TWO YEARS: AN ENDEMIC AND THE LONG PANDEMIC
Two years with COVID and weeks into a war with atrocities that can never be fully imagined, described, or even believed that the human race can do this to one another. Physical horrors of COVID have certainly lessened; scientists have worked quickly to ramp up vaccine production and treatments so that COVID can be endemic without overwhelming our medical care system and resulting in substandard care and avoidable deaths from the disease itself and from other diseases, accidents, traumas that could not be handled because of the overflow of patients and the insufficient number of healthcare workers given the rapid influx of patient demands, burnout, their own illness.,
We are now left with an endemic of COVID and a massive pandemic of mental health problems, social/emotional difficulties, learning difficulties, maladaptive behaviors, severe adjustment disorders and families that have been broken apart by the grief from COVID, the economic stress, and the chronic stress of two years that continues to wreak havoc on an individuals nervous system and stress-response pathways. We are finding that the real victims of this pandemic are our youth; those individuals who really had no choice, no space, no supports in person, and who had trauma during this isolating time. The youth who witnessed increased domestic violence, endured increased amounts of physical and sexual abuse, may have been neglected, and may have watched loved ones pass away, suffer, relapse into addictions, the list goes on. The youth that had no voice during isolation, no phone to call someone who would come over and save them. The youth that learned that they were not being heard and that would then become desensitized to trauma, numb to their environment in order to survive. These children of all ages are now back in the world and expected to learn and act as if everything is resolved. Even though educators, families, and districts know that students are not the same, that the developmental curve stagnated or even regressed socially and emotionally for many students, the curriculum and routine of our schools is back to pre-pandemic.
Now that students/children (and adults as well) are out of survival mode (after all, such a response could not last forever), they are less numb, and underneath the numbness is hurt, anger, shame, insecurity, and loneliness. In some of the most extreme circumstances, one can think about running a marathon barefoot, with nothing to drink and no food, in the freezing rain, running because there is a huge bear behind them and if they stop they will be killed. While running, they get blisters on their feet, they get hungry and malnourished as well as dehydrated and they get cold, so cold from the freezing rain. Yet, they keep running. At the end, the bear leaves and they are done running. The numbness dissipates and the child starts to cry in pain over their feet, their hunger pains, their thirst, their achy legs, their feeling so cold and exhausted. Now, imagine that someone at the finish line offers the child a warm pair of clothes, a warm meal, a drink, a warm bath, and an hour long nap. The person then tells the child that they have to get up, walk to school and continue with their day. The child is physically exhausted and not well and mentally traumatized from being chased by a bear for so long, yet they are supposed to be okay after this one warm meal, change of clothes, and bath and a little bit of rest. This sounds crazy when we think about it this way.
Children who do not have the supports in place at the finish line or at all during the marathon and do not have a safe space where they are heard and they feel that if someone is hurting them or they are hurt, they have the voice to speak up and make it stop, these children take all of those hard/strong feelings and direct them to themselves, out to others, or cut themselves off from the rest of the world. The finish line takes away the numbness and can release the emotions and maladaptive coping mechanisms of the traumatized child, who never learned how to deal with so much pain, horror, uncertainty, insecurity, and loneliness. All of these are maladaptive and they all are dangerous to the child and those around them.
THIS PANDEMIC of mental health, chronically stressed children, and traumatized youth is not cured by vaccines, pills, short hospitalizations. THIS PANDEMIC needs a community to back and support these children and resources to empower the children to regain their voice and their control that they have a right to not be hurt, to not go hungry, and to learn and to interact with others in a safe space. THIS is going to take a long time and is going to require patience and a redirecting of educational resources and curriculum to relearning life skills, emotional regulation, and social/emotional skills. Only when our students and our youth are able to be in tune with their emotions, trust that they can safely express themselves, feel safe in a space, regain confidence and feel that they are loved and valued by others, will they be able to learn.
Our educators and healthcare workers also need support and strength in order to not give up during this pandemic. They also need a voice and need to be heard. We are all going to continue to be challenged, and we need the coping skills and the ability, physical flexibility and mental flexibility to continue to move forward, support each other, find compassion for ourselves, and make wise decisions. Loving-kindness starts with ourselves and then can extend outwards. Without an internal, basic, foundation of empowerment and compassion and love, nothing can grow or emanate outwards and the community will never be able to reconnect, intertwine with one another, and support one another. Liken each resource to a wire in a closed circuit. When we are all connected in a positive way, the community lights up.
EVERY CHILD NEEDS HELP LEARNING HOW TO GET DOWN A MOUNTAIN. WITHOUT LEARNING THE SKILLS OF TURNING, STOPPING, AND STANDING BACK UP, WE CANNOT EXPECT A CHILD TO GO DOWN ALONE