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    Meyer: The Walking Living after COVID-19

    By Melissa Meyer, MS, LPCC-S
    Marion Star — Guest columnist

    COVID-19 and the events of the last 18 months may not equate to a zombie apocalypse. But as I see more and more live faces unmagnified by a Zoom square, I still see the kind of shell shock exhibited by Sheriff Rick Grimes and his band of survivors on the long-running AMC TV series.

    I call it The Walking Living.

    Statistics confirm my observations. Self-reported surveys collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the number of people reporting anxiety issues tripled between 2019 and 2020. The people identifying as depressed quadrupled.

    Communities like Marion must rebound from more than a pandemic. We already struggled with substance abuse and overdose deaths. COVID simply compounded these challenges. CDC research found that COVID pushed 13% more people to resort to drugs or alcohol. Others delayed or completely stopped treatment for fear of exposure to the virus.

    We also fell prey to the pandemic’s financial fallout. As reported in the Marion Star, more than 5,000 of us filed for unemployment benefits in March of 2020. Employers hurt, too. Many small business owners, especially those in the restaurant, retail and hospitality industries, lost significant revenue.

    It clearly bears repeating: Take a deep breath. The apocalypse is over. Let’s now put what happened in the context that hindsight affords us.

    We’ve all experienced some degree of what behavioral health clinicians call trauma. Trauma doesn’t have to be some terrible, life-altering event like war, a car accident or a violent attack. It can be anything that disorients you enough to mangle your sense of what the world should be, something that scrambles your thoughts about life’s meaning, purpose or fairness.

    Think of trauma like an accident or glitch that occurs when you are carefully navigating a balance beam. Even if you don’t fall and injure yourself, one slip, one hesitation, jeopardizes your confidence and equanimity. Trauma can result from any event or incident that shakes us enough to question our world view and compound our sense of helplessness.

    Trauma is not a sign of weakness or instability. Strong, capable folks can be tripped by psychological and physical damage. In fact, trauma can alter how our brain physically functions. That’s why some of us get “stuck” and repeatedly relive debilitating experiences.

    I’ve written before about positive steps to cope with COVID and its immediate after-effects. Today I want to write about how to move on and let go using rituals and celebrations.

    Rituals, or specific actions or ceremonies that involve acting in a certain way, can be very helpful to our ability to release pain or uneasiness. Just as some light candles on church altars or place flowers on a loved one’s grave to deal with grief, rituals might help you fully set free all the negativity of COVID-19. Make a donation to a public health agency that gave out free vaccines, create a list of things that you were grateful for and helped you get through the pandemic, invite a neighbor over and intentionally sit three feet from one another — pick an approach that helps you find peace and reinforces the idea that the pain is history.

    Next, celebrate. You’ve officially crossed the finish line. Enjoy the victory. Host a cook-out, travel or spend time outdoors, embrace an older parent or family member who may have been isolated for extreme periods, or tune into a movie or a concert. The possibilities are endless but the point is the same: treat yourself for running the gauntlet that was COVID-19.

    Make the land of The Walking Living a happier, healthier place for you and others.

    If you or a loved one need extra help dealing with mental or addiction challenges, call Maryhaven in Marion at 740-375-5550.

    Melissa Meyer, MS, LPCC-S, is director of Regional Services for Maryhaven, Central Ohio’s largest and most comprehensive behavioral health services provider specializing in addiction recovery.

    Read in the Marion Star