My parental instinct told me to jump in the car and retrieve my daughter. But another voice held me back. Fear gripped me as I thought of possibly exposing myself to the coronavirus during the thousand-mile trek, which would require stops at gas stations and fast-food restaurants and a motel stay.
I live with chronic illnesses, including asthma and psoriasis, that could possibly become underlying risk factors for COVID-19 complications. I also take a biologic for psoriasis that suppresses my immune system, potentially adding even more risk to my health if I were to come down with COVID-19.
The Beginning of My Guilt Trip
I donâ€™t like healthy guilt, but I do welcome it. If I do something wrong, offensive, or hurtful, then that sense of guilt leads me to make amends or corrections. Guilt can have a constructive purpose, such as teaching me a life lesson or revealing something I can change to be a better person. But this guilt that stemmed from my response to the coronavirus often did not seem like the helpful kind.
What I didnâ€™t calculate in my COVID-era life equation is the mental and emotional toll of living through this pandemic. Like many others, I grappled with heightened anxiety and a sense of loss as this new normal sunk in. The added stress of living with chronic health conditions limited me even more than I wanted to admit.
The lockdown also affected my ability take care of my family. After my daughter returned home, I asked her to quarantine at her older sisterâ€™s one-bedroom apartment about 10 minutes away. I felt like an uncaring father for not wanting her to live at home even though she is very understanding of my health concerns. I also felt like I let my elderly parents down when I couldnâ€™t help them with running errands and managing ongoing health issues.
The list continues. I disliked myself for putting those who shopped and delivered my groceries in harmâ€™s way. Sleeping in late, canceling virtual meetings, and skipping my exercise routine became the norm of my lazy self.
Coping With Chronic Guilt
From time to time I am still overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and remorse, but itâ€™s much better than before. Here are a few ways I learned to cope with the chronic guilt:
Accept Personal Limitations
Initially I could not accept the limitations that come with prioritizing my safety during the pandemic. Now, whenever a thought starts with â€œI should,â€ it helps me to think through whether that impulse is realistic given the new situation and my health risks. I have taken to heart that Iâ€™m not perfect, and have learned to be more patient with myself as I figure out how to navigate life anew.
Recognize the Unprecedented Nature of COVID-19
I cannot tell you how many times Iâ€™ve heard the pandemic described as â€œunprecedented.â€ Itâ€™s helpful to know that most everyone else is adjusting to these extreme circumstances too, and to acknowledge the added complexity of underlying risks with my chronic conditions.
Confide in Trusted Friends and Family
For a long time, I didnâ€™t want to share my feelings of guilt with anyone. When I finally began to talk about them with friends and family, I received mostly encouragement and empathy. In fact, my transparency allowed others to share their own struggles with negative and overwhelming feelings during the pandemic.
Stress is a huge trigger for my psoriasis and eczema. When my skin started flaring during those first weeks of the pandemic, I knew I needed to prioritize taking care of myself, reminding myself that self-care would allow me to help others and focus better on my work. I found that extra sleep and engaging hobbies eased stress and improved my mood.
Set Achievable Goals
When the lockdown began, I wanted to clean and organize the entire house. When that goal seemed out of reach, I focused on sorting the garage. So far, Iâ€™ve done a bit of gardening and cleaned out a desk. Taking on smaller tasks gave me victories to build upon and allowed me to be okay with doing less. I focused on what I could control and do with the energy I had. I could then find peace in leaving the rest for later.
Be Attuned to Learning Opportunities
The era of COVID-19 has helped me learn more about myself. I knew on some level that I am an ambitious, driven person who needs to accomplish a lot to feel good about myself. The pandemic has made me address the guilt associated with that unsustainable mindset. I am learning to appreciate a slower lifestyle, valuing smaller accomplishments and joining with others to face the challenges ahead.
COVID-19 will no doubt be with us for a while, as will the negative feelings like guilt associated with it. If you have a chronic illness as I do, be kind to yourself in these uncertain times as you proactively address those unhelpful emotions.
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