’s life, not just the man that said I want to be in my daughter’s life and have to fight for, you know, visiting and so forth and half custody and blah, blah. I’m not trying to separate from my wife neither.
Anita: Derrick has worked the majority of his adult life. When married in 2017, he was the sole provider for his family. However,the past couple of years have been rocky, with unstable employment and a range of health problems. And to complicate his situation further, Derrick has sickle cell anemia, and due to a torn meniscus. His wife depends on a walker to get around. Together they are trying to earn a living, care for each other, and their child. But it hasn’t been easy.
Derrick: I’m trying to be a man, stands there, holds the hand of his wife and child, and being the life and work to continue to be able to try to put food on the table. And at the moment, I’m unable to work, so, yes, I am also relying upon the government to help assist me with that as well. But that should not make me any less of a man. I just pray for us to be able to survive. I mean, I pray them everything, just prayed and prayed and prayed with, you know, hoping that something would come around, because it just it just really had been tough.
Asantewaa Boykin: It’s rough, man, I might need a therapist man, I can’t front.
Anita: Asantewaa Boykin is a registered ER nurse in Sacramento, Ca.
Asantewaa Boykin: I don’t think that I have as someone who’s been on the front line has been intentional about unpacking the trauma of last year. I would encourage that anyone would go about doing that but there are moments where I’m just like, [expletive] . One, I lived. Two, oh my God, nobody close to me died from this [expletive]. Like, it’s a waiver between feeling grateful and guilty. And feeling like, you know, thrown away and also praised at the same time, like, oh my God, you’re a hero, like but why wouldn’t you [expletive] wear masks, though, so people don’t get sick? Right. So, yeah I might have to go see a therapist for myself specifically, but not today.
Anita:18 Asantewaa’s expressed emotions of survivor’s remorse aren’t uncommon…Clinical Therapist, Daja Mayner
Daja Mayner: People are often conditioned to consider how much worse someone else has it and. While I think that there are some admirable kind of like motivations behind that, you’re hoping to teach people to become more empathetic, you know, become less self-centered, what ultimately is happening, or at least what I often find to be happening, is people are invalidating their own emotional experiences as a result of thinking about how much worse someone else has it. And I and so as such, I’m like, yes, it might be different for someone else, but that does not mean that you’re not feeling any less of what you’re feeling.
Anita: The pandemic has forced us to face harsh realities, and no one has been closer to the heartbreak and pain caused by Covid than our frontline workers, like Amy Arlund, the RN from Fresno who we heard from earlier.
Amy Arlund: The breakthrough moment for me was one of my therapists, I swear I’ll be with him forever is just teaching me. I don’t even know I think the biggest part of it was learning how to get past the fear. You know, fear is the mind killer, it’s the one thing that really holds so many people back from doing the things that they need to do in their lives. And I lived in so much fear all of the time that it was what he called radical acceptance. I had to learn to get past the fear and find my courage to keep going.
Anita: For Making Contact, I’m Anita Johnson.
You’ve been listening to Life During COVID on Making Contact. Thanks to all the participants, experts, who contributed to this week’s episode, if you suspect that you or someone you know may be struggling with anxiety or depression contact the National Helpline at 1800-662-HELP.
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The Making Contact Team includes the executive director, Sonya Green, Monica Lopez, Salima Hamirani, Sabine Blazin and I’m Anita Johnson.
Thank you for listening to Making Contact.