Diary of a Social Worker During COVID

Story shared by A. McKinney of San Diego

COVID-19 brought great anxiety at first. It was as much a shock to the system as jumping in the pool in the morning is a cold shock to your body. Right now, I’m on my fifth day into California’s shelter in place order. What this looks like is a ghost town in some areas; what this means is to stay at home aside from essential travel. Initially, denial was my response to this movie-like pandemic. I fought tooth and nail to heed the concerns of my loved ones.

“We can Facetime, having virtual dinner dates. I’m going to work,” I asserted.

“Your job is not worth your health,” my mom, my sister and colleagues said.

It was a conflict I thought I’d never face before. Would I choose work, income and my passion over my family and potentially health? Would I be helping my vulnerable family —who experiences lupus and respiratory issues —by staying home? Would I be hurting my unemployed family, by not taking work during an economic downturn when I’m the only one with a stable income because my job is deemed an “essential service” by the government?

Something I hadn’t considered before was that my work versus my professional ethics were at play here. Something I’ve only read about for social workers but hadn’t yet experiences, and certainly not to this degree. Would I be hurting or helping not just my coworkers, but the homeless population and larger population as a whole, to call out from work? If every social worker at this job called out like me, would I be depriving the homeless population of an essential service? Alternatively, could this be a moment to use my actions to advocate for my job to be more proactive about fighting the spread? My initial inclination came from a mezzo perspective: to serve the people I came into contact with. However —with the help of my therapist, girlfriend and others —I soon came to recognize my responsibility to be one that also needs to consider how this impacts my population not a mezzo, community level. What if one of us spread COVID-19 to someone in their already vulnerable population? I would be potentially risking not just my own health and the health of my family but also my clients and their community too.

While there were some changes that required much effort, there were definitely positive changes too. Caving from the interpersonal stress and denial I had about COVID-19, I began to learn that I needed to be present. Cooking from home was healthier and cost-efficient. I began to mindfully eat, meditate in the morning, I accepted I could still workout without being in the gym and it wasn’t the end of the world, my time in nature and exploring nature with my loved ones increased. Moreover, nature was getting a much-deserved break from pollution in the midst of our crisis. Lastly, I and many others, had to be mindful of the ever-developing habit of drenching ourselves in the news. It took many days to gain awareness that I was searching “COVID-19” and “COVID-19 San Diego” routinely, multiple times an hour. It was the topic of continuous conversation between house members. COVID-19 became the white noise of the news in the background, only jumping to the foreground when more devastating announcements arrived.

One of my therapy trainings, that came as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, involved limiting news searching to mornings and night. The podcasters discussed micro-dosing self-care throughout the day to maintain sanity while being stuck indoors. “Take a walk 5 minutes every hour,” Bruce Perry, MD, PhD. said in Staying Emotionally Close in the Time of COVID-19. I agreed that saving my outdoor activities for one compacting time out of the day helped me during that hours, but my other hours indoor needed a tiny break too.

So, where do we go from here? My answer is like so many others: I don’t know yet. We are in uncharted territory that no one could have ever imagined enduring in their lifetimes. Something about that is so unsettling and nerve-wrecking; yet, something else about that is totally —dare I say it —beautiful. This is an open-ended book and we have a second chance at rewriting our story. Rewriting the way we care for ourselves, other and this earth. We are being forced to see that a different, eco-friendlier was of life is possible. Part of me believes that this is mother nature’s way of regaining the health it needs. The universe is warning us that we have the ability to make drastic, needed changes now; and if not, she can make them for us.

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