How are you handling the coronavirus pandemic? Most people are struggling right now, but for those of us with mental illness, these days can feel truly overwhelming. Fear, depression, isolation and loss of routine are just a few of the difficulties many of us are facing. In today’s podcast, Gabe and Jackie discuss what we can do right now to make things just a little better, and they share their personal hopes and fears for humanity once this pandemic subsides.
You’re not alone — we’re all in this together. Join us for an important discussion on how we can handle this time of fear and uncertainty.
(Transcript Available Below)
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About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.
You can find her online at JackieZimmerman.co, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Coronavirus- Mental Health” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.
Gabe: Hey, everyone, welcome to the Not Crazy podcast. I would like to introduce my co-host, Jackie.
Jackie: And you already know my co-host, Gabe.
Gabe: And we are practicing social distancing, so much so that I am in Ohio and Jackie is in Michigan.
Jackie: It’s kind of our natural state. Most of the time, I mean, candidly, this is kind of my natural state in life in general most of the time is social distancing. But normally I at least have the option to go somewhere if I want to.
Gabe: So let’s talk about a few things when it comes to COVID-19 or coronavirus, because there’s a lot to talk about when we’re talking about our mental health and a pandemic. On one hand, like this is what we’ve all been worried about, like it’s here. All of my anxiety and paranoia and the world going to hell and me freaking out like it’s now happening. Like it’s here. Jackie, it’s here.
Jackie: Yeah, I know. I am aware.
Gabe: And you have it worse than me. I’m not trying to play the suffering Olympics with you, but my anxiety disorder is at like a level 10. My routines are blocked because restaurants are closed and movie theaters are closed and I can’t go do anything. But listen, my immune system, it’s solid. Like for real. Whenever I hear the news, they’re like, you have nothing to worry about unless you’re immunocompromised or old. And I’m like, hey, despite Jackie calling me Grandpa Gabe my immune system is fine and I ain’t old.
Jackie: True story. I am not old either, but I do have a pretty, pretty not great immune system.
Gabe: You’re immunocompromised.
Jackie: Yeah. I’m on immunosuppressive drugs right now. So in addition to that, plus more that I’ve been reading, some of my past medical history also makes me kind of extra susceptible despite, or in in conjunction with being on immunosuppressants.
Gabe: I want to ask you a question, Jackie, like as a person, when you hear on the news and in the media. Actually, fuck the news and the media. They always suck. When you see on social media, like your friends and family, people that you love, people that you still love to this day type “Oh, why is everybody freaking out of coronavirus? It’s only got a 1 percent or a 2 percent death rate. And it’s only going to get you if you’re older, immunocompromised.” Like that’s you. And you’re seeing them be so dismissive of the fact that you’re in the death pool. And they just. I’m not saying that they don’t care because that’s not what it is. They don’t realize it. But but how does that impact you?
Jackie: So, honestly, I haven’t seen a lot of that on my personal feeds because I don’t spend my time with dumb dumbs that, you know, ignore science and news and things, but that’s all over Twitter like everywhere basically. And I’m not taking as much offense to it as I think most chronic illness people are right now. But it’s more or less like I think the people in my life forget that I’m in the high-risk category because I don’t act sick and I don’t often remind them that I am sick because I’m doing quite well right now. Like, for instance, my mom took an unnecessary weekend trip last weekend and she had a good reason for doing it. It was to help her cope with something, but it still felt very selfish to me. And I was kind of upset with her because I feel like she’s being wildly irresponsible. And I eventually had to say to her Mom, you know, that I’m in the high risk category. Right? Like, you know, that this is me we’re talking about, because it just felt like she just forgot. And I asked her, she didn’t forget. That’s not the case. But it’s a little bit of — I just think people are overlooking people in their lives that may be in this category. And 50 percent of the fucking population has a chronic illness, which means 50 percent of the population are likely to be treated by something like an immunosuppressant. So the idea of dismissing that many people is pretty ridiculous. That’s kind of what upsets me the most. It’s not me personally. It’s just like no one knows who has chronic illness. And it’s a spoiler alert. Most fucking people. So, yes, that part upsets me.
Gabe: Well, to clarify, you’re not saying that most people have a chronic illness because most people don’t. Most people are healthy. That’s why we need mental health and health advocacy, because most people just don’t understand what we go through at all. They see things through the lens of their experience, which is not not us. They’re like, oh, we’re fine. So we assume you’re fine, too, when in reality we’re not fine at all.
Jackie: We’re not. I mean, most, I guess, is not the right answer, but it is like 50 percent of the fucking population, whether that be diabetes or, you know, fibromyalgia or lupus or some of these things that people hear their friends and family having but don’t quite lump them in the chronic illness category. Everyone knows someone who’s chronically ill right now. Everybody does. So kind of dismissing someone that, you know, in your life is completely ridiculous.
Gabe: Obviously, we know why you’re panicked, because you’re in the high-risk category and I know why I’m panicked, because all of these closures to protect the people in the high-risk category, they’re just messing with me. They’re messing with me. I don’t I don’t like my routines to be messed with at all. Like, I’m I’m a very, very big creature of habit. But let’s move all this aside and talk about the sort of the dismissiveness, the well, only 2 percent will die. Well, 2 percent is like a huge fucking number. I can’t sort of wrap my mind around that. And I think that’s one of the things that’s really upsetting people in our community. Jackie, that when did two percent become a low number? If I handed you a hundred Skittles and I told you that two of those Skittles would kill you, you’d not eat the Skittles. There is nobody within the sound of my voice that is like, oh, if you gave me a bag of 100 Skittles and two of them would kill me instantly, I’d still grab a handful. The odds are forever in my favor. No. Nobody would. I think that maybe we have just a disproportionate understanding of odds. But more importantly, I think that we have a disproportionate understanding that death is permanent. Maybe? And this is causing our population and many of our listeners an extreme amount of anxiety because they’re constantly being calmed down — I’m making air quotes — calmed down with things that aren’t very calming. Do you find it calming to know that the COVID-19 coronavirus only has a two percent death rate? Does that make Jackie Zimmerman feel better?
Jackie: No, it doesn’t at all, because one, I mean, if we’re getting into stats, which I love, we don’t actually have accurate stats. We don’t have enough tests to be tested. We don’t have enough results from the ones that are currently out in processing. We don’t even have an accurate number of people who are going to hospitals because now we’re telling people not even to go to hospitals. But back to your point of only 2 percent, 2 percent of the whole world is a lot of fucking people. And I don’t know I don’t know how to tell people they should care about other people. But when 5,000 people die in less than a month for something that could be prevented if we all would just stay the fuck home. That’s a big deal. Those are 5,000 people. They have families, they have children, they have jobs. They contribute to the world. Why don’t they matter? Why don’t people matter to other people?
Gabe: I want to just say because they don’t realize it. I think that we’re really seeing play out across the world. I mean, literally across the world that the majority of people are healthy. The majority of people’s immune systems do what it’s supposed to do. And the majority of people believe that this will not impact them. And here’s the kicker. They’re right. The majority of people are right. And this is why we have health advocates. Right? This is this is our job, Jackie. Our show would not need to exist if people just understood that small percentages of the population suffer from things that the majority of the population doesn’t. We’re great examples of this. You do not have bipolar Jackie, and my butt works just fine. But we can still be decent to each other. And it’s interesting to watch the world grapple with this. I wish it was a petri dish and was just a social experiment and there wasn’t real lives at stake because it’s fascinating. It’s fascinating to watch the group that has politicized it. It’s fascinating to watch the group that has monetized it. It’s fascinating to watch the group that is ignoring it. And it’s fascinating watching the group that is terrified of it all interact with each other. But all of that tied back. It doesn’t matter which group you’re in. How do you get through it? Jackie, you’ve hid in your house. But what about the people who can’t hide in their house?
Jackie: Honestly, I don’t find this fascinating. I’m pissed off. I’m mad because I see people who are like, oh, I got a really cheap flight to Florida next week, I’m gonna take a vacation and I’m like, what the fuck is wrong with you? Because of all those people who don’t have the choice to hunker into their house like I do, I can choose to literally socially isolate for the rest of my life if I wanted to. I have a lot of privilege in that area. The people who have to continue to go into the world, who have to work with your dirty germy ass, don’t have that option. Like right now, going out into the world is the equivalent of coughing in somebody’s face. It’s rude and it’s wrong and it causes problems and can cause death among a bunch of people. I’m mad about this. I’m very clearly upset about this.
Gabe: So what’s your next move? Because you can’t just be pissed off for the next several days, several weeks, several months. It’s not mentally healthy for you. I understand why you are. I do. But this isn’t good for us. It’s not it’s not good for us. We cannot have this level of emotion and anxiety and anger for the next several months. It will eat us alive.
Jackie: You’re right. And I’m really worked up right now because we’re talking about how stupid people are, but what I’m finding is really happening with me. And I think with a lot of people that I’m seeing online is that we’re all kind of swaying in between, really nervous, really upset, really scared to like, well, but we’re supposed to kind of act as though life is normal. We’re just doing everything at home. So my brain is kind of confused between this is normal. I work from home every day. Everything is fine, to, like, oh, but we’re in the middle of a huge fucking pandemic. Don’t freak out. And I am exhausted. I am fucking exhausted. I’m emotionally exhausted all the time. Right now, every day is different. Every day feels like a fucking week. So now I’m just like exhausted in every meeting. And all I want to do is like take a nap or watch a movie. But I can’t. And it’s this really fucked up place where I’m trying to be very aware of my privilege and be grateful for what I do have right now. But emotionally and mentally, I just want to like forget about it for like twenty minutes.
Gabe: I understand what you’re saying about privilege, but I’m gonna be selfish. I’m just gonna be extraordinarily selfish. I understand there is a larger discussion that needs to be had here about where Gabe is on the spectrum of worry, etc. But I kind of don’t care about that right now. Right now what I care about is that my routine has been decimated. Like these coping skills, these routines have been cultivated over years. When people say things like, wow, Gabe manages bipolar disorder better than anybody I know. Wow. Gabe manages panic attacks better than anybody I know. Yeah, I take full credit for that because I’ve worked so very, very, very hard. And with one brush of the world, literally the world at this point that’s gone. I wake up in the morning and I can’t go get my Diet Coke and I hear what you’re saying. You’re like, really, Gabe? You’re willing to kill people to get that Diet Coke? Yeah, maybe. Maybe. I know how that sounds. I do.
Jackie: But you don’t really mean it, though.
Gabe: I don’t think I do. But like remember, how you said about feelings? My feeling when I wake up in the morning is you need to go. Gabe, put on your clothes and go. You’ve been awake now for 10 minutes. The dog has been fed. The dog is out. You need to leave. My entire body, my brain, my feelings, my gut, my lodge. Everything is screaming at you have to! And then I can’t. I understand. I do. But it’s just like in a panic attack where you think the world is going to end and the world’s not going to end. Except that I’m not having a panic attack. Actually, this has caused a panic attack every single morning. It’s wrong. It’s wrong.
Jackie: I don’t want to discount your feelings at all. They’re super valid. And you’re right. Especially for people living with mental illness, routines are the core of keeping everybody like all your shit together. But all I think about is like, OK, what about the Gabes of the world right now that also works in food service or that works somewhere that just lost their job? Like what does that Gabe do? And I know you’re out there. I know you might be listening and I keep thinking about that. That’s why I keep trying to check myself with, like, my gratitude. We thought Adam was going to lose his job this week. Last week, we’re like, we’re fine. Everything’s gonna be OK. And then all of a sudden, it was almost, almost gone. It’s not. But we were that close. And all I keep thinking about is the people who are choosing to stay home with their kids or go to work because they can’t work from home and they don’t have paid sick time. And everybody who just has no choice in this matter. The only silver lining to all of this that I have found and it’s not even a good one. The only one that I have found is that this is the whole world. It’s not just like, you know, Detroit is having a recession right now or Ohio is suffering from a tornado or something. The whole world. So it is the first time it really feels like we’re kind of all in it together, like humankind for once. And I don’t know if that makes it feel better, but at least just makes me feel some type of way.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Jackie: And we’re back talking about how to keep it together during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gabe: The Internet has been a blessing and a curse through all of this. And I want to talk about that for a moment, because we’ve certainly talked about the assholes on social media — the people who have politicized it, who have minimized it, who have insulted people, they. I can’t help but think of the anti-vaxxers in a time like this. And I’m just like, wow, you guys are trying to do this with the measles. There’s also this part of my brain that’s like, wow, everybody says, listen to the government, listen to the Center for Disease Control. They will help us get through this. Except the Center for Disease Control also says vaccinate your kids. And then we think they’re idiots. So it’s hard not to fall down that rabbit hole. But I’ve said it. We’re not going to talk about anymore. What I want to talk about is like all the people reaching out. I saw this incredible thing. I don’t know how it works because I just saw it this morning. But you can watch a Netflix movie on Google like it’s a Google Chrome extension. So you and your friends can all watch the same movie at the exact same time when you all pause at the same time.
Gabe: You can chat to each other. So literally, you can all watch a movie all over the country in your homes, all together, and you can still have a movie night. It excites me because I’m looking to the future. And you talked about that silver lining. There are a lot of people with mental illness and mental health issues who feel isolated. They’re just are. And they’re gonna feel isolated next year at this time when we’ve all forgot about the coronavirus and now they’re going to be able to find a tribe online and be able to watch a movie, even though the person that they’re friends with is one thousand miles away or even one hundred miles away or even five miles away. But nobody has a car right now. That’s like a real thing in our community. Right? I am hoping that some of this stuff does stick around and that maybe some of my depressed, anxiety-ridden friends will be able to, like, chill and have movie nights together, even though nobody has gas money.
Jackie: I have seen some really, truly amazing things happening in my local community from food for kids, for poor people who are low income, for the elderly, people willing to do grocery shopping for other people. It just seems like endless amounts of support. I saw somebody buy an upgraded zoom package and post in a group like anybody who needs this, feel free to use it. Just. There is an overwhelming amount of generosity right now, even from large corporations to a certain extent where I’m like, okay, but where was this before the whole world tanked? But I digress. I do feel like there has been a little bit of a resurgence in humanity towards other people for the most part. I can’t say that I’m super confident that it’s going to last into the future. I worry that in a month. Let’s hope a month. Let’s be positive and say a month that when everybody kind of recovers, let’s say six months when this is like way in our past, we’ll just go back to business as usual and we’ll forget who the low man on the totem pole is because we don’t care about them and we won’t give any shits about the stockers at the grocery store. And we definitely will not care about the baristas at the coffee shop anymore. I don’t think that we are good enough as living beings to really learn from this. And that makes me really, really sad because we knew this was a possibility. And I just don’t think we’re smart enough to really learn from it.
Gabe: There’s a line in Men in Black that I’m gonna butcher because I always butcher my quotes, but it basically says that a person is intelligent. But people are fools. People are crazy and they overreact. It’s mob mentality, right? I want to say to you, Jackie, and I want to say to all of our listeners right now, I don’t think that people will learn from it. I think that you’re right. Hey, what am I supposed to do? I want my team to win, but I don’t think it’s gonna. But I’m telling you, there are people who will learn from this. There are people who will come out better and there are people who will be nicer to the barista, who will understand why this is important. And it might be enough to shift. It just might. Look, bipolar disorder knocked me on my ass. Gabe Howard would not be here if I did not get sick. If I didn’t get sick, try to end my life, end up in an insane asylum. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It turned me from a person that thought, hey, I want to be rich to a person who thought, wow, I don’t want anybody to go through this. Now, I’m not telling you that I had some big hallmark moment where at the beginning of the movie I only drove a Mercedes. Right? I wasn’t a complete dick beforehand, but I learned a lot about the desire to help others. And I understand your pessimism because you’re playing the odds. You’re saying that more people will remain jerks than will become kind. Yeah, you’re right. But I believe that we are going to see a significant uptick in kindness. And I believe that that will have incredible ramifications across the globe. And that’s what I’m banking on.
Jackie: Ok. OK. When you put it like that, I think that you’re right, because same thing. Right. If I hadn’t gotten sick and literally almost lost my life, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today in terms of advocacy or even my career. I would literally be doing none of it. So good things do come out of tragedy. Do I think the world is going to change? No. But I am looking forward to seeing who comes up with the next greatest thing. Right? Who is the kindness king and queen who develops a great nonprofit, who starts working for social change? Like maybe our government will finally catch on to us needing better social programs. Do I think that there are still gonna be shit faced billionaires who refuse to share any of their money and a bunch of us are still going to be poor? Yes. Do I think there’s gonna be assholes who want to buy vaccines for shit like this? Yes, but I do think that you’re right. There will be good. There will be good. I just don’t know what it is and what the scale of it will be.
Gabe: I always hate to say we have to think positive because I understand where you’re at, Jackie. You’re in this this pessimistic pit of can you believe we’re here? I hate everything and nothing will be good again. And I respect that. I respect the hell out of that. And I would imagine that the majority of our listeners, they agree with you and they’re like that dipshit moron is about to say something positive. And it pains me to be the positive guy, because in general, I’m a pretty pessimistic guy. The positive thing is we are in control of our own lives. We do have the ability to do with as we please. And I know that you’re like, well, but what about this, this, this, this, this, this, this? Look, there’s always a choice. I’m sorry. The choices may be shit. And I think that as a society, we need to do a better job of acknowledging that some of our choices are shit. But listen, this is not a social justice show. This is a show about managing our mental health and our mental illness. And that means our anxiety and our depression. And we do have a choice. It was a choice to listen to this podcast. It was a choice about whether or not when this podcast is over, you want to think about something positive. You want to do something positive, like call your mom or your friend or do that Netflix and Google thing that I talked about. Or if you want to Google, as soon as we hang up, is the world gonna end? And can you believe our government fucked us? That’s a choice. It’s a choice. And I think that many of us are feeding into our own anxieties, feeding into our own depression and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Internet has cat videos. Google one of them. They’re adorable. And I hate cats. I hate cats. And I went to a whole thing where I watched an hour and a half of cat videos, but I did it.
Jackie: Also, for what it’s worth, there is another one on Netflix right now. Another compilation of cat videos if you’re in need of more cat videos.
Gabe: Is it called Cats_the_Mewvie?
Jackie: That is the one. That is the one. OK, Gabe.
Gabe: And this is an option. This is sincerely an option, and that’s what I want to say. I’m not disagreeing with you, Jackie. I know that things are fucked up. I know that people are scared. But in the moment we can ramp each other up to be terrified or we can support each other in kindness. And I want to believe that while we’re going to be realistic, because this is how we feel. I feel exactly how you do. Jackie, I’m terrified. You heard my rant about not wanting to not go get a Diet Coke, even though Diet Cokes may kill people. Like that’s like a really messed up reason to want a Diet Coke, right? I get that. This is how we feel. But how can we move past this and searching out better things? Being supportive of one another, agreeing to not talk about this with our friends for at least some portion of the day? I think these are all real proactive things that we can do to help ourselves in the moment. And I’m sure that you have more.
Jackie: Ok, so this is what I’m doing. First, I’m allowing myself to feel some feels almost whenever I want to. Which is not the greatest. But this is an unprecedented time in our whole life. I don’t know how to manage the feelings all the time. So I do my best. But I wake up in the morning and I do a news check because everything changes daily. So I want to know, like what’s closing down, what’s happening? Is the government closing down? Are they sending us all checks? You know, like I want to know. I get my morning dose of like what happened in the last day, because that makes me feel informed and it makes me feel like I’m getting enough information. I do my best not to keep looking. For the rest of the day. And if I feel like I need to go trolling the Internet for something to keep my brain busy, I’ll actually go into some of these community groups that I’ve seen pop up a lot looking for the good shit people are doing. The offers for helping them, the local businesses and restaurants that are giving away free food to people in the neighborhood, kind of replacing that need to gather information with information that is a feel good.
Gabe: Mr. Rogers once said that when he was terrified at watching the news when something bad happened, his mom said, look for the helpers. Look for all of the people that are helping. If you have the means, and when I say when you have the means that you can think really, really small here, offer to help other people. There’s a lot of people in my neighborhood that are providing lunches to school kids that aren’t in school right now. We’re talking like five or six lunches. They have the ability to make five baloney sandwiches, get five pops, and open up a bag of chips. So I know that oftentimes we think, well, I can’t do anything to help because I don’t have a lot of money. I think there are very, very small things that we can do to help. And I’ve been really impressed with the people in my community that really are just making sack lunches. And it’s baloney. But it’s not a lot of money. And I think it’s very, very helpful to find things like that.
Jackie: I’m going to give another suggestion that I would, in normal circumstances, never give. We’ve actually said it’s bullshit. So I. This is a not. These are weird times we’re in here, people. Go outside and normally take a walk is not what I would tell people. But if you’re somebody who normally leaves the house a lot and you thrive on kind of being out of the house. I’m not talking to the introverts who have a hard time leaving already. I’m talking to everybody else. Take a walk. It’s still safe to take a walk. It’s still safe to feel air to feel, sun. And I’m not saying it’s going to make anything better. This is not going to cure anything, but it definitely helps to de-stress. And I am one of those people that loves to be inside, that loves to stay in my house. I hate going into the world. I just like hate everybody. But I do feel the value in walks right now. It’s one of the only things we can do safely without feeling fear and anxiety about just doing anything like going to the grocery store is like a panic attack every time. I’m not even the one doing it. Adam’s going for us, but I still am worried. Go outside. It will be worth it.
Gabe: Everybody stay safe. Love the ones you’re with. Call your mom. Call your dad. Call your grandma. Call anybody. E-mail people. One of the things that my wife and I did and I’m not making this up, please don’t laugh at us. We ran through all of the stuff to watch and we can’t go anywhere. So we played a board game. This is the first time, I think, in eight years of marriage my wife and I have ever sat down and played a board game. I gotta tell you, it was more fun than I thought. Explore some of those things that you haven’t done in a while. Listen, I never thought that I would ever tell anybody to build a puzzle. Build a puzzle.
Gabe: It’s it’s it’s
Gabe: Weird times, my friends.
Jackie: I wrote letters to my niece and nephew, I sent them stickers that I had laying around the house. You know, it almost feels like as far in the future we are, let’s go back to the old times, like do the stuff that used to be entertaining, right? Except, you know, do a zoom call, write a letter, you know. On St. Patrick’s Day, everybody in this town was encouraged to put a shamrock in their window and kids went on shamrock hunts looking for shamrocks in the windows. We’re getting inventive. It is still possible to stay connected, to do new things, to do fun things, and to be able to clear your head in a really positive way. Again, it’s a choice, though, you have to want to.
Gabe: Jackie, I couldn’t agree more, and here are some other choices that you can make. You can subscribe to our podcast wherever you downloaded the show. You can rate our podcast with as many stars as you would like. You can use your words and tell people why you like our podcast. And finally, you can share our podcast on social media. The Not Crazy podcast comes out every Monday and we hope that you love it. If you have any complaints or comments or, well, just anything you can email us at [email protected] And hey, if you send us your address, we’ll send you some Not Crazy stickers.
Jackie: Hang in there, everyone, and we’ll see you next week.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Not Crazy from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. To work with Jackie, go to JackieZimmerman.co. Not Crazy travels well. Have Gabe and Jackie record an episode live at your next event. E-mail [email protected] for details.