World Mental Health Day

What do you do to take care of you?

Sunday, October 10th is WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY

From the World Health Organization:

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health. Some groups, including health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, have been particularly affected. And services for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders have been significantly disrupted. Yet there is cause for optimism. During the World Health Assembly in May 2021, governments from around the world recognized the need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels. And some countries have found new ways of providing mental health care to their populations.

Watch The COVID-19 Pandemic and Mental Health from the WHO to learn how people around the world are coping.

What do you personally do to take care of your mental health? How have you been coping with the continued pandemic? I find the current situation with the pandemic to be more difficult. In 2020, we were told to social distance, isolate physically from others., businesses went online, restaurants offered only curbside. Now with vaccines, it is not so cut and dried. So many are still not vaccinated. Younger children cannot get vaccinated, and older adults are still at risk. Masks are not mandated in most places, and it is business as usual for many. Plus, we are getting to the time period of 6 to 8 months where the benefits of the vaccine may start to “wear off”. If we are not older or at high risk, we cannot get the booster.

I am still not comfortable going into large group settings. I wear a mask in the grocery store. I still order online and do pickup from some stores. Not so much due to the virus, but because it saves time. Just this week, I found out four people that I know, all vaccinated, have COVID. It worries me. Some days I feel like a bit of a hermit, but I’m also ok with that. However, I still struggle with seeing others getting “back to normal” while I am still cautious. It does wear on my mental health some days. I know there are so many who are at high risk, even with the vaccine. Many are my Parkinson’s and Senior clients with chronic conditions. Some days, it seems like no one cares about others, only themselves. This affects me emotionally. I cannot make someone care about others. I’m learning in this process to control what I can control and let go of what I cannot. Honestly, that is not easy for me. As someone who has always been independent, a business owner, and very organized, I like control. I have realized that trying to control things that are out of my control, like how others handle safety in the pandemic, the misinformation on social media, or partisan politicians who want to drive a wedge between friends, families, and neighbors, is not mentally or emotionally healthy. If it isn’t mentally or emotionally healthy, it will affect me physically. As difficult as it is, I have to let go. This is one of the reasons I have left Facebook and Instagram.

Let’s make taking care of our mental health a priority. Identify what you can control and what you cannot control. Let go of what is out of your hands. Work on what you can. You may not be able to change the way a politician acts or the division they are sowing. However, you might be able to make a donation to their opponent if they are up for re-election. You can write a letter or email to let them know how you feel. It may not change them, but it is therapeutic for you to voice your opinion. You cannot force others to wear a mask in the grocery store, but you can do your part to be safe and keep your family safe by wearing a mask, washing your hands, getting the COVID vaccine if you haven’t, and getting a flu shot. Take care of YOU and make a difference.

As John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Good-bye Facebook & Instagram

After several days of contemplation, I have made the decision to leave Facebook and Instagram permanently. While this is not a big deal personally, it is professionally. I manage three organization pages, ReNu Your Life, the Cedar Rapids Metro Parkinson's Association, and the Iowa City PD Support. Although I've had an uneasy feeling about these social media platforms, particularly Facebook, since the 2016 election and after watching the documentary "The Social Dilemma", the most recent testimony by Frances Haugen has sealed the deal. Her bravery to come forward should be commended.

The involvement of FB in the January 6 Capital riots, the political influence it wields around the world, the division between friends and families it has sown through algorithms, and the continued spread of misinformation especially related to COVID and vaccinations is too much. To add to that, the fact that Instagram targeted young girls with pro-anorexia related posts is sickening. One of the Facebook internal studies that Ms. Haugen found talks about how Instagram harms teenage girls. One study says 13.5% of teen girls say Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse; 17% of teen girls say Instagram makes eating disorders worse. Facebook and Instagram did nothing about this. We are seeing skyrocketing mental health issues in this country. I do not want to be part of a platform that adds to the problem.

As Frances Haugen stated, "When we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other, the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world. Ethnic violence including Myanmar in 2018 when the military used Facebook to launch a genocide".

All of this being said, I know that removing pages may affect outreach by the organizations that I manage. Both the Cedar Rapids Metro Parkinson's Association and ReNu Your Life have websites and email-based newsletters to keep in contact with clients. Please subscribe to this newsletter to stay in touch. Visit the website of the organization that you follow to subscribe to the newsletters and stay in touch.

Thank you to all of my followers and to the many friends that I have "met" over the years. My FB & IG accounts will be active through Sunday, October 10th. Please message or email me if you would like to stay in touch. 

Be well, both physically and emotionally.

Kris Cameron

Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

How Do You Cope?

Burnout. We have likely all felt it from time to time. The pandemic has exacerbated it. We may experience it differently based on our career, family situation, and access to resources. Regardless, burnout is physically and mentally damaging.

According to WebMD, Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one’s job. Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands (WebMD. 2020).

We hear a lot about job burnout, but what happens when you experience LIFE burnout? Most of my adult life has involved caregiving. I became a mom at age 21. I worked in healthcare. I volunteered as a First Responder. I worked in a youth treatment and living facility. For the past 25+ years, I have worked in health and wellness, primarily working with people with chronic conditions. My client base is over the age of 65. Six years ago, I moved my widowed, elderly mother from Texas to live with us. My siblings who lived closer to her could not take care of her because of their own issues they were dealing with. Long story there, but the caregiving fell on me 1,200 miles away. I had been handling everything well. I do enjoy helping others. I feel that is my purpose. Then, the pandemic hit.

2020 led me, as many others, to work from home. I was home ALL the time. My life revolved around checking in on my clients and class participants through online programs and keeping my now 93-year-old mother from ending up in the hospital with COVID-19. I stayed away from others, including my little granddaughters to keep everyone safe. Some days I felt like I was doing a good job. Other days I felt like I was the only one trying. I’m sure we have all felt like that since March 2020. My siblings, who were in other states, did not take the virus seriously. One even called it a hoax, no worse than the flu, and just an attempt to discredit and bring down the current president. I would have loved to see others, but I knew they were not isolating. If I saw them, I would be “visiting” everyone they visited with.

Here we are almost a year and a half later. We are all vaccinated in my house. My mom stayed well even when my husband brought COVID home. I managed to take care of her without transmitting it thanks to masks, handwashing, living in the basement, and lots of Lysol. She’s 94. Although I was a bit hesitant, the decision was made to start some in-person programs at the beginning of August. We required masks and registration to keep class sizes small. I knew my clients with Parkinson’s Disease especially needed socialization. The lack of socialization this past year and a half has affected them negatively. Research shows it (Subramanian, I., Farahnik, J. & Mischley, L.K. 2020) Although I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work with my mom requiring more caregiving now, I set off to start working in person again. As you know from my last post, that did not last thanks to the Delta variant and unvaccinated, unmasked Iowans.

Back to burnout. Dealing with the pandemic has been difficult and exhausting for all of us. Trying to counteract misinformation about the pandemic is exhausting. I know I have people in my programs that are high risk and still refuse to get vaccinated. I am responsible for the wellness of others and take the responsibility seriously, especially with the pandemic. That required a complete turnaround of in-person programs back to online programs. My mom’s cognitive health is getting worse. One day she talks about the virus, the next she does not understand why she cannot get a perm when none of the hairstylists wear masks and hospitalizations from the Delta variant have skyrocketed. She is vaccinated, but she is also 94. Do I continue to protect her or say, “whatever” and send her to CostCutters? I tend to lean towards safety. I love my granddaughters and would do anything in the world for them. They are starting school and went to the state fair and I am worried about them. My siblings are not any help with my mom and actually make things worse most of the time when they talk with her by phone. I am still dealing with long-haul COVID fatigue and headaches. It is difficult to eat sometimes because a lot of food smells like sewage, which was a nice little addition to the long-haul symptoms. I am exhausted physically and mentally, and I’m hitting burnout.

The symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression. They include:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones.

  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

  • Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless and helpless.

  • Changes in appetite, weight or both.

  • Changes in sleep patterns.

  • Getting sick more often.

  • Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring.

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.

  • Irritability.

Caregiver Burnout

I do try to make time for self-care, which we are told to do, but I will skip it if someone needs me. Yeah, I know that is not how it is supposed to work. I hesitate sometimes to reach out because I know people who are much worse off than I am. I’m thankful that I no longer work in a hospital. My heart aches for the frontline workers who cannot get a break from the sick and dying in a pandemic. How much long-term stress can we all take?

I recommend this PDF, Coping with Stress and Compassion Fatigue, from SAMSA. Recommendations to manage stress includes:

  • Balanced, nutritious diet

  • Regular exercise, meditation, and mindfulness

  • Routine schedule of restful sleep

  • Balance between work and leisure

  • Honoring emotional needs

I think most of all, we as caregivers need a plan. It is great to know the recommendations for managing stress, but how do we IMPLEMENT them? How do we take care of ourselves when we literally feel like we are drowning and cannot come up for breath? I have actually written, “10 minutes on the treadmill” in empty space on my calendar. Am I consistent? No, but I am trying. That is what we can do. Keep trying. It is not going to be perfect. We will have those days when we cannot focus. We just keep trying.

Hang in there. Let me know how you are coping.

2020...version 2.0

What wave are we on now?

August 2021. Is this the third wave of COVID in the US? Fifth wave? Hell, maybe we never left the first wave! Yes, we have the vaccine but many Americans are refusing to get it. Many of the same Americans are also refusing not only to wear a mask but to put one on their kids under age 12 as they go back to school ineligible for the vaccine.

What kind of country have we become? Some people think masks are unsafe for their kids because Billy Bob watched a YouTube video that his friend Karen sent him, that was sent to her by Barbie and Ken. The guy in the video was wearing a white lab coat, so he must be an expert. He said that kids are breathing in their own CO2 and dropping like flies. The government cabal just doesn’t want you to know about it. They know it is true because another expert on YouTube in a white lab coat told them that the vaccine is actually a microchip that not only can track you, but also alter your DNA turning you into a socialist zombie.

Are you laughing? Sadly, these are videos and Facebook posts that are really out there. It would be funny, except people believe these things and they are putting their lives, their kids’ lives, and others who are immunocompromised at risk. Earlier this year, I wrote about conspiracy theories and mental health. This is a controversial topic in the mental health world. Of course, not all people who have mental illness believe in conspiracy theories. However, just last week, a father from California killed his two babies with a speargun because he believed in conspiracy theories. “Coleman said he had been enlightened by the extremist group QAnon and the Illuminati, both baseless theories that claim secret elites are maliciously controlling national and world affairs from the shadows. He had received visions and signs revealing his wife “possessed serpent DNA,” which she passed on to their children, according to the affidavit. By killing them, he allegedly said, “he was saving the world from monsters.” “He knew it was wrong, but it was the only course of action that would save the world,” Washington Post, August 12, 2021. We do not know if this man has a history of mental illness, but that kind of thinking is not normal. Some believe that the pandemic and the loss of control that we’ve experience lead some to find meaning in conspiracy theories. I understand that. However, all of us, including me have experienced a loss of control since March 2020. I for one do not believe in serpent DNA, nor would I even take half a second to watch a YouTube video or read a Facebook post about it. Personally, I think we need to start looking at QAnon and conspiracy theories like the religious cults of the 1970s and 1980s. Jim Jones brainwashed his followers to the point they drank poisoned Kool-aid and gave the poisoned Kool-aid to their children. David Koresh and his followers were willing to sacrifice men, women, and children to protect their compound in Waco, Texas. Whoever “Q” is and every public mouthpiece (politicians) who gives QAnon conspiracies a stage need to be held accountable. Followers need to go through the same steps and therapy that cult followers went through to undo the brainwashing of cult leaders.

Back to masks and vaccines. This is the same thinking that goes into the anti-vaccine and anti-mask stance. Are these people getting their information from their physician, or from Billy Bob on Facebook and the white coat “expert” on YouTube? I wear a mask to the store. I wear a mask and teach a 60-minute exercise class to older people with Parkinson’s Disease who are also wearing masks three days a week. Not one of us has collapsed from breathing in CO2. I had COVID in January and got the vaccine as soon as I could. No lasting side effects from the vaccine. However, I do have long-haul symptoms from COVID even though I had a fairly mild case. Some claim they won’t get the vaccine because they do not know what’s in it. They don’t know what is in a Big Mac or Cheetos, but they eat that or they take their daily Low-T supplement from Walmart that isn’t even regulated by the FDA.

Here is the problem that many do not seem to understand. This pandemic, this virus will never come to any kind of closure until people take it seriously, get vaccinated, and wear masks. We all want to go to concerts, to outdoor events, even go back to school. But don’t we want to do that safely without risking another wave or variant? I’m not a scientist, but I do know viruses mutate. They love vulnerable hosts. We are chest-deep in the Delta variant and we know the Lambda variant has its eye on us. What will we do to stop it? Keep pretending that it isn’t real? Blame another country for it? Or will we listen to public health and epidemiology experts? I rely on experts all the time. I’ve been teaching exercise and wellness to people with chronic conditions for almost 25 years. I know a lot, but I don’t know everything. I turn to a doctor or physical therapist when I don’t have the answer for a client with knee pain. I won’t even pretend I know the answer because that would make me unethical. Diagnosing and treating is outside of my scope of practice. That is why we have experts. Unfortunately, too many people believe they are the experts and think the experts have some sort of hidden agenda. We have seen this with our own eyes when people doubt expert advice about COVID. Has the information changed since last year? Of course it has. A new virus is a learning process. Science is a learning process. We learn and change as we learn.

So to the personal aspect of all of this. Because people refuse the vaccine and refuse to wear a mask, we are sending kids into a school year without protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which should be seen as experts on children’s health, has said masks should be worn by kids in school. Governors, who are not experts, have said “nope, and we will not only make it illegal to enforce it but we will withhold pay to schools, teachers, and administrators who try to enforce it”. Who are too many people listening to? The governors who have no background in health, but do have an agenda. August 3rd, I started in-person classes for those with Parkinson’s Disease. I’ve been teaching on Zoom since April 2020, which is great. However, people with PD benefit from socialization. Many with PD already suffer from anxiety and depression, a non-motor symptom of Parkinson’s. As great as it has been to keep the classes going via Zoom, it is not the same. Participants were excited to resume in person. I kept the class size down for physical distancing and everyone wore masks. Three weeks later, we are suspending in-person programs because the Delta variant is spreading quickly and hospitalization numbers are rising just as quickly. This decision was based on advice from local hospitals and public health. This will definitely impact those who have difficulty with online classes. However, we had to make the decision. Do we continue in-person classes and risk someone getting sick, or do we go back online, lose a few participants for hopefully a few weeks and keep everyone safe? Of course, our priority is the health and safety of everyone. Am I angry and frustrated about it? You bet I am. I’m not angry that we have to go back online. I’m angry that less than 48% of Iowans are fully vaccinated, people are getting sick and hospitalized, and our governor is trotting around the Iowa State Fair, unmasked and shaking hands and hugging people. Parents are beside themselves with worry about their kids getting sick when they return to school and our governor is eating deep-fried whatever on a stick and playing politics with her base who are doing the same thing. Isn’t she supposed to represent and care about EVERYONE in the state, regardless of their political leanings? I find it ironic that less than 48% of Iowans are fully vaccinated and over half of Iowans think the governor is doing a great job. Great. That’s a train that’s headed straight into a wall.

Not only will we be dealing with the virus and possible long-haul health issues, but we will also be dealing with mental health issues for years to come. The stress, anxiety, and depression that so many parents and kids are experiencing are very real. Parents are worried about their kids. Kids are excited to go back to school but anxious about the virus. Teachers are concerned and now some are being attacked by parents for taking a stand for masking. Is Karen actually that convinced that her kid will die from C02 poisoning by wearing a mask that she is ready to physically fight another parent or teacher in front of her kid? Which scenario do you think is actually more traumatizing to the child?

I don’t know where we go from here, but I know something has to change. We have to care more about others. We have to care about the facts again. We have to stop getting so-called expert information from YouTube and Facebook. If you want to learn how to fix your faucet, YouTube might be great. You wouldn’t use it to learn how to fix your broken arm. You would go to an expert, your doctor, or the ER. Let’s stop putting our health and well-being and the health and well-being in the hands of YouTube, Facebook, politicians, or Billy Bob that you went to high school with.

Hospitals run low on nurses as they get swamped with COVID

From Cedar Rapids 8/11/2021

This headline. This is what happens when healthcare providers are pushed to the breaking point. These healthcare providers, especially nurses, have spent the last year and a half taking care of others in a pandemic. They’ve had to isolate from their own families. They have put their personal lives and their family lives on hold to care for others who are sick and dying. Sure, healthcare providers of any kind care for the sick and dying in their job. But not to this extent. They are humans, and humans can be pushed to the breaking point both physically and mentally.

The most heartbreaking part of this, it did not have to be this way. Since the US started seeing more cases of COVID-19 in March 2020, the COVID deniers, the anti-vaccine people, the talking heads that made mask wearing a political issue instead of a health issue, they brought us to this point. They listened to political and cable news pundits instead of scientists and real doctors. They got their misinformation from Facebook and spread it like glitter throughout their social circles. They did not understand science and viruses and epidemiology, nor did they want to even try to. Instead, they listened to a self-interested, bankrupt, reality show host turned president as he spewed lies, dangerous treatments, and hate. More and more people were hospitalized and more and more died.

They trusted their higher power to protect them, not giving a thought to the idea that maybe the higher power wanted them to use the brain it gave them to protect themselves and others. People they cared about died. People who also believed in the higher power and the same talking heads. They could not bring themselves to put a simple piece of cloth over their nose and mouth to protect others. Ironically, in their bible, Philippians 2:4 says do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” That did not apply to them. They did not care about others. They did not care about the hundreds of thousands now that were dying, not just in this country but all over the world. They did not care that hospitals were being pushed to the limits. Some of them even entered hospitals, demanding the healthcare providers show them the people who were sick from COVID, then accusing the healthcare providers who were already overworked of coverups and lies. They could not be bothered to stay home, but screamed and protested when they could not get a haircut, go to the gym, or eat out at a restaurant.

Many of these were people who claimed to be patriotic. Who would do anything for their country. Again, a simple piece of cloth over their nose and mouth was all that was asked of them. They were not asked to ration food like in World War II, or grow victory gardens, or to keep their lights off in their homes. A piece of cloth, similar to the ones that surgeons wear when operating, or nurses wear to stop the spread of germs. These people believed that did not work, even though they expected the healthcare providers to wear them when caring for them in the hospital. They kept listening to their talking heads, spreading lies, and dividing a country to the point that relationships ended over the division. Those who did not think like they did were the enemy, not the virus. The people who tried to reason with them, to show them the facts, well they were the ignorant sheep. They could not see the lies and the hypocrisy coming out of their own mouths. They became like cult-followers.

When scientists worked around the clock in an emergency situation to develop a vaccine to prevent the virus, people refused it. They would rather get COVID than risk a vaccine that contained microchip trackers or DNA altering ingredients. The so called “experts” published videos on YouTube and wore white coats as to look professional. Instead they pushed more lies, more misinformation about the virus and now the vaccine. People believed it because after all, they had the word “Doctor” before their name and they were wearing a white lab coat. When others tried to explain how science and research worked, or tried to reason with them about the fact a microchip was not being place in the vaccine, or the fact that if someone really wanted to track them, they already could do so thanks to the cute little iPhone in their pocket they carried everywhere with them, they would not believe the facts. They were not getting the vaccine.

All this time, nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals were still working around the clock. Caring for more sick and dying patients. Now, some of these sick and dying patients who refused the vaccine were begging from their hospital beds for it. The nurses and doctors told them it was too late. They already had COVID, they would be intubated, and placed in ICU. Young kids under the age of 12, who are not able to get the vaccine are now ending up in those same hospital beds. It is not their fault they are there. It is the fault of adults who were supposed to be responsible. Adults who had the choice to get the vaccine or wear a mask, but refused. Those same doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff who have been working non-stop since March 2020, are still caring for sick and dying patients from a virus that could have been stopped, or at least slowed. They are tired. They are burnt out, both physically and emotionally. They have been caring for selfish adults who cannot be bothered to think of others, even children under age 12 who are now most at risk and will soon be returning to school. Their mental health is suffering.

Politicians are still dividing people. Instead of being the example of a “Christian Nation” they claim to represent and caring about others. They only care about themselves and their political agenda. They do not want their constituents to be informed. Ignorance is much easier to manipulate. Some governors have passed laws against wearing masks, that simple piece of cloth that can protect others including children, when worn over the nose and mouth. Some have passed these laws, but as the governor of Texas, talked out both sides of their mouth by asking healthcare providers from other states to help out because their own healthcare providers cannot take any more stress. Pediatric hospitals are filling up. Some states only have a few hospital beds left. The virus? It is doing what viruses have done throughout history. It is mutating and developing stronger, more resistant variants, thanks to the ignorance and selfishness of humans.


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