How Do You Confront an Identity Crisis During a Pandemic?

2020 has prompted me to question everything.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.
― H.P. Lovecraft

To my family, friends, and acquaintances: please read the following at face value. It is not a cry for help, a play for sympathy, or a prompt to initiate bringing me back into the fold. It simply is a reflection upon the uncertainties I, along with many others, are feeling at this time.

Truth be told, I have been feeling tenuous for a while now. Many of the ideologies I have woven into my identity have become threadbare. The events of 2020 have prompted me to take stock of my mental wardrobe: Are my convictions valuable or vintage? Can they continue to spark joy or do they provoke dismay? Do they fit me any more?

The modern definition of identity was proposed by Erik Erikson as his fifth stage of psychosocial development. While our primary personality is established during adolescence, he postulated that our sense of self develops throughout our entire lifespan. Our “ego identity,” according to Erikson, is constantly being shaped by our interactions and experiences with others. A challenge to your ego identity can occur at any time, most likely when one experiences a major life stressor such as losing a loved one, loss of employment, confronting health issues, or experiencing a traumatic event such as — I don’t know — a global pandemic.

Developmental psychologist James Marcia further elaborated on Erikson’s theory. He proposed identity is based on the exploration of a variety of life domains including intimate relationships, religion, politics, and occupation. The status of your identity is either in crisis — “a time of upheaval where old values or choices are being reexamined” — or committed to a role within these domains.

Fear of commitment

Welcome to my 2020. Or should I say, 5150? Except my current detention is looking more like 72 weeks instead of hours — perhaps even longer.

Full disclosure: This is not my first identity crisis rodeo. That occurred a dozen years ago when I became a widow. I envision identity like a lasso — twisted of multiple strands and used to secure yourself to someone or some ideal. When I lost my role as a wife, I clung to the other fibers of my life for strength. I was able to keep the rope somewhat intact until recent events have caused it to further unravel.

The first thread to break loose was with my church. Don’t misunderstand me, my core faith is as strong as ever, if not stronger. It’s just the man-made constructs that have disappointed me. When I was initially widowed, there were the standard outpourings of support and they were much appreciated. But once the dust settled, things took a turn. Slowly, steadily, (and I’m sure unintentionally) I was isolated. No longer included in couples’ events, I was relegated to coffee meetups and the occasional ladies’ lunch. Dinner party invites became nonexistent. I looked into the widows’ support group, but at 44, I was significantly younger than the rest of the members. There was no place I felt I belonged — or noticed for that matter. I would sit in the pew by myself, missing my husband more than ever. Feeling lonelier each time, I eventually stopped attending.

The next thread tattered by disillusion was my political affiliation. A lifelong Republican and Californian, I will never forget the feeling of being 18, newly registered, and attending a local Ronald Reagan reelection rally. I was thrilled to see a sitting president in person and proud to cast my first presidential vote for a man I felt possessed honor and character.

I wish I could generate anywhere near the same feeling of admiration for our current candidate. When did buddying up with our adversaries become a GOP construct? Putting policies aside, I wish my president to be a person of integrity. I continued to be baffled by how many Christian leaders (and friends) can support him as a man of God. They somehow excuse or refuse to acknowledge his consistent name-calling and slander of opponents, mocking of the disabled and women, and utter lack of humility. This list can go on and on, but suffice it to say, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe where right is wrong and up is down.

So now I’m left, or rather, was left, with my occupation. I had finally settled into my dream career: travel event planning. COVID-19 not only unraveled that thread, it chopped it with an ax and seared the ends. I’m a 56-year-old woman with a convoluted resume looking to reinvent my career yet again. California has more than 2.5 million unemployed workers. How do you like those odds?

Compounding matters, I suffer from an autoimmune disorder that has flared and left me at limited capacity these past few months. I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to return to work, let alone be physically up for it. As an added bonus, my current medication has caused me to gain 20 pounds and completely altered my appearance. Not only do I not feel like myself, but I don’t even recognize the woman in the mirror.

Temporary Restraining Order or Stay of Execution?

Marcia would most likely conclude I am residing in the moratorium identity status: in the midst of a crisis but seeking alternative identities. Working through the explorations leads to a commitment or “identity achievement.” Major life events — such as the death of a spouse — can create instability which triggers a MAMA cycle: moratorium-achievement-moratorium-achievement. I went through such cycles when I lost my husband, working through the identities of the widow, single mother, and middle-aged single woman.

Healthy adults will go through many MAMA cycles in their lifetime. It’s the natural progression of aging and growth. Some may term these events as reaching a “new normal” or acceptance of whatever stressor has been thrown in their way. Here’s the thing: most will encounter one upheaval at a time. What’s one to do, as in my case (and I’m sure many others) when you doubt multiple affiliations (religion, politics) and experience more than one loss (occupation, health) simultaneously? When a global crisis has disrupted society so much you’re constantly on guard, wondering what tomorrow’s shit show will be.

Do we hide, locking the world away? Do we appeal to God or fate to give us more time to sort this all out and/or complete our penance? Is there a remedy for this dilemma? Or vaccine to prevent it from happening again?

At the end of my rope, but not alone

I may be feeling unstable, but I’m not the only one. 2020 has taken its toll on everyone. A recent government survey reported 41% of U.S. respondents felt symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to just 11% in 2019. As the year drags on, uncertainty continues to litter our collective psyche. We try to discard it, but our dumpsters are overflowing.

In a Popular Science article discussing mental health and the pandemic, Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, states:

Humans look to have a known universe. That is how we keep ourselves safe,” he says. “It’s frightening to feel out of control. Sadness, hopelessness, fear — those will wear you down.

I honestly don’t know if these statistics make me feel better or worse.

What I do know is a few strands of my rope have remained intact and will be no matter what my revised identity turns out to be: My two sons, who not only support but motivate me to keep it together. My parents and siblings, who continually encourage and assist in any way they can. And my posse — my closest friends — who are always available to provide a listening ear, words of wisdom, and a glass(who am I kidding — a bottle) of wine when needed. These are my lifelines.

Eventually, with some introspection, exploration, and a little luck, I’ll channel my inner Wonder Woman and reconstruct the lasso of my truth. Surprisingly, I have found a gentleman who doesn’t view me as frayed and fragile, but as a woman of substance and strength. He wants to join me on the journey to discover a more suitable church to grow our faith. From now on, I’ll let my conscience — not my political party — be my guide when voting. As for health and occupation, I will keep praying and hoping that good news is just around the corner.

It has to be, doesn’t it?

Into The Deep

I’ve waded through the shallows often. Colorful, glistening creatures tickled my toes and skimmed through my heart. Alluding to promises never to be granted. I’d nearly forsaken the expedition. Weary of the fleeting encounters, apparitions of affection and shipwrecked expectations. Prompted by tedium. Coaxed by kismet? I endeavored once more. Hope beckoning like the North … Continue reading Into The Deep

The Woman in the Moon Face

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Image by Mona El Falaky from Pixabay

A pericarditis poem

Palpitations reverberate her ribs
Tremble. Thump. Squeeze. Tremble. Squeeze.
Staccato rhythms ricochet to her skull
Throbbing. Pulsating.
She awakens

Brain awash in a celestial haze
she levitates with caution
drifting to the vanity mirror
“Good Morning,” she sighs
to the Woman in the Moon Face

Half a year since the voyage began
Launched into orbit by an autoimmune flare
She tried to abort the mission
but there is no dousing
the combustion of chronic illness

Disease incarcerates her heart
Unrelenting gravity constricts her core
Shallow breaths through concrete
Each gasp measured
to preserve oxygen

Countenance circumnavigated by treatment
Her once lean expression
now eclipsed
Medications store plump reserves of blubber
encapsulating like a spacesuit

The image on her home screen taunts
A brighter, joyful time
Two years earlier
thin, carefree, euphoric
flanked by her sons beneath the Grecian sun

Averse to comprehend
this alien reflection
Reluctant to accept
the morphed figure as her own
The morning’s trek has made her weary

She retreats to her bed chamber
and dreams of normalcy

 

I Have an Autoimmune Disorder. Will COVID-19 Make Me a Second-Class Citizen?

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Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

— George Orwell, Animal Farm

I, along with the rest of the world, live in fear of COVID-19. But, unlike most of the population, I am petrified of the aftermath. How will society view me — someone with a dysfunctional immune system — and others like me, once we completely emerge from our cocoons? Will I be shunned and segregated? Or will I be forced to isolate myself to “protect” my physical health? What will be the cost to my mental health?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the systemic disease that has chosen to take up residence in my body. This parasite, as I choose to visualize it, can affect any organ and/or any joint at will — often spreading its tentacles in multiple areas simultaneously. My immune system is hyperactive. It goes to eleven and beyond when triggered, wreaking havoc in the process. People with RA are more susceptible to catching a virus, developing infections, and experiencing cardiorespiratory complications. In other words, I’m poised to hit the COVID trifecta.

So, what’s a gal like me supposed to do when restrictions are lifted? Proponents of herd immunity want everyone out and about so we can all catch it, recover, and develop antibodies. That is all well and good unless you’re one of the individuals most likely not to survive such a grand Darwinian roulette.

I realize I am not in the majority. We need to reopen our economy, get kids back in school, and restart society again as soon as possible for it to survive. It would be unrealistic (and selfish) of me to expect anything less. I just wonder if it will be safe for me to go out and play. Will I even be permitted? Is becoming a recluse my mandated future? Human contact reduced to the afterglow of a digital screen.

Underlying Conditions

Currently, I am unemployed. My chosen field, travel and events, has not only been shut down by the pandemic — it has been decimated. In all likelihood, it will be one of the last industries to recover. I am but a single droplet in a sea of millions that will be seeking new employment once our first crisis wave is over. It is illegal for an employer to inquire about medical history, but how long will that protection last? Italy and Germany are considering issuing COVID immunity certificates. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN the idea “has some merit” and is “being discussed.” All things being equal, won’t the candidate most likely to weather an outbreak be the more attractive option? I can envision a world where my economic future is regulated by my health condition. Ala Willy Wonka, I could be barred from entry to the factory unless I possess a golden Corona ticket.

Even if I can find employment, will it be safe for me? Restrictions are being lifted across the country, but the guidelines for those of us with autoimmune disorders are still in place. Web MD and Arthritis.org both advise avoiding travel (that’s a boost to my career), staying home as much as possible, and forgoing physical contact as much as possible with anyone outside your home. “Healthy” agoraphobia will be in control of my social life for the foreseeable future. Left behind while the general public moves on.

Our new world rests on order. The danger is disorder. And in today’s world, it can now spread like contagion. — Tony Blair, 2003

Apple and Google are ready to roll out their COVID Tracker app. Health agencies and the like will be able to use it to verify an individual’s COVID status. If you encounter someone who has tested positive within the last 14 days, you will receive an alert on your phone. Privacy issues aside for the moment (as of now, it will be up to the user to enter his/her COVID status), they have yet to minimize the number of false positives to an acceptable level. That’s reassuring. Can you imagine a chorus of viral emergency alerts blaring as you are walking down the street? People could be dodged like COVID zombies — their uncleanliness determined by Bluetooth.

The coronavirus has also recharged the call for a Unique Patient Identifier (UPI) system. All citizens would be issued a code, similar to a Social Security number, that provides access to their personal health database. Your entire medical record available within a few keystrokes. Proponents of UPI say it will make it easier for doctors to make diagnoses and provide proper treatment to patients. Citing security and confidentiality issues, opponents are wary of having such records under the control of the Federal government.

When HIPAA was passed in 1996, it mandated that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) create a UPI system. Two years later, Congress prohibited funding such a project due to privacy concerns. The subject has been debated every year since and in June 2019, the House voted to lift the ban. In September, however, the Senate appropriators left it in place and so it still stands — for the time being.

As a patient that has had been under the care of multiple types of physicians due to my condition, I can see the convenience of such a system. No more lugging charts from office to office or trying to remember all your past surgery dates and previous medications when filling out forms. The worry lies in how all that collective data will be analyzed. Will pre-existing conditions predetermine the quality of care? Will classifications based on antibodies and immunities ultimately determine our employment, housing, or recreation options?

That’s All Folks

I’ve read my fair share of dystopian novels. Set my eyes upon hours upon hours of post-apocalyptic tales. Perhaps they’ve altered my world view — sowed a bit of paranoia into my fertile imagination. Prompted me to foresee an ominous hierarchy at every turn.

There is no doubt I am overthinking. It’s been my stress reflex even before we were forced to steep in our own thoughts for months on end. I would like to think of my musings as a fine Earl Grey: Bold and rich, with a touch of aromatic citrus. More likely, they are like the gooey remnants remaining in a teacup forgotten on a desk for at least a week.

In reality, it’s the uncertainty of it all that sends my fears into a category 5 tailspin — whirling around me like the Tasmanian Devil. Oh, how I long to be Tweety Bird — projecting wide-eyed innocence, while always having the upper hand. Being ready for every contingency is what has always provided me peace of mind. Having some sense of control — even if imagined — is what settles me. The uneasiness resides in getting prepared for uncharted territory. Society’s next blueprint has yet to be drafted. Will I be deemed suitable for inclusion or cast off? There is nothing to but sit back and wait.


This post previously published @GEN | @Medium

My Bucket List of Gratitude

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I’m creating my own kind of bucket list. Not the usual listing of things I wish to do before I leave this earth, but an accounting of the gracious drops of kindness that have filled my pail to the brim. Whether the contribution was a single drip from an eyedropper or gallons upon gallons of generosity, all have buoyed my soul, washed away hours of pain, and carried me through turbulent trials.

And so I have decided to make a conscious effort to recognize these not-so-random acts. Some were as temporary as the morning dew, but equaling as cooling. Others have been like IVs, injecting nourishment continually. A few were summer storms: electrifying, powerful, and brief. Whether their perpetrators knew it or not, each and every one made a significant impact. They quenched my drought in spirit and left me flooded with gratitude.


Item Number 1: Clean House – Warm Heart

My first story takes place when I was a young mother of two toddlers: Albert, age two-and-a-half and Nicholas, just past one. Our family of four was living in Washington State, about 1,000 miles away from most of our family in Southern California. In the 18 months since we had moved there, we had entered into a lovely circle of friends. We were in the early stages of a close, tight-knit relationship. Only time would tell if the stitches would unravel or interweave for a lifetime.

Albert had become very sick with what seemed to be the flu. We soon learned his rapid decline was due to Type 1 diabetes (T1D). He was initially admitted to the hospital for 10 days. Within 24 hours of returning home, he acquired the stomach flu again – a very dangerous situation for any T1D let alone a newly-diagnosed toddler. He returned to the hospital for nearly another week to get him stabilized.

During both hospital stays, my husband, Matt, and I took turns sleeping by Albert’s side. We would both spend our days there, alternating who would remain with him at night and who would go home to take care of Nicholas. Thankfully, one of our friends offered to watch Nicholas while we were at the hospital. Her youngest daughter was his same age and they were like two peas in a pod. While we were learning the perils of over or under dosing insulin, our younger son was enjoying an extended play date.

Needless to say, Matt and I were frazzled. Lack of sleep and worry were leaching away our composure. Fear shrieked through our minds as we relearned how to care for our first-born child. Not to mention we had a one-year-old confused by the prolonged absence of his parents. And the house – oh the house! It was one more thing not receiving a clean bill of health. Gazing at this noise and confusion was only ramping up my anxiety. I felt utterly inadequate and completely unable to do anything about it.

In between hospital visits, another member of our group dropped by to bring us dinner and see how we were doing. This particular friend was the meticulous one in our circle. You know the type – the person whose home is pristine – spic and span – downright gleaming. No dust bunny is ever allowed to propagate in her abode. You’d think the envy would evolve to hate, but it never does, because she is just that nice and charming.

When she arrived, I was perched among piles of laundry that hoarded every square inch of my sofa. Additional mounds of clothing engulfed my feet. Mortified, I shoved the heaps aside so she could sit alongside me. We chitchatted. She asked if there was anything else she could do. What little was left of my mental capabilities silently screamed: PLEASE – HELP ME CLEAN MY HOUSE!!! Still, I was appalled by the vision of her viewing the expanding black rings crowning my toilet bowls. “No, but thank you. We’re doing OK,” I lied.

She didn’t let on, but she didn’t believe a word I said.

The second hospital stay re-initiated the child care round robin. One morning, when Matt dropped off Nicholas, our babysitting friend asked him for a key to our house. “In case Nicholas needs some extra diapers,” she explained. Not realizing that I would be humiliated if anyone saw just how wretched a pigsty we were living in, he handed it over readily. The moment he left, our group commenced their latest escapade of kindness.

Up to this point in this particular trial, I hadn’t really cried. To me, it was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Honestly, I was afraid if I started I would lose any ability to function. So, I corked my tears and kept going.

It was my turn to stay home with Nicholas. The moment I unlocked the door, I knew something was amiss. Instead of the dirt and mildew aroma that usually wafted a greeting, I was welcomed by the delicate scent of pine sol. The disheveled cache of clothing was neatly sorted and folded. The soiled apparel that had overflowed every bedroom hamper was now Downy-fresh and stacked alongside. Everything sparkled – including the toilets! Right in the middle of my kitchen table was a vase filled with fresh-cut flowers. I took one look at that arrangement, collapsed to the floor, and sobbed.

That moment of release is forever tattooed in my memory. It is the point in time I cling to when I am overwhelmed; when I suppose I am alone. Without waiting for me to ask, my friends sensed what I needed and went into action. They saw through my desperate bravado. They cut through the grime and the grit of the situation. By cleaning my house, they wiped away part of the chaos and polished my sanity. I am forever and for all eternity, grateful.

Confessions of an Autoimmune Disease

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Wake up,” I whisper, “I am here.”

In the bowels of the night, I launch my ascent.
Methodically, I commence the courtship.
My breath permeates her muscles.
My tentacles nestle in her joints.
Every sinew, every corpuscle, every ounce of flesh, entwined in my embrace.

She feels the subtle tingle amplify; vibrating deep and low.
It disturbs her slumber.
She is restless, but not awake,
Not yet.
I relish the thrill of her hovering between dreams and affliction.

Steadily, I escalate the intensity.
Her nerves spark and buzz with my electricity.
Soon, she will experience my unyielding static of discomfort.
She will forsake sleep.
She will find no rest.

She’ll be alert, but exhausted.
Achy and fragile.
Others might mistake me for a trivial virus.
But not her.
She recognizes my caress.

Sometimes, she is able to foretell my visitations.
She understands my predatory appetite is triggered by an inclement day or the howling wind.
She knows stress will summon my lust.
I’m not culpable during those times.
There is no one to blame.

I prefer, however, to catch her unawares.
To appear without anticipation.
How dare she plan!
I delight in the startled sorrow
The deliberate dampening of spirit.

I enshroud her in a haze of weariness.
If I remain long enough, she’ll not remember life without me.
I confuse her perceptions. I confound her aspirations.
She’ll want to soldier on.
She’ll long to collapse and be cradled.

I’ve chosen not to display the telltale signs of my presence.
Her joints are not gnarled. Her skin is unblemished.
She should be grateful.
No one sees how I persistently pulse within her.
Disturbing her peace just enough to make her distrust her sanity.

She tries to dull me with medication.
To drug and delay my assault.
But each day, my resistance builds.
I bide my time
While the pills, the injections, wreak their own collateral damage.

She is my everlasting dominion.
I am her parasitic possession.
She endures.
I prevail.
There is no tomorrow without me.

Why does she fight?
Why won’t she relinquish control?
Can’t she taste the sweetness of surrendering to my suffocation?

I am her beast.
She is my paramour. My concubine.
She comforts in my stranglehold.
I mask her true identity.
I am her real self.


Originally published on @Medium.com