I wanted to chat a bit about mental health today as I know it’s something a lot of people (myself included) will be struggling with at the moment, and yet it’s probably the topic that’s being mentioned the least amongst the mass media outlets. I’ve pretty much suffered with anxiety and bouts of depression since I was a teenager, and I’d say I’ve been pretty good at managing my mental health for the last few years because I’ve come to recognise the warning signs, and then implement healthy coping mechanisms that take me through the dark place and out of the other side again…
However, I don’t think anyone that suffers from mental health issues could have ever predicted having to manage their mental health amidst a global health pandemic. As we keep hearing and reading everywhere we look – these are unprecedented times. We can’t seem to escape that statement, and as with all difficult periods in history, I don’t think we even have the language or the experience to know how to sufficiently support those who need it most.
Personally, my mental health issues are linked to an ongoing female health issue that I’ve been living with since the age of Sixteen. I’ll link some of my ‘female health’ related blog posts here to avoid repeating stuff I’ve already written about in length – my treatment for which has been put on hold until the world heals and we regain some sort of ‘normality’. It’s a strange headspace to find yourself in – particularly when you want fast answers and you feel as though your body is some sort of ticking time bomb. I feel this way as a woman approaching my thirties, and it’s more than okay if you feel this way too – you are never selfish for wanting your body to work the way it should, even if we are in the middle of a pandemic that seems more significant than anything most of us have ever experienced before.
For those with anxiety, productivity can often be one of the best antidotes – it makes you feel as though you’re achieving something rather than succumbing to the tight feeling in your chest. In the recent weeks, I’ve realised just how much I rely on ‘being busy and distracted’ and just how unhealthy this is when it leads to avoidance of things that matter most in my life. Health for example is something that I’ve put on the back burner for years, so to feel as though the rest of 2020 looks so uncertain, fills me with this heightened sense of dread and frustration that’s hard to ignore. Sure, I’ll bake a banana bread like the rest of the internet and lose myself in a book for half an hour, but what I can’t seem to shake is the feeling of wasted time.
I know a lot of people will be feeling this way, and to be honest, I feel as though it’s a completely rational response – lots of things are on hold for the immediate future, and lots of people will be suffering as a result. Coronavirus has stolen top place in all of our lives, and many of us are finding ourselves feeling guilty for even whispering a personal frustration amongst the chaos because we are all more aware than ever about those that are less fortunate. Whilst this is always going to ring true and there will always be someone suffering more somewhere in the world – I do worry that this will cause people to shutdown their feelings whilst adopting the old ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude that’s personally always left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. We don’t need to lockdown our feelings just because we are in lockdown. We don’t need to handle this new wave of anxiety with grace and poise – we are entitled to be as messy and as unsteady as the world unravelling around us is.
Watching people around you take social isolation (and this new way of life) in their stride can feel particularly lonely for those that are falling apart behind the scenes. Those that are struggling to get out for that one walk a day, those that don’t have an outside spot to sunbathe in, or the guarantee of employment to eventually hurry back to. Those with loved ones they can’t see or touch without putting them at risk, and those dealing with the passing of loved ones whilst not being able to hold someone else they love close for a little while to ease the pain. It’s so tough for so many people on so many different levels and my heart truly aches for those that are being affected. My heart seriously aches for those we will lose to mental health issues because of the isolation and loneliness that this pandemic will trigger.
I’ve felt anxiety on more of a global scale this year as oppose to a personal one – whilst I do have ongoing health issues to deal with and my own personal demons that live alongside me, this year I’ve felt as though my chest has ached in a different way. I worry about the state of the world and what this means for the future. I worry about climate change and the refugee crisis. I worry that all the wrong people are in charge and we are spiralling out of control in a way that we won’t come back from. I worry about all of it.
I read recently that the belief that things are not OK is reasonable; but the belief that nothing will ever be OK ever again appears to indicate a clinical condition. I don’t currently believe that the world is doomed forever, but I do worry that we aren’t acting fast enough and I’m uncertain what kind of future this leaves us with. Once or twice a day a sudden wave of doom will come over me and it will be so all encompassing that I just need to lie down and let it pass. I know that this has been happening to a lot of people, and I think it’s completely normal when our bodies are absorbing so much new information at once. So much life changing information that’s hard to digest. I think more than ever we need to be mindful about judging others for the way they are coping, and instead choose to lead with kindness and understanding. More than ever it’s so vital to be gentle, and to reach out to those all of those around you – especially the ones who seem invincible and especially the ones baking endless banana bread.
If we could all deal with this time in a rational and sensible way then we would probably be robots in an episode of Black Mirror. We are human and that means to fuck up, act out, and damage ourselves in ways that we only seem to learn from much later on. For so many of us, this time isn’t the scariest the world has felt – this isn’t the first time we have felt alone with our thoughts or isolated from the ones we care about most. The constant washing of hands and disinfecting of surfaces aren’t new tasks to practice, and the weight of the world seems all too familiar resting on our shoulders again. For many, this time is triggering of past trauma and a constant reminder that we can’t disinfect our own minds the way we disinfect our homes, or organise our thoughts like we frantically organise our awkwardly stacked kitchen cupboards.
Many things might be on hold right now but mental health doesn’t stop or take time out just because there’s a health pandemic. Mental health ebbs and flows with the world around it, mental health changes it’s mind whenever it feels like it, and mental health often determines our ability to cope with new challenges ahead. There’s no furlough we can offer up for poor mental health – all we can do is remind ourselves that we are not alone, we will get through this, and there will be a time when we look back at this period and reminisce in the sunshine with those that we love most sat close beside us…
A few helpful resources (please leave links to any other suggestions in the comments below)
Photographs taken on an Olympus EPL9, at home
Images taken from William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest