A Covid-19 Diagnosis and Mental Health
by Pia Wood
Depression started tugging me down the moment the doctor informed me that I was going to be admitted into the hospital on March 23, 2020. The diagnosis was Coronavirus pneumonia. For a brief second I felt relieved that there was a diagnosis to explain why I felt like I had waded through water to the point where I was exhausted. When in fact the fluid in my lungs caused by the pneumonia had me laboring to breathe in between intermittent coughing spells for 72 hours. But this unknown destructive and debilitating virus buoyed by media reports of its infiltration into human bodies located a world away from me had already pulled my consciousness down to a low depth.
The scenarios that crept through my mind at warp speed as I laid on a gurney staring at the stark white ceiling included dying alone in the hospital without family or friends, leaving my children alone, especially my youngest daughter who was still grieving her father who died suddenly four years earlier, and leaving my dog alone. Yes, my beloved pet. My mood could not withstand any primal fight for survival now because my body had already started to retreat from my soul.
My robust spirit was slipping away at the same rate of speed as the human figures wearing hospital aqua blue-green uniforms dashed from one patient to another patient. And my positive outlook had been without an energy source for days.
By my third day in the hospital when I felt much better physically, I convinced myself that being discharged would heightened my mood to match my gratitude at not being a statistic of Covid-19 deaths reported everyday by the governor in his daily address. But balancing a survivor’s gratitude with a survivor's remorse is an unlikely feat when waves of depression crash down on you. And so, the turbulence of Covid-19 depression swirled around me in the form of constant mental rumination of being diagnosed, and hospitalized.
At home I was alone to recuperate, with the sounds of ambulance sirens blaring through the night, and media news reporters’ voices booming hospital and death numbers of people with Covid, while the sharp bing of a text message notices was a repeated refrain with a message showing a face or the name of someone I knew who had died from contracting the ‘virus”. I was thankful to breathe easier. Yet, with each unsolicited and uncontrolled dry cough that continued to persist for weeks, there was an undercurrent that the cough was related to the fact that the virus could have been my possible demise. Covering my mouth with my hand as I turned my face to the side to cough, I Immediately would question my survival when others had not survived. And in the next breath as I grabbed a glass of water to sip slowly my feelings would spiral at a fast and furious movement from a point of light to an abyss of darkness of an unimaginable and unmeasurable depth.
Tears in my eyes would greet the April sun rays touching the creme colored walls of my bedroom without lending a lighted path to my train of thought. And the day’s end was met with a barking dog on the street drowning out my whimpers of sadness resulting from a day that offered no life boat to reach. The uninvited moonlight mocked my attempt to disappear under a quilt that offered no coverage of my despair.
That Covid -19 episode of depression left me wanting to just float away but instead I felt like I was drowning. How do you fight an enemy without shape or form that is about to engulf you? An enemy with power and with the strength of an army? An army that made me want to surrender. Raising the white flag didn’t seem to be an act of defeat when the battle has gone on for seemingly so long. My energy was depleted from treading mentally through this crisis even though my physical strength had been regained by May.
“Maybe the war is imaginary,” I thought. “I cannot win”, I decided.. But I held fast that “ Maybe I could win a battle”. I had to seek out help. I did not have to try to be a David to defeat this Goliath. I could seek weapons from an arsenal that I had never considered. Those lifesaving alternatives included therapy, medication and finding routine again. I could enlist my friends and loved ones. But first I would have to share with them that this invisible war had been unprovoked and declared on me not by me. And when I engaged in therapy, accepted medication and redefined my routine I was able to aim at this Goliath.
Today, I smile and float in gratitude and confidence. And when the waters around me become turbulent I control my breath as I glide in those waters. I am closer to the shoreline and smile.
Pia Wood resides in Brooklyn, New York. She is an attorney. Pia is the proud mother of two adult daughters and the proud grandmother of two grandchildren. Pia describes herself as Gullah-Abenaki to pay tribute to her mother’s southern cultural roots and her father’s native American roots.