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COVID brings stresses and gifts, locals say

This pandemic and its isolation, shutdowns and economic squeeze are demanding that we outwit depression and anxiety, develop new coping skills, and use the downtime creatively so that we can lay the foundation for a better life when the bug is gone.

Interviews and an Ashland Tidings-Mail Tribune survey on Facebook reveal cracks and stresses in our society, but also gifts of enforced quietude.

Ashland chiropractor Cynthia Wright says an unexpected impact of the pandemic is, “I am much more inward and quiet. I have lost my desire to socialize, and I feel distant from friends. There is a constant tension and vigilance now that keeps joy from flowing freely.”

Wright adds she is “appalled by how the stress is affecting people and how nasty many have become. Being out in nature, yoga and meditation ameliorate much of the negative for me.”

Stephen Bacon notes that, on Facebook, “I sense a higher degree of anxiety. Nerves are frayed. People appear a lot more reactive.”

Clinical social worker Victoria Christensen, a home health care nurse is finding that COVID-19 and the crunched economy “are creating unprecedented amounts of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, loneliness, despair and fragmentation of the psyche.”

While many “have the privilege to rest and reset,” many elderly and poor people, whom she serves all over Jackson County, can’t relax, read or relate at the dinner table, she says. She tries to teach them daily “radical self-compassion” and mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique of focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts.

Christensen decries cuts in food stamps and medical social work, noting there’s a big need for mental health therapists “in this time of heightened social unrest, misinformation campaigns, polarization and economic and ecological crisis.”

Playwright Diane Therese Nichols says it’s depressing how divided the country is on the mask controversy, but she feels “creative sparks igniting possibilities for new, innovative ways of doing things” in her own life and the community, including watching more cooking shows and doing a lot more healthful cooking.

“My days have more space around them. I am more calm,” she says. “I have fantastic friends, and we check in with one another. The world is different and we are adapting — and my dogs love having me home more.”

By necessity, the business of tattoo artist Mori Samel-Garloff is way off and, being an extrovert, it’s hard not hugging and dancing with friends. But the big plus is having a loving husband and making time for a fun date every week.

“The learning in this pandemic has been incredible,” she says. “I can sit back and just be. I felt like a kid again, with no big responsibilities. It was a practice of letting go and hoping for the best. I’ve found deeper purpose about what’s important. I’m not running around after the dollar, as I did in the past. Now it’s, ‘How can I make this about my calling?’”

The present crises over virus and racism should not be shockers to older generations who weathered assassinations, race-based upheavals and war, she says, adding, “We hope we can get past the corruption. It’s about valuing life. We’ve got to take care of the sick, elderly, minorities and make the country for everyone. That’s what I want to take action to do now.”

Environmental activist Diane Newell Meyer, who has compromised health, said, “The way I normally live my life is now shared by so many others! I had already stayed home from choirs a bit in February, and that is the main thing I miss. I have a low fixed income, boosted by the $1,200 stimulus, so I am really lucky. I love that I can go to so many things on Zoom, where I actually see more people and hear them better. I have given up on going to rallies and meetings. I am a dead duck if I get the virus!”

Paul Grimsrud says, “I’m on Facebook twice as much, walk the dog four times as much, eating better, exercising more, bought a used bike, pulled a hamstring and am getting to know so many people on my block. Actually, I’m starting to enjoy life more, as long as I breathe deep and stay grateful.”

Musician-composer Gene Burnett says pressure on any system reveals its weakest parts, so his personal regimen of walking, bicycling, nature and music now serve him well, though he misses live performing. He continues his teaching of tai chi virtually.

“The pandemic has made me appreciate everything I love about life more,” says Burnett. “I’m an older guy and introverted, but I can imagine that for young people at the height of their reproductive and social years, this could be very frustrating.”

Climate scientist Marni Koopman of the Geos Institute in Ashland said it’s been “an absolute blessing” for her child, whose social anxiety has gone from crippling to barely there.

“He draws and listens to and creates music ... is happier and more relaxed than I’ve seen him in years. Of course, it helps that I’m not working either. So we hike and garden and go to the lake. I’m not sure I can ever send him back to normal school!”

Investment counselor Peter Sage of Medford notes that, financially speaking, “People comfortably retired are in a rare but oddly undisturbed situation. Government stimulus put $1,000 or $2,000 in the hands of the 90%. and it put hundreds of thousands — or millions — in the hands of the investor class borrowed against future taxpayers.

“The stock market is back up. All good. The irony is [the wealthy] moaning and groaning at the socialistic giveaway of an extra $600 to an unemployed restaurant worker trying to afford rent, a car payment and if he finds work, child care in an environment in which child care is shut down.”

Thinking positively and taking action, photographer Tina Bolling Evoniuk posted on Facebook that if anyone lost their job and paycheck, she will bring food, “so don’t let yourself or your kids go to sleep with an empty stomach. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to send me a private message. I am more than happy to share whatever I can. I will drop and go. No one has to know, and I will pretend it never happened. #JoinTheCause.”

Evonuik says the viral siege is super stressful, but “it’s made my interpersonal life stronger. There’s less pressure from the outside, because I can’t do anything about it. I feel so fortunate, living in a county where we’ve not seen people die. I count my blessings every day. I don’t feel good whining about it. It doesn’t serve me or anyone. I focus on gratitude.

“It’s not just the virus but the whole political crap that brings me down so much. The only way to make it through this is to try and find the silver lining or else I fear we’ll go down the rabbit hole and not come back up. Sometimes I have to dig really deep to get there.

“We will get through this and learn from it. Change is coming down the line, and it’s going to be better.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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