By Melissa Draughn, LMSW, Director of Social Work
I have been diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders, hyperthyroidism and Multiple Sclerosis. It has been a long, difficult journey that ultimately taught me to be more mindful of my health. I won’t say I have been perfect about it but I have definitely become more careful and consistent. I also had to adapt to a new normal. And so of course, when I had just reached my best level of health maintenance, a pandemic happened. I was forced yet again to adapt to a new normal.
A big part of my new normal has been to severely limit my in-person social interactions. As a social worker and member of a fairly large family, I was accustomed to being around people, but I didn’t realize it until it became unwise to do so. The hardest adjustment was ceasing my weekly visits with my grandmother and parents. My grandmother is 92 years old and my parents, who are also her main caregivers, are in their mid-60s. We are in two different high-risk populations and the way I could show I cared was to stop physically showing up. We do however maintain contact by phone on a regular basis and the occasional video chat. It has been enough so far.
With the subtraction of face-to-face social interactions came the addition of increased fear. Fear has perhaps been the biggest obstacle during this time. Every sneeze was followed by a ‘what if’. It took me two weeks to leave the apartment for anything. I spent those two weeks distracting myself with work and streaming services. This phase, however, wasn’t sustainable. I am far from an extrovert or an outdoors person, but the first walk I took in the driveway greatly improved my mood and motivation.
As the fear lessened, I was able to absorb the facts. People, such as myself, taking disease-modifying treatments are more at risk for severe illness should we become infected with COVID-19. The stakes are higher but taking the necessary precautions, such as social distancing, increased hand washing and cleaning frequently used surfaces is still the best game plan. I was already doing some of these actions, but I am now more mindful of their importance. I also continue to take my medication as prescribed and will only make changes after speaking with my specialist.
The source of your information is also an important factor in managing fear. It is easy to become overwhelmed with multiple and conflicting pieces of information. I rely on updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or trusted organizations such as the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) for guidelines and recommendations rather than word of mouth. There are also different national societies for different diseases such as The National MS Society and National Lupus Resource Center that might be more helpful if you are looking to be more specific. Finally, I check in with my family members on a regular basis so that they know I’m okay. I find that it’s important to do this because it’s not just my fear that matters.
In closing, I want to remind you that our Zena Baum Senior Center hotline is available Monday through Friday from 9am – 5pm to help connect you with the resources you may need or to just lend a listening ear. You can find the phone number and email address below.