603 Stories Podcast February Edition – 2022

JACE: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the hosts and guests and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of NAMI New Hampshire or the organization’s funders. All individuals and personal experiences are different. Please connect with your primary care provider or a mental health professional to seek advice regarding any condition you may experience. NAMI New Hampshire does not endorse or advise specific treatments. For 24/7 crisis Help contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text NNAMI to the crisis text line at 741-741 or call 911.

Welcome to the 603 Stories podcast, a monthly mental health podcast, made by young adults, for young adults. Where we share stories, make connections and find hope. Any ads throughout this podcast are not associated with 603 Stories or the 603 Stories podcast. There will be sensitive subjects discussed during this podcast, should you need them the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 or you can text the crisis text line by texting 741-741.

JACE: Hello Everyone and welcome to 603 Stories, Season 2. I’m Jace…

HEATHER: And I’m Heather…

JACE: and this is a mental health podcast by young adults for young adults.

HEATHER: That being said, Jace and I are not professionals, we are just two folks who are passionate about mental health. Today, we will be sharing some of our own personal impact statements as well as some statements shared from our listeners. We figured because we are coming up on year 3, unfortunately, of the pandemic that this would be a prime time to be able to kind of dive in on the impact of covid which has obviously, you know, hit us all really hard. So, Jace, give us an update, what’s been going on with you?

JACE: Covid has had a pretty big impact on my life, maybe not as much as others, but at the very beginning of the pandemic I had roommates, so it wasn’t as tough as it was for some people that maybe were living alone or didn’t have a community of people to support them during that time. So, the beginning of the pandemic wasn’t too difficult for me just because I felt like I had that support. Going forward, my roommate’s ended up moving out and I noticed that that’s when covid-19 really started to affect me because I was working from home and I’m quite the social butterfly, but not having that social interaction everyday really started to wear on my mental health. But, around that time, I feel like, that’s when a lot of my friends were feeling similarly and we started coming up with ways to safely see each other whether that be social distancing or zooming, but we found ways to come out and support each other during that time while still being safe. How about you Heather?

HEATHER: You know, right in the stress of the pandemic, when things first hit, I was a “essential worker” working at a grocery store. So, while most of the folks I knew were kind of being able to cozy up indoors, you know, though they were isolating, I just never had that luxury. I’m also someone who does suffer from chronic illnesses, so, I am higher risk. So, being forced to continue to interact with the public, there was so much uncertainty, with, like, what’s safe, what do we do, do we wear masks, do we wear gloves, can I stand next to this person? Really having to, like, hash all of that out, like, while on the floor interacting with strangers, interacting with coworkers was… so… like the first couple months for me was really, really, really hard. But, as things kind of started to level out, obviously that’s helpful,you know I started to kind of come out of the you know, just going to work, coming home, going to bed because of the stress on my body. And I ended up finding a new job where I was coming in way less contact with the public and it’s actually where I met Jace. And it just made me feel like I had a lot more purpose and a lot more opportunity to grow because if I was feeling really stuck where I was. Especially considering the chaotic circumstances. So…

JACE: I can imagine that it felt a lot safer too, since you were coming in contact with the public as much.

HEATHER: Yes, I mean I was still having, like, a fair amount of contact but it was at least like the same people every single day. You know you know what you’re getting into a bit more versus the general public, you don’t really know where they’re coming from. It’s just a lot more gray area, um, so, honestly like first chunk of the pandemic was really, really, really hard for me, but it got easier and honestly I put in, like, a lot of work on myself and I just had a lot of opportunity for growth and so like I look on to the past couple years and it’s nice. Like, I’ve, I’ve grown I’ve taken the opportunity to kind of filter through and see what works for me what doesn’t and it’s been hugely beneficial. Obviously, there’s still you know the stresses that are sprinkled in there, you know trying to see folks and have a social life while still being safe and having precautions. Or, you know, even having loved ones who are not taking things as seriously as I would hope they would definitely carried pretty heavily on myself, but sprinkled in there, there was a lot, a lot, a lot of positive things. 

JACE: It’s really interesting to see how the beginning of the pandemic was easier for me and harder for you and then we kind of flip-flopped and after a little while it became harder for me and it got slightly easier for you or just more… I guess we just acclimated a bit more. It doesn’t necessarily get easier at any point.

HEATHER: I mean it just kind of shows that, you know, regardless of the fact that everybody is going through a stressful time and we’re all experiencing it in a completely different way. You know, so we can kind of have like the unison and support of like “yeah we’re all going through a tough time” but it doesn’t always make it easier as an individual you know when you’re going through it on your own. 

JACE: So, right now we’re going to jump in and talk about some of our listeners’ experiences. We will share some quotes, but we will also be summarizing some of what our listeners submitted to us because we got so many responses, even more than I was expecting and because of that we’re going to have to summarize some things because otherwise we’re going to be here all night! So, some of the repeated topics that we saw coming up and we’re going to be discussing today were: how covid-19 impacted people’s school, work, family, social life, and anxiety and depression. Those were probably the five things that we saw come up the most. But, at the same time we would like to mention that people talked a lot about how covid opened the door for people to realize that they weren’t alone when they’re struggling with their mental health and covid-19 was kind of the push that they needed to finally start seeking help. I know that I personally spent a lot of time on social media during the beginning of the pandemic and during that time I found so many groups and just supportive people and it was really nice to see the community coming together while we were all apart to take mental health seriously and make sure that we’re all checking on our neighbors, checking in on our friends and just kind of seeing how people are doing. 

HEATHER: Absolutely, and I think now more than ever, there’s just been a huge reduction in stigma surrounding mental health and opening the door for conversations like the one that we’re having right now. It’s definitely a two sided coin. You know, pros/ cons and to kind of explore that a little bit, I do want to share a quote from one of our listeners and they say “I was able to lean into my introverted side and relax when I needed to, without added stress of feeling like I need to be social. It’s been a mixed bag.”

JACE: I really like how this person put a positive spin on covid because although it is something that has been so devastating to so many people, it’s interesting to see how, especially introverted people, have to go out and socialize and run their social battery so low, every single day, just to get by. And now there’s this opportunity…

HEATHER: We don’t need an excuse! We have a built in excuse to stay home! 

JACE: Exactly!

HEATHER: Don’t want to do something, sorry! I’m Isolating. [Laughter, Jace and Heather] mmm too bad!

JACE: But, now it’s like, we are realizing, to help people be their most functional selves, we have options, that we weren’t exploring before. Remote work has been incredible for some people. Some people feel like they can get so much more done and it’s just never something that I feel like was explored, before we had to.

HEATHER: Absolutely…

JACE: But, on the flip side of that coin, uh, this is a quote from one of our listeners that said “going in public is very important to my mental health because I need to talk to people. I need to be heard. It’s impossible when I can’t make it to appointments because someone was exposed to mental illness. It is hard to deal with alone.”

HEATHER: It is hard to deal with alone and I just want to take a second to share, you know, you aren’t alone in this. Me, Jace and a lot of incredible people that we know and don’t know, are also going through it

JACE: There’s always supports out there to help you with what you’re going through and although it can be daunting and scary to reach out and make those connections…

HEATHER: It’s absolutely worth it.

JACE: It’s absolutely worth it, because we need you here.

HEATHER: So, to dive into a little bit of our other topics, you know, obviously the social impact was one that we hear over and over and over again. It has a little bit less stigma surrounding it versus, like anxiety and depression and some of the heavier things. But, we just read over and over and over again about the anxiety that all of these changes and uncertainty really put on people, you know, whether it’s having to worry about, you know, you have allergies or a cold or a sore throat and all of a sudden, you know, you’re running through your brain, like, is this covid, do I need to get tested, do I need to isolate. It’s putting a lot more on you than typically you would have.

JACE: It can be so stressful too, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when we didn’t know as much. I remember, I started having a panic attack one night, um, one of my more minor ones, um, but one of the symptoms I get when I have panic attacks is a tightness in my chest and so I started having this panic attack and feeling this tightness in my chest and I very vividly remember my roommate saying to me “that’s one of the symptoms of covid. And from there not knowing what the symptoms were or how dangerous it was because at that point the numbers were changing everyday and it was a matter of like there’s this many deaths and then the next day it was like ok there’s thousands more and thousands more and I just had this fear that like, either it as going to be me or it was going to be me that caused one of my loved ones to get it.

HEATHER: That experience, the, like just complete lack of knowledge, you know, the complete unknown that we were experiencing at that time, and to an extent still continue to, you know because this can be a high risk situation and we want to take care of people that we love.

JACE: And at the beginning I just remember people flooding social media saying “everyone just stay home. If we all just stay home for two weeks then it’ll go away and then everything can go back to normal.” And at this point…

HEATHER: This is the normal…

JACE: I don’t even know what it would be like to go back to that normal. I honestly can’t even imagine walking into a store without a mask on. Getting back to that normal was always our goal but now…

HEATHER: Do we really want to get back to normal?

JACE: I feel like it would be such an adjustment for me. Like, unlearning all the things that I just spent so long making sure that I was vigilant about and making sure that I was super on top of because I wanted to protect myself and my friends and my neighbors and my family. Now we’re talkin about going back to this ‘normal’ but at this point… it’s not normal anymore and it’s going to be like relearning how to go through life again.

HEATHER: Absolutely, and honestly, like, rewinding for a second to something that you shared at the beginning about, you know, certain accommodations being made, as far as, like, working from home, things like that. That just were never an option before or even like this being, you know, a conversation starter for, you know, talking about mental health. Do we want to go back to normal? Like, to, to normal. You know was that really the best we could have been doing? You know there’s got to be a happy medium. It can’t be an all at once, it’s got to be a transition but we’ll get somewhere eventually.

JACE: And that’s such a great point. If we were able to just flip a switch and go back, it would throw so many people off because being able to work remotely and now having access to everything that’s being passed in our state legislatively. Having that being recorded as opposed to having to be there in person and the fact that they’re letting people testify virtually, changed the game for so many people. Especially on bills that were impacting people with less mobility or people all the way in the northern part of the state or…

HEATHER: if you don’t have a vehicle or can’t transport yourself.

JACE: Yeah, people that couldn’t drive…

HEATHER: It’s a difficult thing to digest for me because, yes, it’s a blessing that all of these things have changed and fingers crossed will stay this way, but it’s also showing that it was possible to offer all of these accommodations that disabled folks have been denied for their entire lives.

JACE: So, hopefully people start seeing the positive impacts that it is having and start realizing how much it’s improved the quality of life for these disabled individuals or…

HEATHER: Yeah, I mean, it’s an issue of accessibility. You know, whether, again, like something income-related or you know, like, you don’t have a vehicle you don’t have the luxury of taking a day off from work, you know, you don’t have the physical ability to, you know, bring yourself to XYZ place.

JACE: And that’s another thing about the pandemic that a lot of people talked about. “Oh, now everyone’s going to be working remotely, pack up all your things and go home,” but also just what it’s been like trying to navigate the pandemic as a whole. I know that a lot of people have been worried about money and financial stability because, to me at least, sometimes there’s just no right answer…

HEATHER: Absolutely.

JACE: So, now let’s kind of jump into family, a lot of people mentioned, in their descriptions of covid impact, to us that family was a really tough one. Whether that meant not being able to see your family or hug your family members…

HEATHER: Or being stuck with your family…

JACE: Or being stuck with your family, for looong periods of time! Family was just… it just kept coming up and so lets talk about what that looked like for some people.

HEATHER: Um, I mean, I know many folx, you know, both folx I know in my own life as well as listener submissions… they went longer than they ever had without seeing family because of travel restrictions or, you know, uncertainty about flying to visit family or even like, you know, “okay I want to fly to see my family but I just traveled out of state now I need to quarantine for 2 weeks on top of the time that I just spent traveling,” you know, and again it kind of loops back to the whole, like, work income thing. But, it just created so many more barriers for, you know, anyone really to be able to interact in a way that they typically would.

JACE: And on the more extreme end we were getting comments like this quote “My Nana is in the hospital on a ventilator because it has damaged her lungs more than they already were.” So, not only are we missing out on these experiences, like spending the holidays with our family and being able to hug the people that we love, but…

HEATHER: Massive, massive loss.

JACE: But, covid is… just has been taking away the people that we love and sometimes we’ve had family members, friends stuck on ventilators…

HEATHER: Even, like, friends of friends and having to see, you know, the people you care about…

JACE: Not knowing the depth of the impact that covid might have on someone. Some people got it and it felt like nothing more than a cold, but then other people got it and we’re on a ventilator.

HEATHER: Some people lived in fear and had to isolate and, you know, some people continue to go out to bars and parties, you know, live life without restrictions. It’s been a couple years of just living in extremes.

JACE: I feel like, I don’t know, I mean I have family members that are one extreme where as I’m the other extreme and it’s put strain on our relationship because I don’t understand how they can go through a pandemic with the mindset that they have and it’s stressful.

HEATHER: That is so relatable. Whether it’s family or friends it’s hard to, you know, look at someone and see them doing something that, you know, you feel is causing direct harm either to others or yourself and continue to maintain that relationship or continue without tension…

JACE: And that strain on relationships, I know personally, there are people in my life that we just don’t talk anymore and I know that there are other listeners that sent in responses that talked a lot about how there are people that just aren’t a part of our lives anymore.

HEATHER: And it’s for the better.

JACE: Well, whether that be because of differences of opinion in this case, or because when the world had to isolate, people stopped reaching out…

HEATHER: Yeah, so things fizzled.

JACE: Yeah and those people that we thought were so close and some of our strongest supporters and just part of our support system ended up just disappearing almost overnight.

HEATHER: If their not… It’s almost a matter of, like, object permanence. Like, if they’re not right in front of you the relationships not there. 

JACE: But, honestly, and I know it was really eye opening to see the people that did stick around because some of them were not the people I would have expected to constantly be checking in on me and making sure that I was okay when I was living alone during the pandemic and working from home and just having those people that really showed up for me in that time really kind of opened my eyes to “what is a healthy relationship” and “what is a healthy friendship” and, I don’t know… It’s just… this pandemic has more silver linings than I thought about.

HEATHER: Yes and honestly, like, that is part of, like, the growth that I’ve experienced in the past couple years. You know, one, being able to set clear boundaries with people, you know like,  every reason is valid every time or like whenever you need a boundary for, but because of like the severity of covid you feel like you have a valid excuse to be like “nope not going to that party, nope not seeing family, nope not doing that” where you know, you might not have had the comfortability to do that before. So, like, I really flexed that muscle and grew the ability to advocate for myself. Say “no” as well as a million other things that I probably would not be able to think of at the moment…

JACE: And boy has it been wonderful to watch you learn how to do that.

HEATHER: And it also gave me the opportunity to see, you know, who in my life values me as a chronically ill person, who prioritized my safety, who was willing to go the extra mile to make sure that I felt safe and comfortable. So, yeah, like it cause strain, there were people I was disappointed in, but it filtered out a lot of unhealthy relationships, you know, cuz it put that relationship under a magnifying glass.

JACE: If nothing more covid was a really good filter, social filter…

HEATHER: Absolutely. So, we received a very heavy hitting listener submission that we really would like to take an opportunity to share and highlight. So, this listener said “the covid-19 pandemic has been incredibly isolating and has negatively impacted my mental health in a lot of ways. As a disabled individual many covid guidelines devalued disable people’s lives by saying our deaths are an acceptable loss or less important than otherwise “healthy people’s” deaths. It has been difficult watching people close to myself disregard and disrespect my safety and boundaries. It has been especially hard to be on social media and watching people ignore safety precautions, while you’re at home wrestling with the reality that you would likely die if you caught the virus. For two years disabled people have had to sacrifice almost everything in order to keep themselves safe. A lot of us, myself included, have had to delay essential medical care because the risk of contracting covid is too high. Quick trips to the grocery store or laundromat have become a large point of anxiety as so few people are wearing masks. Yet, this is the worst wave of the pandemic so far. I have also had to cut out a large portion of my friends for refusing to recognize the severity of the pandemic or its impact on people like me which has added to the effects of isolation. On the other hand having to cut out a lot of my friends has caused me to really evaluate who I spend my energy with. Which has given me a small group of intimate, safe and loving friendships.

JACE: Honestly, I think that just summarized everything that we’ve been talking about so far. It touched on anxiety, it touched on family, that quote talked about how disabling it’s been, but also how disrespectful it’s felt; for particularly chronically ill people. And I would really just like to restate the part where they said that they were staying at home wrestling with the reality that if they caught this virus they would die. And one death is too many and the fact that we have lost so many people to this virus, still breaks my heart, every single day.

HEATHER: Absolutely, this is a deep breathing  moment… Gotta… (breathes)

JACE: To our listeners if you need to pause and take a moment to breathe deeply, do light meditation, will be here when you’re ready. 

HEATHER: Yeah, this submission just wraps up a huge, complex, heavy, challenging… gift with a big old bow on it.

JACE: I’m gonna pause you right there. I like how you described it with all these negative words but still called it a gift because I… no… I really do like that… because even though it has been so challenging and it has been so difficult you can see by what some people are saying in their responses that we got to how cold it is impacted them, even though it has been extremely difficult, we’re still finding silver linings, we’re still finding new ways to make things more accessible. We’re still…

HEATHER: Highlighting the absolute resilience that we have.

JACE: Humans are awesome!

HEATHER: They’re terrifying… terrifyingly awesome [Laughter]

JACE: But, the fact that we can go through such a monumental experience and still find silver linings…

HEATHER: Still find joy, still find love…

JACE: That gives me hope. At the end of the day, that gives me hope. Honestly, the pandemic has changed all of us but I think one of the biggest takeaways that I’ve gotten from this is that discomfort makes growth necessary. And these past three years have been full of discomfort. I know for at least myself, I have become a stronger person, I’ve become more thoughtful in what I do and I’ve been more intentional about how I can keep other people safe at the end of the day.

HEATHER: I love that. I’ve already gone on my laundry list of growth opportunities that I’ve had, but I think, like, my biggest takeaway is seeing the value and the people around me who have, like you, taken the time to be intentional and that’s just huge.

JACE: anything for you my friend.

HEATHER: Alright, well, I think with that we are coming to a close, um, I’m sure we missed a ton of other topics and, um…

JACE: But, continue these conversations with your friends, with your family.

HEATHER: Let us know. Alright so, thank you for listening, welcome back.

JACE: And always remember that if you or someone you know are currently struggling with mental health or mental illness, please seek help. You’re worth it.

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