The Pandemic and Depression

Last week, I was speaking to a friend in the US. She confessed how depressed she has been this winter and that, for the first time in many years, her doctor raised the dosage of her anti-depressant medication. In her discussion with him, he told her that therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists of every type are extremely concerned about the soaring rates of depression and anxiety during this Winter of Covid-19. I had read in the Guardian that it was one year since Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, had been diagnosed with Covid-19; that because he is who he is–a much loved and admired actor, their illness made it real for everyone, brought the reality home to the world that we were at war with a killer disease.

In the US, there was so much distraction due to the way the Trump administration wasn’t handling the crisis, and it quickly became so political that the dangers often seemed lost in the conversation. Over here in Europe, the plight of Italy set a bar for how bad things could get quickly and, at first, the rest of Europe looked efficient.

Yet, the reality was no one, politicians and lay persons alike, knew what we were were dealing with. The CDC would make its best guess but Trump was denigrating the experts so often, it was hard to follow. People like me looked back in history as to how and what coronaviruses did. I thought I knew a lot. Even though I predicted many things that came true, there is no way that history can really express what it is like living through something like this minute by minute, day by day, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, only to learn of more deadly variants of the virus evolving even as vaccines were made available at record speed. The impact on mental health around the world has been devastating. Millions of deaths, job losses, the lack of human touch, the lockdowns and the anger at governments has created a mental health crisis that may take years to overcome even when the virus passes.

“More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. That is an increase of 11% from the previous December.” –Nature.com If this is a good cross-section of the US, it means that almost half the population was suffering from mental upset and imbalance.

Limited social interactions leave people distressed. Scientists don’t really know if lockdowns and restrictions on social interaction reduce or exacerbate mental health stress. For me, living in France and trusting Macron and his administration, I felt safe with the chosen preventions. I didn’t even go outside at first, but finally was persuaded by a friend in Germany to walk when I could. Since then, early May 2020, I have walked 2-5 miles a day outside and watched four seasons come and go. I, personally, didn’t feel much anxiety or depression until early January. I spend so much of my life in front of a computer and that didn’t change. But I did get hopes up about getting vaccinated and when the realisation that France was falling behind the US and the UK in vaccinations, my energy holding me together ran out. It didn’t feel like something I could control. I could just feel myself collapse in on myself and the world went blah. That’s when I called my friends in Brittany and asked if I could come out for a visit. I hadn’t intended on staying for over five weeks but, I felt so safe. No Covid on the Côte de Granit Rose. I felt I could breathe again. I had my cat, Bijou, with me and lots of space. For at least 2.5 weeks out of the five, I was alone in the large house with a large kitchen and a view of the sea from almost every window. When the sun shone, it shone with light sparkles popping in the air. The sea would change from deep blues to turquoise. Even low tide with sailboats helplessly lying on the wet dirt looked beautiful to me. OK, getting vaccinated in France was not what it should be or what I wanted, and it was a good possibility I would have to wait another four to six months but there was no virus so it all felt ok.

Now I’m home in Paris. Time being the strange thing that it is, Brittany is already a memory, a wonderful dream. They say that the virus is rising in Paris and no one agrees on vaccines. Are they here? how to get an appointment? (Since writing this, I have made an appointment for a first jab! If it actually happens, I will tell more about it.) But all depression and anxiety is gone. Paris is still beautiful even though I only see a small part of it. There are more people on my block than I saw in all of Perros last month. Most are still wearing masks. I will move far away when I see someone without a mask. It only made me unhappy to rant inside at the person who didn’t wear their mask. And best of all, none of my plants died while I was away and my iPhone says sun next week.

Under the circumstances, life looks pretty good from my perspective. So how to help my friends who don’t have a Brittany to run away to when the blues grab them by the throat. How to remind them that “This too shall pass”. It always does. But depression is a tricky monster. It doesn’t just go away because, in your mind, you know things will get better. It’s an awful disease. My friend who confessed her depression to me also got Covid this winter. She is well and she has been vaccinated, two jabs. But I wonder now about the after effects of the virus. She had it quite seriously. She wasn’t hospitalised but she couldn’t get out of bed or eat for days.

There is still so much to learn as we enter our second year of Life with a Virus. How have others weathered this storm? If you feel comfortable doing so, please let us know in the comments section. Even though we must socially distance, it is important to know we aren’t alone in what we feel, in what we experience. So please share the good and the bad.

A bientôt,

Sara

Thanksgiving in France

November 24th was just another Thursday for Parisians.  Life went on as normal–weather getting colder, Christmas decorations going up and traffic trying to figure out how to avoid traffic jams now that Mayor Hidalgo has closed two main thoroughfares to everything except pedestrians and bicyclists.

For me, it was Thanksgiving.  My 4th Thanksgiving in Paris.  My first Thanksgiving in 2013, My friend, Barbara and I went to the Hippopatomus for dinner then to see Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks.  For Thanksgivings 2014 and 2015, I invited fourteen people to my apartment on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and we had a wonderful meal and went around the room each saying our special gratitudes.

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This year, I am moving apartments.  I couldn’t possibly entertain and also be closing up the apartment.  A month ago, two good friends, American and French, invited me to celebrate Thanksgiving with them ON THANKSGIVING!  That invite made my whole day seem different.  Every time I looked out the window, I expected to see little or no traffic.  I kept having to remind myself that stores were open.  Only the thousands of e-mails I received informing (as if I was a Martian) me about Black Friday and Cyber Monday reminded me that this weekend is bigger than an American day of gratitude.  It has been surpassed by a world celebration of Greed! of More!

The two years that I hosted Thanksgiving, I would go to the Thanksgiving store in the Marais and put in my order for a turkey.  That turkey costs 4 or 5 times the price of a Butterball and the first year I justified it by telling myself I was the hostess and therefore brought the Poultry of Honor.  After eating said turkey, I had no need to justify anything.  Without exception, French turkeys are the best I’ve ever eaten.  I’m told they are raised in the South of France, under very humane conditions.

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At the Thanksgiving Store, one can also buy Libby’s Pumpkin, stuffing makings, aluminum to cook the turkey in, all sorts of nuts, evaporated milk and most anything else that screams Thanksgiving but is all but impossible to find in Paris and certainly the rest of France.

You would have to have a subscription to SkyTV in order to see a football game and who knows if you could find something on at the same time.  And because we have Thanksgiving dinner literally and not a mid-afternoon meal, there is not the usual constitutional before dessert and coffee.

 

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Tom, Sylvie, Bill, Sylvaine, Susan, Barbara

 

There is something about Thanksgiving.  Maybe it’s because it’s still Autumn and in many parts of the States, it is still Indian Summer.  The leaves of many colors have floated to the ground, the weather hovers somewhere between crisp and delicious, my last 25 Thanksgivings in California have always had blue skies.  It is a quiet day and usually a quiet celebration.  Football fans are shooed to the TV room to cheer on their teams and the rest of us sit around the table in a relaxed fashion that just isn’t possible for most of the year.

As you can guess, it’s my favorite holiday.  It reminds me to be enormously grateful for the abundance in my life, for so many friends in both the US and in France.

 

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Susan, Barbara, yours truly, Sylvie 

Are you an ex-Pat?  How did you spend your Thanksgiving?

A bientôt,

Sara