What Do We Have to Live For?: Read This if the Coronavirus Outbreak Has Brought Up Suicidal Ideation for You or a Loved One
Schools are one of the most popular settings for movies, T.V. shows, books, and maybe even music videos. Post-secondary schools especially. So, it’s easy to imagine what that kind of environment is like, even if you didn’t go to college.
I absolutely love working at an artsy post-secondary school. Since the Student Services office is by the music department, I’m always hearing students singing/rapping, playing instruments, or creating beats. There’s almost always laughter and chatter in the hallways too, especially when the students are on break or if Admissions is doing a tour. Occasionally, on quieter days, I can even hear the peppy music from the lobby or someone using the vending machine.
It’s not just the sounds, though, that I enjoy. Sometimes I catch students from the film department walking down the hallway with costumes, props, and equipment, showcasing their creativity before they even press record. Someone always greets, waves, or smiles at me when I pass a classroom. The teacher’s lounge is usually full of instructors grading, doing attendance, or on a break, which leads to lots of fun whenever I walk in there for lunch or a snack.
My office is pretty busy itself, too. We’re so popular that we had to start closing/locking the door since students and instructors would go in and out of the office so often the door hardly closed. The randomness made completing tasks difficult. We even put up signs on the doors to show when we were in a meeting or at lunch and encouraging visitors to make an appointment at front desk or reach out via phone/email.
Nowadays, I can still hear the music from the lobby because there’s hardly anyone in the building. Half the school is literally in the dark. The hallways are empty. Heck, where I used to struggle to find parking beforehand, usually parallel parking on the side of the road in the end, I now have almost an entire lot to choose from.
Like many other schools, we’ve had to move our classes online and our instructors were sent home. The administration staff (what we call our skeleton crew) that remained equaled to a total of 14 people, split in half on one side of campus to the other. And yes, there are still snacks in the teacher’s lounge, but they’re expiring without 50+ staff partaking. There’s still some laughter from the remaining staff, but overall, it’s so quiet I can hear me clicking on the keyboard.
The other day I even jumped when my friend from front desk came to visit me all by myself in the Student Services office after the Career Development part of my department was also sent home. I’m not used to being by myself and, as an extrovert, it’s incredibly difficult to stay motivated.
I’m so used to being everyone else’s motivation. Our office is covered with inspirational quotes and we’re usually playing coffee house style music or meditation sounds. We sometimes even have essential oils in my coworker’s diffuser. Also, since we all get headaches, we usually leave the fluorescent lights either off or super low and plug in the Christmas lights we have strewn between our cubicles, on the wall, and over the door.
Students look forward to coming to our office to feel better. Instructors will even come in for peace and to practice self-care, stepping in to close their eyes and take a deep breath before heading back to work. Staff members joke all the time that we should serve coffee at our bistro or that we need yoga at our spa.
By myself, though, it’s difficult to stay positive. I studied social work, but I have my own mental health concerns to manage. Nevertheless, the few who still turn to me will probably still get the same cheerleader I’ve been trained to be. For example, I mentioned to a coworker that I heard from another that the government might shut down during this crisis.
“What do we have to live for, then?” my coworker asked.
The question took me by surprise.
COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, has changed everyone’s lives. People are working from home, turning down invitations to friends’ homes, keeping 6 ft between themselves in medical waiting rooms or in lines at stores. Restaurants are only doing carry out or delivery and can’t serve alcohol. Of course, this is only in the places where there isn’t a total quarantine lockdown for everyone, though there are plenty of people going through that too.
At first, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t take it seriously. All I heard was that the elderly were at risk. As I’m in my late twenties, I thought I wouldn’t be affected by the illness in my life at all. My best friend told me she wasn’t worried about herself either, but that she was worried for her father because he also had other medical conditions making his immune system weak. That did catch my attention as I started better protecting myself so I could better take care of others.
Then, though, I saw an infograph on Facebook that showed people with asthma were at risk. I checked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and, sure enough, among the list of at-risk populations was “people with asthma”. I didn’t know what to do with that, so I went numb.
After cancelling all my medical appointments and plans (dog groomer, yoga, spa, dates, friend get togethers), my days consisted of home to work and work to home. At work, I was in charge of keeping students calm, staying positive for them, finding resources for everyone, and overall staying in communication with our student body. At home, I was able to goof off.
What finally broke me down to tears happened the day I woke up to a phone call. I picked up my cell, seeing my boyfriend’s picture on the screen through my sleepy eyes. He immediately told me everything in almost one breath.
His sister came back from her cruise. She stopped by their house. She just called from hers to say she was experiencing symptoms. My boyfriend was sent home from work. We all had to wait for her test results before seeing each other once again.
My school on the verge of closing down. My boyfriend’s family possibly infected. My siblings once again losing school time in Puerto Rico even after the Hurricane Maria aftermath and earthquakes. Most of my coping methods unavailable (even scared to walk my dog). Fears of even letting my dog play with other dogs causing me to keep her at home.
Lack of physical touch for who knows how long. Binge eating and missing my fitness classes. Knowing one of my other coworkers already lost his best friend to the disease. My mind running through apocalyptic scenarios a la Contagion, Surrogates, and the Oryx and Crake and The Maze Runner series, I suddenly felt a way I hadn’t felt in years.
We’re in a bleak and scary time and a quick Google search shows me I’m not the only person feeling hopeless. Druzin (2020) points out how experts in the mental health field are concerned of an increase in suicide rates due to people losing their jobs and small businesses, staying at and/or working from home, having firearms at home, struggling financially, and not receiving the mental health support needed.
In an effort to cope better, I reached out to another coworker who was staying upbeat. I asked her how she coped. She was still exercising and eating healthy. She reached out to friends and was still planning to go to the beach, though she was going to a private section on a friend’s property that was separated from the general public. She even had a glass of wine every night!
What she also explained was that the hardest part for her was how we don’t know when social isolation will end. Once she said that, I realized that was why I had suddenly lost my spirits too. The whole time I hoped a two-week incubation period was enough, but I didn’t know what else would happen in the face of other countries and states on complete quarantine for months.
She then told me that despite not knowing when the end of the epidemic would come, that it would still happen. There is hope. She reminded me of the AIDs epidemic and about other diseases and how, though it took time, we have found ways of preventing and treating them all. I realized she was right, remembering the same was true of the regular influenza.
I thought of YouTube videos my boyfriend had shown me beforehand of people staying positive, saying they wouldn’t live in fear, would protect themselves, and ultimately would fight like hell if they got sick regardless. I reflected on T.V. commercials of celebrities stuck at home too, saying we’re in this together and that we’ll get through it all. I even analyzed the lyrics of Eminem’s song, “Not Afraid”, which had come up when I looked up music to not give up.
I started to believe in the words I had said in response to my coworker’s question.
So, what do we have to live for?
We have us. Each other. Our children. The future. Just because we don’t know what the future holds doesn’t mean there’s nothing there to take hold of, though. True, life won’t go back to the way things were before, but it could just as easily be better than worst. Yes, it’ll probably get worse before it gets better, but then we’ll come back stronger.
My other coworker was right. It’s hard to see the light. We don’t know where the end of this chapter will be in our stories, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be another chapter later. Plus, my mom always says to worry when I have something to worry about. Currently, I’m not sick, nor is it confirmed that anyone I know officially has coronavirus.
I have a friend from my old group therapy who said she realized when she’s anxious, she worries twice as much. She worries before anything bad happens and after something bad happens. She also realized that whether she does both or only the latter, the amount in which she worries doesn’t make the situation any better.
She’s absolutely right.
So, until or unless we’re all actually quarantined to our homes; I’m actually out of a job; I or a loved one contracts corona. I’ll be taking precautions, rationing, and being sensible, but I will try my best to still live each day. Not merely survive, but live.
I’ll still get up for work every morning, but even without that, I’ll shower and get dressed. Play with my puppy. Read novels. Watch sitcoms with my mom. Joke around with my friends. Call my boyfriend. Send pictures back and forth with my dad and siblings. Sing in the shower. Dance in my room.
And at night, I’ll ask God for the strength to do it all over again the next day, and the next, and to help us all until we can use our God-given brains to find a vaccine and treatment for COVID.
Because tomorrow is going to come anyways. I might as well make the most of it.
If you or a loved one…
- are in immediately danger, call 911
- are struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
- need someone to talk to amidst crisis, text the Crisis Text Line at 741741
- would like to read up on ways to cope, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at https://afsp.org/taking-care-of-your-mental-health-in-the-face-of-uncertainty/
- want to learn more about Coronavirus/COVID-19, please see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
Druzin, H. (2020, Mar. 20). Experts concerned about heightened suicide risk during pandemic. WAMU 88.5. Retrieved on March 22, 2020, from https://wamu.org/story/20/03/20/suicide-social-isolation-firearms-coronavirus/