Having a mental health crisis during a global health crisis

​How Preexisting Conditions heightened COVID-19’s impact on my mental health
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Content Warning: The following article mentions and shows pictures of self-harm. It too talks about depression, sexual assault, trauma and suicidal ideations. Reader discretion is advised.
On April 16, 2020, President Donald Trump released a three phase plan on how we could re-open America amid the devastation of COVID-19, according to Politico. With many heavy populous areas, such as Chicago, having yet to hit their peak on deaths from the virus, there was understandable backlash to the president’s plan. Yet, some states still moved forward with the reopening.
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A graphic summarizing President Donald Trump’s three phase plan to re-open America amid the corona virus pandemic. (Source: Politico)

YET ANOTHER CHAPTER

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp allowed Georgia businesses to re-open on April 24, but some mayors pushed back on this decision. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms told residents, “Stay home. Nothing has changed,” CNN reported. The outlet added that, “Georgia’s death rate was up 37% from the same day a week ago.” So, why re-open if people are still dying at rapid rates?

It is a form of population control for African Americans, some have argued. Based on reports, African Americans will be negatively impacted by this re-opening, especially in places like Georgia. Atlanta-based broadcast station 11Alive noted that, “The latest data shows that African Americans in Georgia and across the United States are being hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Of the cases where race was known, African Americans in Georgia made up 34% of corona virus fatalities, whereas white Georgians made up just 29%. (11Alive)
Re-opening a state that has not peaked and where African Americans are being hit the hardest by the virus seems ill-advised, if we fail to consider Kemp’s track record. Previously, when he ran for-Governor against Stacey Abrams, he was accused of voter suppression against African American voters.

If the latter were true, then the former might make sense as yet another questionable practice by the peach state’s governor. Alas, this perceived lack of empathy towards African Americans does not exist in a vacuum; it is yet another chapter highlighting some of Black America’s most horrid lived experiences.

In Chicago, I experienced the horror firsthand. 

Why should I have to put myself at risk for a job that will not even pay for my funeral if I die?

MY DIAGNOSIS

Why should I have to put myself at risk for a job that will not even pay for my funeral if I die, I asked myself while working nearly every day because I did not want my family to lose our housing or not have enough to eat. Yet, when I was putting in these extra hours, my body was changing – little by little. Each day that I went to work, I became further and further disconnected from myself.
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A screenshot of my search history after getting an IV attached to my arm in the second hospital I stayed in.
​Then, it happened.
On Easter Sunday 2020, I was convinced that I was dying. In a panic, I sent out ominous text messages to the people closest to me because I wanted them to know that I cared.
When I thankfully woke up on April 13, I wasn’t myself. I looked like myself, but I didn’t feel like myself. I later found out that I was likely experiencing depersonalization as a symptom of bipolar disorder. Although I am able to articulate that now, it was terrifying to experience without that prior knowledge.

Depersonalization-derealization disorder occurs when you persistently or repeatedly have the feeling that you’re observing yourself from outside your body…[you] may feel like you’re living in a dream.

Mayo Clinic

Sparing the gruesome details, I went into a panic trying to figure out what was wrong. Was I dying? Was this a drug overdose? What was happening? To quell some of this anxiety, I went to the hospital, but that seemed to make everything worse.

My first trip was April 18, which also happened to be the anniversary of when I was assaulted by my ex-boyfriend. At first, I thought anniversary trauma, or the feeling of retraumatization on the anniversary of a tragic event,  was causing me to not feel like myself. Yet, the symptoms persisted days after this gory anniversary had passed. Now I realize it was not just one singular thing but a culmination of work anxiety, post-grad stress, PTSD, depression and other emotions one might experience growing up as a poor, Black, and perpetually homeless woman.

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A picture I drew depicting how my mind was moving.
I thought spending time in the hospital would help me get a better handle on my emotions, but it worsened what happened. On my first trip, I told the doctor that I thought I might be having a marijuana overdose and that I had never felt out of body for so long. Her response, “Well, people die who have never died before.”

Although I do not remember much from the past two weeks, that comment stayed. It would be one of many soundbites that demonstrated the lack of care for Black patients, or what the American Bar Association calls “implicit bias in healthcare.” The saddest part is that this woman, and many of the other people who demonstrated this bias, were also Black.

As the saying goes, all skin folk ain’t kin folk.

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An excerpt from a poem I wrote after seeing a patient get sedated when he was clearly in distress.
Because the first doctor didn’t see anything wrong, she sent me home. But, I knew there was something different about me; I just didn’t have the words for it. So, on Monday, April 20, I returned to the hospital – this time with a plan. Sunday night, I did something I would later regret. I had never self-harmed before, but a voice in my head told me that if they could see something was wrong, then I would finally get help. After sharing this bit of information with a social worker at the second hospital, things got even scarier.

This second hospital trip is what inspired me to write this story. From the lack of care provided to the general disposition of medical staffers, I knew I had to say something.

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A picture I colored in the hospital with an empowering message.
The most unsettling moment was not being able to talk to my therapist because an unempathetic nursing staff would not put the call through. Imagine that: going through a mental health crisis and not being able to speak to the one person who might have been able to help you through. After that experience, a voice inside my head said, “you have to write this story.”
Yet, the horror does not end here. Because I was considered a danger to myself, I was sent to a psychiatric facility, which turned out to be the worst four days of my life. From the constant oversight, the exposure to patients with severe mental health issues, the constant re-traumatization from nurses asking me the same questions on a loop to the restrictive phone schedule, I thought I might actually die in there.

In a moment of dark irony, one of the nursing staff asked, “Is she dead?” when he walked into my room while I was sleeping. I wasn’t, but I wished I was. Being in that facility was counterintuitive to any type of progress they purported to make. The only benefit was being able to get medicine, which was all I needed in the first place.

My last day there, I made attempts to open up. I was so upset by my experience that I closed myself off to other patients, until I realized we are all in the same boat.

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A poem inspired by Chicago rapper Dreezy who said, “Drinking Henny cause we all bottled up” on her song “Spar.”

I’m coming home

The last two weeks have felt like a blur, but they have also put a lot of things into perspective. Right now, my depersonalization has decreased with the medicine, and I am able to do things I enjoyed. Constantly, I tell myself, “I love you; we are going to be okay.”

Still, that does not take away from the panic of April 12-26. That two weeks could pass, and I don’t remember anything from them is terrifying. But what’s more terrifying are the patients like Ms. Terry*, a possible schizophrenic who is experiencing homelessness. She was roomed next to me during my hospital visit, and I saw them sedate her when she became “unbearable.” However, when I listened to her speak, she was not the animal they characterized her.

She was a human being who was afraid and stuck some place she did not want to be. In some ways, she was like me.

[Name changed for privacy]

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Chicago COVID-19 statistics, via NBC5 Chicago.
I write this for patients like her who cannot necessarily advocate for themselves because they have been written off from society. I write this for the one or two pals I made when we were in the “pen” (pun intended). I write this for the Black mental health patients who are experiencing multiple pandemics at once – the one we all must bear and the one they have been bearing since before the first COVID case was broke.

In an effort to heal the world, we must first heal the ones we’ve long brutalized with our broken systems. ~ℝ

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with related articles as well as an author biography.

JAVANNA PLUMMER, RWEBEL IN CHIEF

Javanna is the editor of “Rwebel Magazine,” the architect behind “Rwebel Radio,” and the pioneering force of “Xscape.” Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion and forward-thinking.


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