By Kendra Sitton
Photo by Henri Migala: Asim Al-Abdullah worries about his family’s future
July 30, 2020 (El Cajon) - Everyone faces different struggles during the pandemic, such as health, financial or isolation. For a Syrian family of seven living in El Cajon, their primary struggle is psychological.
“I feel frustration every day. Every day,” patriarch Asim Al-Abdullah told ECM through a translator. “Psychologically, I get so tired.” He said, adding that frustration has “affected my work and my income.”
Al-Abdullah was diagnosed with a lung illness a month before the pandemic lockdowns began. The fact that he could be particularly susceptible to COVID-19 is contributing to how carefully his family is following public health guidelines.
He stopped going to his job at a local college, partially because he was worried about catching the virus and spreading it to his wife and five children. Due to unemployment benefits, the family is surviving financially. Instead, each family member wrestles with the emotions he described: frustration, exhaustion, and worry — even the children.
The mental health crisis gripping the nation continues to worsen as cases rise. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll released July 23 found that a majority of Americans, 53%, now say worry and stress from the coronavirus is having a negative impact on their mental health. In May, just 39% of Americans agreed with that statement.
People face a variety of mental health stressors during the pandemic, including income loss, isolation, grieving without support and worries about illness.
Al-Abdullah said that since the pandemic began, his wife and five children have stayed inside their apartment. He only leaves their spartan apartment building to get groceries. The only common area in their apartment building is a paved parking lot and a strip of grass a few feet wide between the gate to E Lexington Avenue and the two-story building. He said constantly being in their apartment is “very difficult.”
Since arriving from war-torn Syria three years ago in search of a safe haven, the family has built a new life in San Diego. Family members were seeing friends and had close connections in the community, until the pandemic hit.
“We had a normal life. We used to go out, connect, a social life. We gather with friends, but right now we don't have any of those activities,” Al-Abdullah said. “I am a very friendly person. I like to go to gatherings.”
The family now keeps in contact with those friends only via phone, which is difficult. They also faced challenges helping their children finish the end of the school year without adequate technology.
“We are suffering because we don't have access to computers. We don’t have access to technology to do everything,” Al-Abdullah said.
Now that school is over for the summer, the family feels more isolated than ever, although they have received helpful resources on how to interact and entertain their children at home.
The KFF poll found that most U.S. adults believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come amid a record number of new cases in many states, something Al-Abdullah fears as well.
“We are worried about if they do not find a vaccine. What's the future? What's our fate gonna look like?” Al-Abdullah asked. “That's what we are worried about, mostly.”
Kendra Sitton is a local editor at San Diego Community Newspaper Group who also serves as the editor of San Diego Uptown News and Downtown News. A freelance reporter for other publications, Sitton has covered land use issues in Spring Valley, Jamul and Otay for East County Magazine and also wrote a long-form piece on Deerhorn Valley's recovery 10 years after the Harris Fire.
Currently, Sitton has shifted focus to covering the border and immigrant and refugee communities. Sitton grew up in East County and returned to the region after receiving a bachelor’s degree in mass communications with minors in sociology and global cultural studies at Concordia University Irvine, graduating magna cum laude. Reporting by Sitton has been recognized by the San Diego Press Club, including awards in 2019 for articles on San Diego Police Department’s policies regarding transgender civilians, Dr. Lillian Faderman’s history of lesbianism, and the Arab film festival. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Sitton is most proud of work tracing the intersection of religion and queer people. Sitton plans to continue writing and reporting on issues that matter.
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.
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