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Run or Rise: Shifting My Own Anxiety with COVID

In March of 2020 I was working in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at Michigan Medicine’s Adult Ambulatory Psychiatry – the University of Michigan’s Hospital System – completing my 2nd year of a postgraduate social work fellowship. During this time, I was working in two outpatient clinics: Anxiety Disorders and Addiction Treatment Services. When COVID numbers started to rise, so did everyone’s anxiety. I was surprised at how many of my OCD patients weren’t freaking out like the rest of us; several of them were grateful the rest of the world finally realized how important it is to use hand sanitizer and practice good hygiene. My patients with substance use disorders had the opposite reaction. As the world shut down, so did in-person recovery meetings. While many individuals with long-term recovery had strong support networks in place and were able to adapt to the Zoom-meeting world, individuals who were just realizing they had an issue or who were new to sober living were on the struggle bus. Some of my patients only had a cell phone from which to connect to the outside world. It was a privilege to be able to attend a meeting from your computer, to see everyone’s faces staring back during a share.

Most of my patients and colleagues complained about life in quarantine. As someone who studied the history of Medicine in college, I just kept thinking, “Compared to the black plague, living through COVID is manageable.” I have access to grocery stores, electricity, running water, a cell phone, internet, Zoom, and google. I kept comparing COVID to prior pandemics.

I am not going to lie. It was also tough. It was stressful. It was scary. Being a hospital employee had a few perks and getting public health data first-hand was one of them. At the beginning of March, we got COVID-related updates via email literally every twenty minutes. It was a bit terrifying. We were encouraged to attend town hall meetings where they announced the plans to build a field hospital for the sick, then three field hospitals. We saw graphs and charts illustrating the impending threat – it seemed that by May 15th there would 3,000 cases with only 800 beds in the hospital. They started asking for volunteers to go to the Frontline, discussed who would be recruited and how all providers had to play a part. I am glad those numbers drastically reduced due to lock-down. We didn't need field hospitals where I live.

When lock-down came, I was doing a nutritional cleanse suggested by my doctor. It was so limiting that I was honestly grateful I didn’t have the option to go out to eat with friends, so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat gluten or dairy or sugar or processed foods that I like to escape with. Even though healthcare providers were working like mad, many of us enjoyed the extra socially-permissible pause that occurred on weekends. After three weeks of being in a state of hyperarousal, I participated in a breathwork Zoom-workshop held by a friend of mine, Christine O’Connor. At the end of the practice, I remember commenting, “Thank you. I just shifted from human-doing to human-being.” It was time to reign in the fear mustang. As the world shut down, I used it as an opportunity to slow down the fear and amp up the self-care.

When COVID hit, I made a decision.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world…” and I realized this was the Universe giving me yet another opportunity to grow or disintegrate. How did I want to respond to this global pandemic? I could join the rising fear or I could shift my vibration into one of love, optimism, and hope. I chose the latter. I continue to choose to act from love on a regular basis. I am human and I screw up. Keeping my anxiety in check is a daily practice, one that is made possible with my self-care practices that include daily meditation, regular exercise, my own therapy and recovery programs. In April 2020 I signed up for a coaching program with Bob Proctor that helped me to increase my awareness, raise my vibration and control my thoughts. I know my mission in life is to help others to love themselves and I chose to use this time to go deeper in ways I can fulfill that. I started cranking up my self-care that allowed me to I open up my own private therapy practice in 2021, Healing with Hannah. I experienced that when I can change my thinking, if I can move from the fear-and-competition mentality into one of creativity and opulence, then magical things will begin to unfold. They already are. On December 31st, 2020 I went for a walk in the woods with a friend. As we were continuing down the path, I said, “2020 has been one of the best years of my life so far.” She looked at me with astonishment, her eyes bulging. When I make this statement, that 2020 has been one of the best years of my life thus far, I do not intend to invalidate all of the pain, death, sadness, loss, fear and horror that happened and continues to occur due to the pandemic. I was in the hospital last winter on the COVID units supporting healthcare providers on the frontline; I've seen and heard about the pain caused by this virus first-hand. What I do mean is that 2020 was the year I took control of the steering wheel that is my mind. I learned to reign the fear back in and use that energy to go after my goals. Our external reality mirrors what is going on between our ears. I shifted my mind and my external reality reflected the positive internal work I was doing. Every morning I wake up and affirm to myself, making eye-contact in the mirror, "I am so happy and grateful now that my body is high-vibrational, harmonious and in perfect health." 2020 was one of the best years of my life thus far and I have wholehearted faith that people are continuing to raise their levels of consciousness so that our world is ascending to a higher way, a more loving way, of being. There is an indigenous saying that I learned from a therapist Marge Redmond, LMSW: “The turtle must go inward before it can move forward.” I am grateful that 2020 allowed me an opportunity to go within.

There is a famous acronym for FEAR in the world of recovery. We can “Fuck Everything And Run” or we can “Face Everything And Rise.” I decided to rise. I hope you will too.


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