Career Educator, Leanna Izen, Orange County, CA, USA

Leanna Izen, Career Educator and Enthusiast

“I think in light of COVID-19 and seeing so many struggle the way I have–mental illness or not–it is incredibly important to share this aspect of myself… It’s okay not to be okay right now. And it is okay if you’re not accomplishing anything great during this time. The greatest thing I feel that I have accomplished is surviving–and finding healthier ways to do so.”

Could you give us a brief summary of who you are, what your goals are, where you come from?

I am a young adult with a history of mental health diagnoses who is incredibly fortunate to be working and residing in Orange County. That is the gist of what I’m about to share in these next few paragraphs… 

My job title is “Career Educator” at a higher education institution, and in this role I serve my university’s students and alumni in preparing them for career opportunities. My passion has always been to help other people in a very direct way, and career planning makes the most sense to me. Understandably, a lot of my focus has shifted into how I, and my office, can support students and alumni in finding stable job opportunities during this pandemic. It was a VERY quick turn around in job duties and I found myself reeling at times, as I’m sure many others had too. We were in a pandemic; our lives had made a 180. Yet we were all still going at 100 mph to stay afloat. 

As mentioned, it does not help that I have a history of mental illness (major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder) which is not something I disclose to many, let alone on such a public forum. I think in light of COVID-19 and seeing so many struggle the way I have–mental illness or not–it is incredibly important to share this aspect of myself.

I have had to fight my way out of incredibly dark places in the past decade. It has taken me years to get to where I am now, and I am blessed to have had the resources and support to get here. Ultimately, my coping mechanism (*this is where the anxiety comes in*) has been that if I can control the outcome and what I put into it, I would be okay. But in these circumstances, I had no control and-like many-no idea how to find the light at the end of the tunnel. But, I had to keep moving forward; I trained my brain to survive. Yet my mood would go from high to low on a daily basis and I wouldn’t let myself slow down or process these emotions. I kept telling myself I was one of the lucky ones to have a job, a roof over my head, and good health. 

And I am one of the lucky ones. Incredibly privileged. But I realized I had to allow myself a space to grieve and process these changes without feeling guilty for what I DO have. The only way I can support those less privileged than I, is to show myself the same empathy that I wanted to give them.

I only share this personal information in the hopes that other people out there–who may be experiencing similar scenarios as myself–recognize the importance of giving yourself the space to process these huge changes. Giving yourself the space to be sad about your circumstances, but also not to stay in that space longer than necessary and latch on to the people and resources that keep you moving forward.” 

Who are you quarantining with?

“I’m quarantined with my boyfriend and his brother, who are two peas in a pod. We are all INCREDIBLY privileged to still have our jobs and the opportunity to work from home. My biggest stressors come from the media of COVID-19, inability to see my immediate family, and feeling a little lost as an extroverted “feeler” living among introverted “thinkers”. In retrospect, these are very minute problems to have as my basic needs of food/water, shelter, etc. are still being met. Despite my blessings, it has been a huge adjustment for me, as it has for everyone.” 

Where exactly are you living right now? Is this where you permanently reside or is it a temporary living situation due to the pandemic?

“I am currently living in Orange County in Southern California, where I have been residing for the past year. The day Orange County went into quarantine, I was in the process of moving from one city to another. (Ironically–we moved to get closer to my work). As the movers finished bringing in all our furniture, I got an email saying that I was working from home and to shelter-in-place for the unforeseeable future. 

HOME? What home? I had lived in this house 2 hours… Home is where the heart is, and with the newness of our living situation combined with an emerging pandemic, I found myself desperately longing to be with my parents in my childhood home. So much of the world was uncertain right now, and family was always my safety net. It took a lot of time and patience with myself to feel safe where I was.

Again, even as I write this, I am reminded how incredibly blessed I am to have so many stable living situations. While I believe it is important for everyone to have a space to grieve these drastic changes, I also remember how incredibly fortunate I am every time I go under my warm covers or turn the air conditioning on to cool off. “

Leanna and her boyfriend had just moved into their new “home” hours before quarantine orders were mandated

What has your community been doing to fight the rate of transmission? Is this how you think the situation is best handled?

“Orange County, where I currently reside, was put under “quarantine” orders very shortly after San Francisco, which was a decision I supported. We seem to be behind in COVID-19 testing, however, especially when you look at our neighboring counties. On a larger scale, I’m disheartened by the lack of testing taking place in the U.S., as this does not give an accurate picture of how many people are contracting and suffering from this virus and does not make me feel safe in any regard.” 

What has been your daily routine so far during the pandemic?

“Daily routines are hard for me, but so crucial during this time, too. I work my 9-5, but take my lunch breaks outside by walking my dog. After work, I try to read or connect with friends. It’s less exciting than it used to be, but I am finally getting used to it.” 

What’s the biggest challenge you think you’ve faced during this quarantine situation?

“Fighting those demons in my head that are so scared of the uncertainty in this new world, that tell me to do more than what I am doing. It has been incredibly eye-opening in some ways, though, and I am getting into a healthier mindset these past two weeks.” 

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis? 🙂

“My career has a natural way of keeping my spirits up, as I have an incredible job, incredibly supportive team, and an incredible opportunity to support others in their job search during this time. Aside from that, I am constantly trying to appreciate the little things like my boyfriend napping on my lap or the birds chirping outside my window on a sunny day.  I am so fortunate to be healthy and safe, that I can still see friends and family with technology, and that I still have a source of income in a position that I love.” 

“I am constantly trying to appreciate the little things like my boyfriend napping on my lap or the birds chirping outside my window on a sunny day.”

Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any important plans you had laid out for the near future?

“I do not see my family and friends back home as often as I used to, but thankfully I had no travel plans in place that were disrupted.”

Is there anything you feel that this experience has taught you that you’d like to share as inspiration for everyone going through this together?

“It’s okay not to be okay right now. And it is okay if you’re not accomplishing anything great during this time. The greatest thing I feel that I have accomplished is surviving–and finding healthier ways to do so.”

Anything else you’d like to share?

“It sounds cliche, but you are not alone!”

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