Pandemic Produces New Perspective
To say that the global pandemic has impacted all our lives is perhaps an understatement. While each person’s experience with COVID19 is different, it is clear that people living with mental health challenges have struggled with the impact that the pandemic has had on our lives.
Alex Singleton is a Peer Support Worker (PSW) with Communitas. Alex lives with mental health challenges and because of his lived experience, he supports others who are also on the journey towards mental wellness. Navigating COVID19 while living with schizophrenia, obsessive/compulsive disorder, and anxiety has definitely been a challenge for Alex but it has also given him unexpected gifts.
“COVID-19 has been something that has revamped my whole life,” he reflects. “It became a huge learning time for me. I have learned how to really face my fears and anxiety.”
FACING THE CHALLENGES
When the pandemic first unfolded, the things that others found challenging were already part of Alex’s every day routine. He already routinely washes his hands and uses hand sanitizer. He rarely touches door knobs or elevator buttons. It was the directive to stay at home that was harder to navigate. Alex self-isolated for 13 weeks and it was during this isolation that Alex discovered strength that he didn’t know he had.
“When I felt anxious during that time, there was nowhere for me to run and hide,” he explains. “A lot of the things that I used to distract myself were no longer available to me. I was stuck in my apartment, just me and my thoughts. I was literally forced to face my biggest fears and anxieties.”
Inner voices told him he was going to die. He washed his hands to the point of bleeding. Despite these challenges, he realized that the challenge was his to overcome and began to look at the positives. He became closer to his co-workers as they met on Zoom. He had more time to entertain himself with his favourite coping mechanism: video games. He started to cook for himself.
“There were a lot of times where I wanted to give up, but my support network and my own sheer will to fight brought me through,” he says. “I fought hard.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEANINGFUL WORK
Work also helped him enormously. Patrick Raymond, one of Communitas’ Peer Support managers, says Alex’s story has been a source of inspiration for him personally.
“Alex’s self-motivation, willingness to learn, and his dedication and heart for the work he does comes from his inner strength,” Patrick says. “His resilience and ability to care for himself are an example of the amazing growth that we’ve seen in him in the years that we’ve been privileged to have him on our peer support team.”
Alex is grateful that Patrick worked hard to ensure that PSWs would be able to continue to work and support the people they served in the psychiatric unit at the hospital. Patrick worked at creating a “warm phone line” and hand-delivered cell phones to his staff so that they could continue to work. Being recognized as an essential service worker also gave Alex a great deal of pride.
Slowly, Alex began to realize that he was responding to the challenges around him in a different way. While riding the bus, he wasn’t constantly analyzing things or assessing surfaces for cleanliness. He found tools like personal self-talk and positive mantras to help him move past anxiety.
“I have learned that I am strong and that I can make it through things, even those that turn my life upside-down,” he says.
Today, Alex is back at work and loving it. He is grateful to be able to support people face-to-face again and have encouraging conversations.
“It is the most amazing feeling to step back on that ward and talk to the people I serve,” he says. “The weeks of isolation made me forget what an amazing job I have and how much I love what I do. I feel human again.”
Not only does Alex feel human, he feels like a conqueror. He knows that he has what it takes to overcome, no matter how loud the voices get or how bad the anxiety gets, he is resilient. He has also developed a deeper appreciation for being part of a community.
“If COVID-19 has shown me anything, it’s that I possess a power and determination to fight and be the best possible human being I can be,” he says. “Yes, life is completely different now, but it’s not the end of the world. If we can bond together and fight our own personal demons, then we will succeed and remain steadfast in these difficult times.”