Post-pandemic Balance vs The Drunken Monkey Syndrome

Many families have taken on the role of caregiver during the pandemic for their elder family members while dealing with children who have been locked at home and away from friends and school for more than a year.  At some point, varying levels of stress start to affect the entire family. 

 In One Caregiver’s Journey, I routinely freely advise three things:

  1. Caregiving is a tough job in the best of times and situations. 
  2. Caregiving, like aging and getting old, isn’t for sissies and,
  3. Caregiving isn’t for everyone, but you might not have been given a choice during a global pandemic.

Sometimes it is difficult to maintain a positive attitude given the many challenges associated with being a caregiver as well as today’s challenging world.   The past year has been laden with negativity and stress and living through a global pandemic has made the need to find positivity and balance in our lives a priority.  Families have struggled on a plethora of fronts including physical, mental, and financial issues to contend with at the same time.

There are many suggestions and a whole lot of curiosity as to what our “new normal” will look like.  It will, however, feel and be the new abnormal for a long time.  For me personally, living alone during the pandemic brought me back to the 9 ½ years I cared for my mother in virtual isolation as written in my book One Caregiver’s Journey.  I am a veteran at living alone. Unlike other people my age and living alone during the pandemic, I have not become depressed, bored, or anxious because it is a life I once lived and have had little trouble readjusting to my former self.  I have observed as my neighbors complained loudly of their struggle when the cleaning ladies cannot come, going to the mall for lunch to window shop isn’t an option and it isn’t the same wearing masks, or they are still unable to gather for weekly social activities such as knitting and reading clubs or bridge parties.  I try to patiently listen to all the complaints and watch as people remain restless, and grow bored, depressed, or stressed.   I struggle to be empathetic or compassionate.  I am happy to navigate to my kitchen, prepare a meal quietly, and am content to watch television, read or go outside for a walk.  I have continued to maintain an exercise regimen with the online videos offered by my health club.  Frankly, I might not return to my health club for the convenience and satisfaction I have found exercising alone at home.    My walks through my neighborhood remind me that not everyone is struggling.  From neighbors talking across driveways with smiles, to families ambling along surrounded with skateboards and dogs with smiles.  They have endured the past year and still enjoy find how to enjoy life.  Today people from age 12 can be vaccinated.  Many schools are vaccinating students so they can return to a normal classroom and activities.  Yet the number of anti-vaxxers stem the hopes of reaching herd immunity.  That means we are not going to be out of danger of contracting the Covid-10 virus.  It’s a shot, not a lifestyle.  Get the damned shot.

If you have been providing care to a loved one in your home during the pandemic while trying to balance family life, the stress may have become overwhelming.   If your loved one chose to remain living independently or in a senior care facility, the pandemic kept you apart, making up for the time apart and any negative fallout that occurred to them can be equally overwhelming.  Balance is just one way of saying it is time to take inventory of our emotional, mental, and physical health.   True balance is somewhere between rest and exasperating stress.  It is the act of allowing a bit of grace to enter your life.   In my book as I journaled about my caregiving days, I found balance with regular (daily) workout routines, meditation, or just by spending time in the safe haven of my kitchen.  I still maintain my daily workout and meditation routine to stay grounded because the past year has been stressful in a different way from caregiving, and I still think of my kitchen as my happy place.

Recently I read a magazine article where the editor spoke about the “drunken monkey syndrome.”   At first, I thought it was amusing but as I read about her daily issues, I realized it is real and a truly negative effect of the pandemic that affects all of us.  To be sure, the drunken monkey syndrome is a catchy phrase that describes anxiety.

The noise all around us during the pandemic has been deafening.  We have been bombarded by negative news stories.  The Big Lie continues.  We have endured racial and political uprisings, a stressful election, unrelenting death and illness from Covid-19, the economic fallout of a global pandemic, and the views and news we hear and read of the Coronavirus itself throughout the world.  Our fellow citizens have suffered as many of us have suffered.  People are now living in their cars and trucks, or homeless on the streets. In Denver, where I live, the city has identified safe parking zones where people who live in their cars can be safe at night while the lot is patrolled by local police.  People cannot pay rent and the cars lined up for food distribution are miles long in some cities.  It is a sad day when you are unable to put food on the table for your family or a roof over their heads.   People are still struggling, and the economic recovery is lagging.  Those lucky enough to have jobs who work from home are also stressed-out teachers to their kids and maybe even simultaneous caregivers for their elder parents.   There is indeed a lot of noise in our heads and many reasons to be anxious.

 When we lay down at night sometimes our minds have a gazillion competing thoughts, one right after another.  This is the drunken monkey syndrome – your mind is on overloads like a monkey swinging from one branch in the tree to another with little thought or effort.  Our minds are on overload just as our lives are on overload.  Anxiety over the world we live in leads to competing thoughts trying to figure out what might occur next in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones.  We remember the news reports where we listened to people defend their anger and speak of hopelessness competing with those who speak of hope and a new dawning.

 In my book, One Caregiver’s Journey, I discuss the anxiety of loved ones who are faced with health issues or just the thought of daily living with an aging body.  That time seems so far away now and today the pandemic has brought anxiety to all of us in ways that were once foreign.  The drunken monkey has become a natural part of our lives and is far too familiar.   Seeing all the anger in our midst fuels our anxiety and much of it makes no sense.  It is a sad day when everyone feels the need to protect themselves from their neighbor.  But our human instinct is that we must protect ourselves and our loved ones.

 So how do we deal with the drunken monkey inside our heads?  We need to relax and know that we can only control what occurs in our lives and that we cannot control what is happening in the world.  Yes, you can be the change you want to see but change will be slow.   Soon it is our hope to be back living in what we consider a normal world.   Lay the drunken monkey down to recover and try to relax as this, too, shall pass.  It makes no sense to worry about what you cannot change or worry about what might occur.  You cannot predict the future.

Today many states have relaxed mask mandates and are opening business to full capacity.  Some people are yet reluctant, and others wait impatiently for the doors to open everywhere.  Young people want to go back to nightlife, and everyone wants to fill the stadiums and arenas for sporting events. 

Remember to stay connected with those you love it will result in fewer competing thoughts in your head at night.  De-clutter your life by keeping what is important, useful, and needed.  Donate what you can as one man’s trash is another’s treasure.  Stay in a normal routine if possible.  Limit how much new you watch and read – this is the single most cause of the drunken monkey syndrome.  The fact of the matter is there is nothing we can do to change what is happening across the world or the country.  Take it in and let it go.  And most of all be grateful.  Find gratitude in your life.  After a year of living in a global pandemic watching all the failures, suffering, and challenges maybe gratitude should be the new attitude.  At some point very soon, we shall lay the drunken monkey down.

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