Privilege and Vulnerability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Gwendolyn Gaumond, MS, MA, LPC

As “suggested” social distancing has turned into stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders in the past few weeks, the stories from national to local to personal around COVID-19 are becoming dire. As governments struggle to detect and contain COVID-19, they are forced to build on imperfect and fragile healthcare systems, to which large fractions of the population do not currently have access. The vulnerable groups are not just the elderly population or those with pre-existing conditions or the homeless or under-housed. They are folks from all walks of life who are struggling to cope financially, mentally, or physically with the crisis. There are too many stories and scenarios I have read and heard about to enumerate in this blog post. This pandemic is having a tremendous impact on people from every stratum.

I have two very close friends that live doors down from me. One is a very accomplished yoga teacher with whom I have shared many years of my life, both good and bad. She is my go-to for inspiration or when I am having a pity party. My friend is such a competent yoga teacher that her studio pays her benefits. If you are at all familiar with the yoga teaching profession, you know that scenario usually doesn’t happen. She supplements her income with hosted trips. One week into the closure of non-essential businesses, my friend lost her job. Her two supplemental trips scheduled for the fall are now in question; people are dropping out; travel plans are not high on the financial priority list now – although they are an essential part of how she makes her living. She owns a condo, but it has a mortgage, and she is now without health insurance or income. Somehow, she is continuing to fight down the anxiety and teach one or two donation classes on video per day. She hikes and meditates every morning. She talks to me from her balcony. The only way you can see her crippling anxiety is if you have known her for 15 years like I do. My friend’s face is just…different.

My other close friend is over-employed right now. She works as a physician’s assistant in an emergency room. I call and text my friend every day she works to tell her I am praying for her. She doesn’t say much other than “Thank you” because she is the consummate professional. Last time we talked during #physicaldistancing video happy hour, she had tears in her eyes. I have seen this woman cry one or two other times in more than 20 years of friendship. As a frontline witness, she says Colorado has not yet reached its COVID-19 peak. She is trying to be brave, but I would describe her anticipation of work as terrified.

Then there is my story. I am going through a divorce and facing a new custody situation. I cannot see the one person who has comforted me through the hard things: my father, who recently moved to a memory care unit. Finally, I am dealing with the aftermath of a newly diagnosed heart condition that required surgery. I have not yet had a chance to get in for a follow-up after surgery. Three appointments have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions; follow-up care (?) is considered non-essential for this type of heart condition. Stress, for me, was already at an all-time high – exacerbated by the fact that I cannot hug my strongest supporters. It is painful, but every day, I get to go to work, and I get to contribute in any way I can to making mental health better during the pandemic – or try to.

I have been thinking about my privilege and access during this time. I look at my close friends and see how they are using their positions of privilege, which are also now vulnerable, to uplift and help others. I landed on this -a simple call to action: if you are lucky or privileged in any way right now – please read these stories and others like them. Maybe there is some way you can help. If there is not, take a moment to just give the people featured in them the gift of your awareness. I will read them because though they are countless, each story deserves to be heard.

Please comment on this post on social media with other stories like these.

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