Air quality in San Francisco has remained dire over the past week, forcing the city’s residents to seek refuge inside – often at the expense of contacting loved ones, family members, and casual acquaintances. Suffice it to say that this period of isolation has affected the mental health of many people.
Amid a worsening pandemic and tumultuous sociopolitical panorama – one that is only exacerbated by red in tooth-and-nail polling ads – 2020 has proven to be a taxable year. And now: We’re fighting against Blade Runner-like skies and terrible air conditions that can compete with those of an operational coal mine. Keeping mental wellbeing intact has not been easy these days, which turns out to be depression and feelings of isolation in our large seven by seven large part of Northern California (and beyond).
“In Seattle, Washington, where it rains constantly, people get seasonal affective disorder, and that’s a form of depression caused by clouds, rain, fog, and that’s what we’re experiencing now,” said Andrea Zorbas, a medical doctor Psychology at ABC7.
Those moments of desperation, feelings of isolation, and listless depression felt by countless San Franciscans were only megaphone through the prevailing pandemic.
When COVID-19 first gripped society, clinical therapists in the Bay Area also had to adopt a not entirely new form of counseling: teletherapy. And some fear that a lack of “face-to-face meetings” only adds to the discomfort many Franciscans are currently feeling.
“I worry that face-to-face sessions are becoming rarer as psychiatrists realize they can save money by closing their physical offices and moving to fully online platforms,” somatic psychotherapist Erika Shershun told The Bold Italic in early May. “But the refreshing and energizing resonance between two people sharing the same space really cannot be replicated online. I’ve also noticed that video calls can make some people anxious or become self conscious. “
(Although the app boom has seen a surge in popularity since the early 2010s, many therapy seekers still prefer face-to-face sessions to those conducted over the phone, text, or videoconferencing. Many practicing therapists have also opted to move decided now fully online amid social distancing norms and mounting financial pressures.)
Now that the smoke smells in the cityscape, the locals are again spending hours after hours behind a screen (be it Netflix movies, digital drag shows or zoom teletherapy sessions) pondering the “existential” disasters of the year.
Ok, by popular demand, here is the latest smoke model. Note that this is considered experimental and so we haven’t been able to run an updated simulation since about 5 a.m. Even so, the idea of a modest improvement will be captured by tonight when southwest winds hit. pic.twitter.com/dZ1iS0cru6
– NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) September 13, 2020
“Every day is an existential crisis,” said long-time Viola Chen from San Francisco to SFist. “I’ve only struggled with coronavirus before, but the forest fires also destroyed nature. It was one of my few joys during the pandemic.”
Chen, like most residents of the city, feels that she and her husband are going insane as this “annoying new normal” unfolds … turning thumbs and “anxiously reading the news” while crouching inside .
“Now [my husband and I] Stay cooped up at home, fearfully read the news, and see if my family needs to be evacuated in SoCal, “Chen continues.” I’m fucking scared of what’s going on here and along the west coast. “
This opaque atmosphere and hazy horizon also lead to episodes of rejected nostalgia.
“All the smoke reminds me of the fires we had three years ago and how masking was paramount in people’s minds,” explains SF-based creative Anthony Rogers to SFist. “I’ve stayed inside for a week since the air quality became unhealthy. It’s sad that people need a more visual indicator to say, gosh, I should wear a mask, I see ash raining.”
“For me, my state of mind fluctuated there,” Rogers grows, adding that the exhaustion he – and others, he speculates, also experience – is in part due to the “mental gymnastics” necessary to get through the day survive. “I think in the end it’s a lot of mental gymnastics on how going outside, whether it’s COVID or air quality, really affects your everyday life.”
Feeling sad and weird today (regarding: fires, hurricanes, plague, deadly racism, justified civil unrest, schooling for sad children at home, grinding election fatigue, economic hellhole, menopause insecurity, climate breakdown, adult acne)
^^^ Evergreen New normal in eternity forever squared
– evany (@evany) August 26, 2020
But it’s times like these when clinical therapists and psychologists like Zorbas himself recommend reaching out to a close friend or family member for support and comfort.
“At any time on the verge of crisis and the other person has to be the comforter,” one Zoe Young told ABC7, pointing out the very human need for community and connection in times of collective struggle.
Practice radical self-compassion now. It’s okay to feel wrong. Don’t synonymize your self-esteem with how much you can do in a single day. No one is going to recite your quarterly earnings numbers or celebrate how neat your inbox was at the time of your death when you were extolled. Try to stay present and engaged – and sow some seeds of hope that the future can indeed be better … if we proactively improve it.
To quote the words of TED Talk Extraordinaire, bestselling author, and Professor Brené Brown of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston, you are imperfect, you are wired for battle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.
*** If you are struggling with depression, suicide, and general discomfort, see a licensed psychologist. For life-threatening mental emergencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or San Francisco Suicide Prevention (SFSP) at 415-781-0500.
connected: Local meteorologist amazes over long days without sea breezes, partly caused by smoke-blocked sun
Smoke to sit all over the Bay Area all Friday when air quality levels hit 300+
Are Smartphones Making a Generation of Children Isolated and Depressed? 
Image: JD Mason