How Quarantine Helped My Mental Health

January started out promising. At the start of each year, my hope is renewed, although my energy levels are low. Making it through the holiday season at the end of each year is always a challenge for me. I struggle with seasonal affective disorder and every year the cold temperatures and shorter days make it almost impossible for me to put up with the stress. This year that effect was delayed by a three-week-long trip to South America in November, which allowed me to skip Thanksgiving. One holiday I didn’t have to stress out about this year. I spent Thanksgiving Day sitting through a five-hour layover in a Panama airport, looking out onto the runway through the glass, while my flight was delayed by an extra two hours because of a rainstorm. No worries about cooking, dressing up or making it to anyone’s house on time. 

Spending most of November in 85+ degree weather gave me just enough energy to get through Christmas, and by the end of the year I was glad it was all over. I was looking forward to the New Year. These days, spending December 31st  at home, with a glass of champagne and watching the ball drop on tv is the perfect way to celebrate. The days of spending New Years at someone’s crowded house party, getting plastered are only a distant memory at this point. I’m tired now, and I love being cozy in my slippers, sitting on my couch under my fuzzy blanket, with my glass of champagne. Sometimes I even have a second glass. That’s the life.

I started out 2020 already tired. I made plans, set goals, but I was tired. “I’ll get there” I thought, but I’ll need a nap first. It was cold, dark and my energy was gone. Nothing new here, this is the yearly routine I go through. By the time spring comes back, and the leaves start growing on the trees again, I’m back to being myself, but for the first 3-4 months of the year, I’m a sleepy, distracted, irritable, sad mess. On top of all that, I caught a cold. I was a sleepy, distracted, irritable, sad and sniffly mess. During this time, I can only do the bare minimum. Maximum effort, minimum results. Every year I fool myself into thinking “I will push through it. I will keep up with things” and every year I feel disappointed in myself when I can’t. This year started out the same way, except things did change a little bit. Then they changed a lot. 

I was a sleepy, distracted, irritable, sad and sniffly mess. During this time, I can only do the bare minimum. Maximum effort, minimum results.

On Martin Luther King Jr Day, I decided to stop by the pharmacy on my way home from work. My husband and I had made the decision that this would be the year we would start trying to have a family. That decision was made a little bit over one month before, and I figured I’d buy a pregnancy test to clear my mind of the fact that my period was a week late. It turns out my period wasn’t just “irregular” because I had gotten off birth control. I was 4-5 weeks pregnant. Holy Shit!

It was one of those moments when it feels like the entire world stops, as my vision tunneled onto those two stripes on that positive test. Who knew this would happen so quickly? Surprised and grateful, excited and freaked out; those were some of the emotions my husband and I felt that day. “Our lives are about to change” I thought, not realizing how much MY life was about to change in just a few weeks, and how much THE ENTIRE WORLD would change in just a couple months. 

Remember a couple paragraphs ago when I mentioned how tired I was? Yeah… “tired” is an understatement. I became completely drained of any energy to do absolutely anything at all. How can a cluster of cells the size of a lentil suck up so much energy out of an adult body? I could fall asleep standing up, sitting up, laying down, potentially even while walking. Any and all times of day. Then my day-time sleep started affecting my night-time sleep just around the same time the nausea kicked in. And by the way, I am abolishing the term “morning sickness”. It’s a lie. I was lied to my whole life, being made to believe that it has anything to do with the morning. Try “all-day all-night sickness”. I became sensitive to smells. All smells. Good, bad, any smells. Then (this one is fun) I became nauseated by water. Yes, the substance we all need in order to survive. Drinking water made me nauseous. I couldn’t ride in a car, nor drive a car without feeling nauseous. Going to work was unbearable because I couldn’t sit through a meeting without feeling like I was about to throw up.

The one time a month when I would lay on the ultrasound table, watch that little blob moving on the screen, and listen to that heartbeat, was the only time I felt joyful. I was so grateful to be growing a life, but man, was it hard! I felt so physically sick and exhausted all day, every day, that every night I would sit on the edge of my bathtub and cry. I’ve been through depression many times before, and I can assure you, it felt a lot like this. Can someone be grateful and excited, but also miserable at the same time? Apparently yes. I was grateful for the project of a human I was growing in my womb, but I certainly was not grateful for feeling sick day and night. I was excited to have a beautiful baby in a few months, but what I was going through in that moment was making me absolutely miserable.

Can someone be grateful and excited, but also miserable at the same time? Apparently yes.

March started off just as miserable as the couple months before. I struggled to sleep at night, struggled to stay awake and off the couch through the day, struggled to go to work and make it through every hour of every day. I was told I would feel better as soon as the second trimester started, and I was counting the days. Then the world around me started changing, fast. We had all heard about the coronavirus, and how it had hit the U.S. a few weeks prior. It was scary how fast it was spreading. New York was getting hit hard, could it get that bad in Massachusetts? In an attempt to prevent just that, the governor issued a state-wide stay at home order, and the closing of all non-essential businesses. I work in the medical field, but as a medical interpreter contractor I have the ability to choose my own hours and work as much or as little as I want. Also, I’m pregnant, so should I be going to work?

By then, schools had closed, most non-urgent medical appointments were cancelled and because of that, all cases I had been scheduled to work were called off. After consulting my doctor, I came to the conclusion that the best course of action to preserve mine and my unborn baby’s health was to stay home. I feel very passionate about serving my community through my work, but I felt in my heart that if there’s a time when it is acceptable to be a little “selfish” and think about my own well-being, is while pregnant during a global pandemic. 

… if there’s a time when it is acceptable to be a little “selfish” and think about my own well-being, is while pregnant during a global pandemic. 

My doctor wrote a letter recommending that, since I am pregnant, I should stay home during this quarantine period. The idea of not having to drive to different places every day for work and be in contact with dozens of different people every week gave me peace of mind. My husband started working from home that same week. Knowing that lessening exposure meant I lowered my chances of contracting the virus while pregnant, was all the reassurance I needed to feel a bit more at ease. I had been feeling so sick and exhausted for the last few months, that I desperately needed that break. I needed it physically, mentally and emotionally. I finally felt like I could rest, for the first time in a long time. 

It’s terrifying what’s been happening in the world around me, but I must say that, in the safety of my home, I am at peace. I do feel a sense of guilt being in such a privileged position, considering so many people are still working, and facing all the risks that come with leaving their homes every day. The only sliver of justification I have to be in this position right now is the fact that I am growing a tiny life inside me, and I feel the obligation to protect it at all costs. It’s not actually about me anymore, it’s about my unborn child. My sense of guilt comes from making this about my own safety (which by the way, I and every human on Earth is entitled to) but the truth is that, it’s not about myself anymore. I now have another life to think about, so I try to work on eliminating the guilt, and focusing on gratitude for being able to be in this position during this chaotic time we’re living through.

My most real sentiment through all this is that I desperately needed to take a break. I needed a break from being hard on myself for not accomplishing simple tasks during a time of year when I simply am not able to function normally. I needed a break from feeling drained and exhausted every day. I needed a break from suffering from insomnia night after night, but still expecting myself to get through daily activities. I needed a break from a job that requires a lot of attention, extreme focus, a pleasant attitude no matter what and frankly, an enormous amount of emotional resilience at times. I just needed a break. My heart aches for all the medical workers who are facing this challenge head on, for all the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost loved ones throughout this horrible pandemic, and for those who are uncertain about the future and have to keep working and risking their health in order to feed their families. I recognize my privilege in being able to stay safe at home, I feel wholeheartedly grateful for it, and every day I pray for those that are not so fortunate and hope that all this will be over sooner rather than later.