In recent days the world has changed quickly and in ways that often feels drastically to me. I know we are all scared and shaken because I feel it too. I must have sat down at this computer dozens of times, as I try to put together my thoughts about the state of our world right now. It’s frustrating! I keep walking away feeling somehow inadequate and unable to truly address this topic. I keep asking myself, “Who am I that my opinion has any merit?” What I had to remind myself of, is that I’m a peer. I understand what it feels like to live with a mental health condition in this day and age. Just like everyone else, I am far from perfect. Some days are better than others, but I do my best to maintain my daily mental health. These radical changes in our world are creating traumatic, stressful and emotional moments for all of us. While I don’t consider myself to be in full on crisis mode, I am having a hard time finding my footing. I am struggling daily to figure out what to do with my time, how to feel, how to stay calm and to be healthy. I am not learning any new skills during this free time. Most days I am hardly productive at all., because I just don’t feel motivated. Other days, I find myself going stir crazy and just wanting to do something, anything to end the monotony. For me, that usually looks like a sudden burst of energy I use to clean or organize something. Then like magic the motivational energy leaves me and I am deflated like an old balloon.
I have spent a lot of time in thought, as I try to process my feelings. Time after all, is one thing we have in abundance right now. It occurred to me that as a society in general, we don’t have a point of reference to draw from when dealing with this pandemic. Being a Sci-Fi geek, my mind goes to movies like Outbreak or 12 Monkeys when I look for a reference point. However, the closest we can get to an actual reference point is by studying a historical pandemic event like the Spanish Flu of 1918. Neither one of those is a great way to find commonality with today’s events though. One is too far removed in relevance to our society and the other is purely fictional. We are dealing with a previously unknown set of circumstances. I find myself wondering what the long reaching effects will be on our lives. I cannot help but ponder how the events unfolding will change the way we perceive and live in our new world. For many people, myself included, my fear of the unknown is really tough to deal with. Personally, every time I read the news or think a little too hard about life’s “what ifs”; I feel overwhelmed. It sometimes feels like things will never truly be “normal” again.
If I take a step back though, and consider things from a less anxiety filled view point; I remember that finding our “new normal” is a part of life. Have you ever gotten a new job, move to a new place, graduated school, start a new relationship, had children or retired? These are all potentially BIG life changes. Each of these changes also require you to find a new normal for your life. As people living with mental health, we are especially familiar with this concept. We know when you live with mental health, your symptoms can cause your entire world to turn upside-down overnight. Any change can create anxiety and trepidation, as you face the unknowns of what will happen next. It is ultimately how you choose to face that fear.. that matters most. I think it’s important to change our perspective! Learning to view your experiences with a more positive perspective can help considerably. For instance, instead of viewing this pandemic as forced confinement, try to think of it as if you had chosen to take time off from work for a staycation. What would you be doing to enjoy your time off? What projects or ideas have you been waiting to implement, “If only I had more time?’ It’s your time, you get to choose how to spend it. No need to put pressure on yourself, there are no rules. Just do your best to make healthy choices for yourself and those around you.
It is very important to maintain your healthy coping techniques right now! Rather than waiting for an anxiety attack to strike you may want to consider starting a daily mental health practice. It could be anything, meditation, yoga, a warm bath, listening to quiet music to calm your mind. I find using my sense of humor in tough situations is one of my strengths. It is also one of my favorite tools in my mental health tool box. I enjoy yoga on occasions, diaphragmatic breathing, escaping in a book or movie, hand sewing and snuggles with loved ones. Whatever helps you feel calm and brings your stress levels down is probably ok. If you are not sure where to start, reach out to your medical practitioner and ask for ideas. Talk with peers and see what works for them. You can find books and videos online. There are apps and videos that will walk you through a coping technique such as a guided meditation. NAMI offers a variety of great services to help you, all for free. Remember to mix things up. A routine is very helpful for stability but, if there isn’t some variety your bound to feel a bit stir crazy. Try not to let yourself fall into negative habits such as sleeping your time away, stress/boredom eating, or lack of good hygiene. Do your best to limit your exposure to news relating to the pandemic. Be careful to check only reputable sources such as the CDC or WHO.
Many of us living with mental health are also very familiar with social distancing. In a weirdly real way those of us that live with mental health are champions at that. Score one for us crazies! We have a previously unknown usable talent. No one would ever have suspected us of having this social distancing super power. I mean let’s face it unless we were planning on being hermits, monks or involved in a zombie apocalypse it wouldn’t have seemed like a super power before. It is now! Don’t get me wrong... I am in no way implying that social distancing is a healthy practice to maintain for long periods of time during “ordinary” life circumstances. I am simply attempting to show you how you can take a negative and turn it into a positive. In this case that normally unhealthy habit we have to isolate ourselves from society. The question is, how do we take that familiarity with the unhealthy isolation, and change it into a positive? How do we use our super power for good?
A great place to start is by taking advantage of the technology we have available to us. Most people are able to make and receive phone calls as well as text messages. Another alternative is video chatting. Unlike a traditional phone call or text message, video chat allows you to see the social cues in a person’s facial expression and body language. Because of that the experience is actually more socially enriching than a traditional phone call or text. My daughter is currently using video chat to keep in touch with her classmates and teacher. The kids have taken it a step further and are video chatting while playing online games together. Whether you use a video game console, apps on your phone or play on your computer, there are many multiplayer online gaming experiences. Pick one so you can chat and play with friends, just like my daughter does. Just the other day, my friends and I played Cards Against Humanity together. We used Zoom to video conference, and the web site playingcards.Io. It was a blast! We are doing it again next week. Another option is a program called Kast which works with other streaming services such as Hulu or Amazon Prime. Netflix offers a program called Netflix Party where you can watch movies or TV together. Use your creative ingenuity, options like this give you lots of ways to have gatherings with your friends and family without anyone leaving their homes. You could join a social media group and talk with lots of people with similar interests. Many libraries offer free audio book and digital books that can be checked out from the comfort of your home. Choose a book and start an online book club. Take an online class or watch a webinar. Want to stay active? Planet fitness offers a free work out daily on its Facebook page.
If you are lucky enough to be sharing your living space with other people consider starting a family game night. Have a family dinner and chat at the table. Check out a museum together by taking a virtual tour. Instagram live is offering a variety of free concerts you could attend with your housemates. Sing karaoke with your kids or have a dance party with your dogs. Dress up for dinner, heck dress to the nines in fancy clothes you would normally only wear, to a special event. Find a way to make the ordinary extraordinary. There are a lot more options out there. I am just giving you examples I found with a quick online search and a little of my imagination.
Remember that even though we are being asked to be socially distant, many of us get to do it from our home base. If for any reason you are unable to shelter in your home base, I hope you will find ways to bring your home base to you. We all have a place we feel most comfortable. This is the place where you are able to be yourself. There are probably things you love as well as people or animals you care about in your place. Those things and companions add to your feelings of comfort and safety. Your place is where you feel most grounded. It is where you can do your best mental health maintenance. This is your home base. It is where you have the most direct control of the world around you. You choose what happens in your personal space. You know there are many ways you can make your comfortable safe space feel a little less isolated. Take a moment to relish in that thought. This stronghold is where you are being asked to wait for things to get better outside of your doors. I personally take great comfort in this knowledge.
I felt it was important to write to you about my feelings and thoughts in regards to this pandemic for several reasons. Firstly, I know for a fact that writing is a great way for me to work out my own personal demons when it comes to any subject that creates a bad mental health scenario for me. I assure you, I needed to write. This pandemic event has mental health triggers written all over it. Self-care is more important than ever! Secondly, I know from my own experience, as well as from the many people that have shared the same feeling with me; knowing you are not alone is vital! I know that I am not alone in my fears and anxieties about life right now. I want you to know that you aren’t either! We gain strength from sharing our experiences with one another. Third, I want to encourage you all to look out for your fellow human beings. Check in on neighbors, friends and family. We need each other! Offer support, consideration, love and basic human decency to each other. Let’s create an environment of kindness, generosity and togetherness in our willingness to help each other from a safe distance. It is my hope that in sharing my experiences and thoughts today, we will all have a little more peace of mind as we adjust to our new normal. I hope we will offer comfort to each other by sharing our stories with each other. No matter what the future brings, we are all a part of this world together. Let’s make it a world we are proud of. Stay well and safe my friends.