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Thoughts From The Frontline    

Thoughts From The Frontline

Artwork by FISK

FOREWORD BY MEADOWLARK MONAGHAN

A few weeks ago, I sat at the same spot at my dining room table, the one that has become so familiar to me as my dedicated “work” spot in the house now, trying to write about how my anxiety has been oddly calm during the quick downward spiral that is the COVID-19 global pandemic. As I sipped on my morning coffee and honed in on my arrogant optimism - life did me a favor and slapped me across the face. 

Just then, my boyfriend received a call that he, an essential worker, had no more masks for himself or his team and that he should bring his own to work that day. And just that like, my anxiety skyrocketed and I was thoroughly reminded that I have not entirely reached self actualization (yet). 

We’ve told many stories about folks staying home, so today I want to talk about those who aren’t. The ones we call essential. 

Aaron Basila, my partner in crime, is a Homeless Outreach Supervisor for NAMI San Diego. His job is to hit the streets of San Diego, reaching out to those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, with a diagnosis of a mental illness, and get them connected to resources. For the past couple months, he has been working double time to make sure the population he serves and his staff have access to masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, at least. 

What amazes me about him is how calm, cool, and collected he has been throughout this entire scenario. While my quarantine can be roughly summarized as having as many ups and downs as your average Six Flags roller coaster, my essential partner remains steadfast because he knows he has to. He knows that is his only option when he has to continue to go to work everyday. 

So, to further explain the perspective of life as an essential worker, let me introduce you to Aaron:

Aaron & Meadow

BY AARON BASILA

I have always watched other’s emotions to see if I can feel them. I remember being in 2nd grade and failing a test. The kid sitting next to me, Chase, got a B-. Upon receiving his test back, he immediately put his head down onto his desk and started crying. I remember thinking to myself, “am I supposed to be this upset that I did this poorly?” So, I tried it. I tried feeling that sadness or disappointment. But, it didn’t stick to me. I didn’t tie myself or my worth, because it didn’t feel true. 

I never felt the need to act in certain ways because I saw how people attached themselves to unhappy experiences and knew from a young age I didn't want that. I think it’s this perspective, coupled with my life and work experiences, that have allowed me to remain calm during this time. Due to my myriad of experiences being put into harsh mental health scenarios, I find my mental strength has been what has pulled me through my time as an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When I say I've been working in mental health, I've been working in situations that run the gamut from safe to extremely dangerous, for myself and the person I’m trying to help. Together, these work scenarios with my own life experiences have helped me learn how to steer peoples’ lives towards the path that’s right for them, while remaining as objective as possible. 

So, since January, my perspective has always been “not if, but when” COVID was going to make it to me. Not if, but when. I was never overwhelmed, nor was I scared. I was simply wondering when to start preparing for what was inevitably to come. 

Then, wonder turned into strategizing as I was finding ways to cope with this situation to prevent stress from creeping in, since I had to support my team members. Once it inevitably happened, it was simply “go time”. 

Some stress started to creep into play however, when we began finding out there were no supplies available to our team. Team members who see a high rate of people with compromised immune systems every single day. The state was giving their expectations for how to combat the virus while we were seeing the lack of equipment to do so. While they reassured us that the supplies would be coming, we needed to come up with our own solution for the first few weeks. 

That’s when some worry came into play. Worry not only for the staff members but for the potential spread to everyone with a compromised immune system. Those early weeks were spent with constant thoughts of the bigger picture: the lack of gear and the many situations our staff were going to be exposed to... 

For those first two or three weeks of the pandemic, we began to actively search for supplies only to see that everything was completely empty. So, we began to accept what was happening, and continued trying to get what we could until the supplies from the state were to come. My girlfriend and I quickly started calling every manufacturer in the country looking for donations, scouring Next Door for people upselling masks for $90, and eventually, turning to Instagram for help.

And people showed up. 

People instantly reached out to us. Despite our tiny following, our community spread the word fast enough to not only gain multiple individual donations from people who had extras lying around, but they even managed to get a local brand to accept donations on our behalf as well!

I don't want people to think that everyone came together and solved the issue. The truth is that everyone came together to hold off the tidal wave that was about to hit us. Because even now, after being supplied by the state, there's always the possibility that we’ll run out again. 

What I will say is that although it may seem like a small contribution, it helped more than they understand. It gave everyone confidence. It gave my team the reassurance and support they needed to continue to help those who need it more. 

Ever since I saw that action come together to get my staff what they need - that's when I started feeling my familiar sense of confidence again. I was back to my objective perspective that allows me to keep going into the most extreme and distraught situations in my city and make a difference. 

People are my expertise; talking and listening to them is my skill. Instead of attaching myself to the aggression that someone may be presenting to me, I can look at the situation objectively. While I am trying to help someone, I’m not thinking “if I fail and they are not happy, I’m going to be stressed or sad that I failed them.” I separate myself from the work because I know getting entrenched into that attachment will not help me to help them as effectively. 

Although it could be perceived as a privilege to work during times like this, and I am grateful for that, I want people to know that when they are resistant to government action or rules, they make it harder for essential workers to do their job and it puts them in danger of an enemy that we can’t see. 

By staying home, forwarding an Instagram message you see requesting supplies, or even donating something you may have yourself - you are bringing relief, confidence, and comfort to people that need to stay as centered and objective as they can, to keep doing the work. 

If you want to reach out to Aaron about NAMI or donations for the Homeless Outreach Team, please contact him at aaronbasila@namisd.org