Editorial: Welcome to the New Normal

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but things have been happening so fast that it’s making my head spin.

Today, both the provinces of Alberta and Quebec announced the essential shut down of all their post-secondary educational institutions, with a wholesale move away from in-person classes and exams to online equivalents. Originally, my employer, the University of Manitoba, was going to try and keep classrooms open to students, but late this afternoon the university president sent out an email:

Yesterday I communicated our commitment to taking measures to protect the health and safety of our campuses and our wider community. Our top priority is doing our part to help contain the transmission of COVID-19.

In that same spirit, today I am announcing that there will be no classes on Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17. The University campuses will remain open on those days, but there will no classes.

This two-day pause allows the University to prepare to move classes to alternative modes of instruction.

To be clear, as of Wednesday, March 18 there will NO IN-PERSON CLASSES, with rare exceptions that will be communicated directly to those affected. All in-person undergraduate and research-stream Master’s and Doctoral instruction will end March 13. Instruction will be provided by other means that may include existing online platforms. This will continue through the end of the term on April 7.

Our staff are working hard to keep as much of the University operational as possible. The University remains open and we are continuing to provide students with as many essential services as possible under the circumstances. Please keep referring to umanitoba.ca for information and updates.

Among those essential services are the university libraries, which will try to remain in operation as long as possible.

Effective Monday, March 16th, I (along with other Libraries staff who are at a higher risk of having a severe case of COVID-19 if they become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) will be working from home.

I am so truly grateful that my employer has given me the option to stay home. My stress levels have just been going through the roof, and this week I was rapidly heading off into loose-cannon territory, with both my anxiety and depression spiraling out of control. I was on the verge of getting a sick note from my psychiatrist, and taking sick time.

Hopefully, now that I know I can essentially barricade myself in my apartment, surrounded with all my pandemic preps, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and try to relax and heal a bit.

My heart goes out to all my coworkers whom I am leaving behind, who are going to try and cover as best they can, and keep the libraries open for as long as they can. Today we were all busy shutting down every second workstation and study carrel in our libraries, putting up signs and removing chairs in order to enforce social distancing. (No sitting next to each other anymore!) We’ve also shut down several “high-touch” automated services, such as our 24/7 reserve kiosks and our iPad-based self-checkout terminals. We’re going back to the old ways of doing things!

In addition, the province of Manitoba has now followed Ontario and many other jurisdictions in announcing that, effective Monday March 23rd, all K-12 schools in Manitoba will be closed for 3 weeks as a proactive measure. This will obviously pull even more University of Manitoba Libraries workers away from their jobs as they are forced to stay home and care for their children.

We are in unprecedented times, and venturing into uncharted territory. Like I said, everything is happening so fast that it makes me dizzy. I’m sure most of you are feeling the same way.

UPDATED! Clip and Save: Mental Health Resources During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Stressed out? Anxious? Depressed? You’re not alone…
Photo by Fernando @dearferdo on Unsplash

I know that I am not alone in struggling with anxiety and depression during the recent deluge of bad news relating to the coronavirus pandemic (see here and here for a couple of recent blogposts I have written). As a librarian, I wanted to share with you some information resources that you might also find helpful as you try to cope with this unprecedented public health crisis as it unfolds.

Today’s episode of Live Today from the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva featured a detailed question and answer session with mental health expert Dr. Aiysha Malik. I very strongly recommend you watch the entire video, even if you are not depressed or anxious; Aiysha is a very knowledgeable and calming speaker on the topic, and answers many mental-health-related questions submitted by viewers, some of which you may also have.

Other useful information resources I have found are:

UPDATE March 15th, 2020: Another potentially useful document is from the World Health Organization, titled Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak, which has 31 recommendations, broken down by category:

  • General population
  • Healthcare workers
  • Healthcare team leaders and managers
  • Care providers for children
  • Older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions
  • People in isolation

UPDATE March 22nd, 2020: Librarianship.ca (a news website for librarians) has compiled an outstanding list of Canadian resources: COVID-19: Mental Health Resources, including a breakdown of local resources by province and territory.

UPDATE April 7th, 2020: Here’s a very good three-minute YouTube video by
Inspired Living Medical, that covers seven tips for effective mental health self-care during the coronavirus pandemic:

I will continue to add new resources to this list as I encounter them—and trust me, I am quite regularly scouring the coronavirus news feeds these days!

I leave you with an updated, more general list of mental health resources I had compiled back in 2018 when I had written an editorial about BetterHelp.com:

If you are currently experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis:

If you are not in crisis, but still need help, here are some other good places to get started:

When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers:

“Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”

A similar service is called The Haven, another Discord channel for people who need someone to talk to. Both Kind Voice and The Haven are free, volunteer-run services.

Editorial: Mourning The Potential Loss of a “Normal” Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic

Am I going to have to wash my hands for 20 seconds, and avoid touching my face,
for the rest of my life? (Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash)

There is a small subReddit community (4,600 members) called r/COCID19_support. The creator states in the welcome message:

It had come to my attention that a lot of news about the epidemic had been causing spikes in anxiety and problems with people’s mental health, which really exacerbates the problem.

And with more and more cities going into in lockdown and more people forcing quarantines it seems that mental health is CRITICAL at this point in time. So hence comes this sub.

We offer non-judgemental peer support, not necessarily professional advice. You can check out rules and guidelines for more.

People have written all kinds of posts, talking about all kinds of problems they are having in trying to cope with a coronavirus pandemic, but one writer in particular made me realize something profound about this coronavirus pandemic: that we have no idea what could happen, how our lives could change, or how long that change would last.

That person wrote:

I think I’m experiencing grief over what I see to be the surety of loss of “normal” life as we know it, at least for an unknown period of time in the future.

I saw an ad on my Facebook timeline – ‘Wicked’ is going to be playing in Des Moines this July. (Well, at least it’s scheduled for then).

I don’t think I’ll get to ever see ‘Wicked,’ or if I do, it might be years from now.

IF the cast continues to tour, IF the theaters are still even open then, would I even feel safe enough to go anywhere with a crowd?

Now multiply that by any future events – even seeing a movie at the local theater. Concerts. Shopping malls. Going out to dinner. Visiting with family or friends?

How long until we’re restricted from driving around the country?

When will travel be safe again? I really enjoyed cruising, I enjoyed going by airplane, train, or even bus sometimes. I enjoyed seeing other countries and tourist spots.

Judging just by what I see other places going through, this virus isn’t only affecting if people live, get sick, or die. It will change our entire way of life.

I’m sad because I already see what I’ll be missing, and I don’t know if that will be for the rest of my life or for how long.

At age 56, signifcantly overweight, and with three underlying health conditions (hypertension, asthma, and type II diabetes), I am at risk of a severe reaction to SARS-CoV-2 infection. I’ve prepared as best I can; I’ve stocked up on all my prescription medications for three months, and stocked up on non-perishable food and even some over-the-counter medications if I should get sick. (Yes, I even stocked up on toilet paper.)

But now I realize that, according to the latest advice put out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, I am going to have to avoid going out—to restaurants, to movies, to pretty much anywhere where I could encounter crowds or be potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19. Basically, I’m going to be going to work, and every so often to the local grocery store and drug store…and that’s pretty much it.

Screencap from the CDC coronavirus website

I have made some bad choices in my life (notably, not taking my need to lose weight seriously, which has led to my problems with hypertension and diabetes) and I have had some bad luck with genetics (notably, my lifelong asthma and depression).

And it would appear that that particularly unlucky combination of circumstances might just lead me to stay stuck in my apartment during a coronavirus pandemic, terrified of getting severely ill, and possibly even dying, from a minuscule virus that started halfway around the world.

SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (Wikipedia)

It is a very discomforting and depressing thought.

I might not be as emotionally or mentally prepared for this as I like to pretend I am. God, I wish I had a crystal ball, just to see what is going to happen, tonight. To me. To my friends and family and coworkers. To all of us.

I wish I had a crystal ball…

Editorial: How to Deal with a Blue Christmas

Photo by Cody Chan on Unsplash

Christmas can be a lonely and depressing time for many people in today’s society. The sometimes-overly-forced seasonal emphasis on good cheer, conviviality, and harmonious holiday gatherings with friends and family can often bring those people like me, with less than Instagram-perfect lives, down. And yes, I am one of those people who sometimes struggles at Christmastime.

Nika Talaj made the following wise observation on a recent thread in the official Second Life user forums:

SL is all about longing … often for things we lost in RL (real life). Longing for the body we lost years ago, longing for the dance moves we don’t have, longing for the perfect partner, longing for our own home. And Christmas, for many of us, also brings up feelings of loss and longing.

So, what can you do if you have a case of the Christmas blues? Here are 14 tips from the Health.com website:

  • Make plans ahead of time: Spend some time figuring out how to take care of yourself during this time, and be sure to schedule those activities.
  • Avoid family conflict as much as possible
  • Focus on the good: Especially the good people in your real and virtual lives.
  • Forget about trying to be perfect
  • Learn how to grieve: This is particularly important if this is your first Christmas without a loved one. Talk about your feelings or reach out to support groups in your community.
  • Don’t skimp on sleep
  • Limit social media consumption: Social media, where everybody seems to be having a better time than you, can often increase feelings of sadness and loneliness. Get off Facebook and other social media sites, or limit their use over the holidays.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it: here’s a list of helpful resources.
  • Make exercise a priority
  • Consider your light exposure: In the Northern hemisphere, especially if you live closer to the North Pole as I do, the lack of daylight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you think you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your doctor about treatment options. I have a SAD lamp which I use when I am feeling depressed.
  • Make other plans: Deliberately plan and do some non-holiday things.
  • Focus on what matters: It’s not all about the Christmas presents.
  • Don’t binge on food or alcohol
  • Cut back on your commitments: It’s OK to say “no” once in a while.

I hope that this list of tips is helpful to you this holiday season. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any other tips you want to share, thanks!