Is Your Mental Health Declining During the Pandemic? You Are Not Alone…
For quite some time I have joked that God thinks I am hard of hearing and that He needs to scream at me to get a message. Case in point, this year I picked rest as my word of the year. I thought I needed to figure out how to slow down, enjoy the moment, not over-commit myself to so much. Somewhere around late February, after I'd committed to yet another summer camp teaching position, it must have become apparent to God that I was not following through on my word of the year. So, what does He do? He shut down EVERYTHING to make sure I have to rest and slow down. All I could do after getting the call that I would be switching to digital teaching and be at home, alone, for an undetermined amount of time was look up at the heavens and laugh. Well played, God.
All joking aside, when the pandemic and quarantine first began, I was a little nervous. Not only am I really bad at slowing down (hence the neon sign from God to do so), but I am also not great at being alone a lot. I was just starting to feel like I had my feet back under me after the divorce and had almost mastered cooking for one again. But I wasn't quite prepared to be in my own company, and my own head, all day. I am by nature a very social person. I teach. I have 85 kids a day to educate and interact with. During my planning period I am usually visiting with other teachers and walking laps around the school to get my steps in. I am active in my church and on a coed softball team that is more family than just team. I had finally started to tiptoe into dating. And all the sudden, all of that had to stop. It was not a good feeling.
As I looked at my friends that have spouses and kids, I could joke that I was thankful my only company was a dog that doesn't talk, but truly, I was lonely and struggling. I didn't feel like I could say that because we were quarantining for a good purpose. It was a safety-for-all thing that I understood. My anxiety and mental health issues didn't want to get on the same page with me though. I was envious of those that had a spouse to interact with when I was home alone with no human contact for weeks on end. I was trying to pretend like it was great being able to eat popcorn for dinner in my undies since there was no one to judge me on my behavior. I let my friends vent about how lucky I was not to have kids, so I didn't have to educate and entertain at the same time. I could put on the happy face and lighthearted social media posts with the best of them. At least for a while.
About a month into quarantine I had a phone appointment with my mental health doctor and finally everything spilled out. How isolated I felt. How lonely I was. How scared I would get some days at the idea of going to the store even though I wanted to get out of the house and feel normal for a moment or two. I was able to babble and cry and express how hard it was to be alone with my thoughts all the time. I was sure she was going to tell me I was overreacting and that when this was all over, I'd feel foolish for making such a big deal about things. I mean, I was feeling pretty crazy!
Lucky for me she is a better shrink than I am a patient!
She told me that if I wasn't feeling out of sorts, she would be far more worried about me. She reminded me that this is an abnormal situation that no one was prepared to take on and that anyone who wasn't getting a little emotional about the upheaval of their life would be an anomaly. She reminded me that dealing with anxiety was already a hard enough challenge for me, so it was completely understandable that my brain may be going into overdrive about even the smallest things right now trying to find what I consider normalcy in the chaos. And she reminded me that I'm not alone. I may be lonely, but I have a network of family, friends, colleagues, and mental health professionals that are just a call away when things get to be too much to handle.
Once my brain was able to process all of the things we talked about I was finally able to open up to my friends about my struggles and it was amazing to me how many of them felt the same way. I know I'm not the only one out there struggling. So many of us are alone for one reason or another. Maybe your spouse is deployed during this crazy time and you are not just alone, but now unsure when homecoming will ever come. Maybe you're an essential worker that is camping out at work to protect your family from germs you could potentially bring home. Maybe you're in the post-divorce phase where you're trying to figure out who you are on your own again. Whatever the reason, you may be lonely, but know you are not alone. Reach out to your friends, your family, your coworkers that you trust. Let them know you are struggling. You will be surprised by how many of them might understand better than expected what it means to be all on your own during such a scary time. And if talking with them is not enough, there are so many mental health resources available to you now. Take advantage of them and let a professional walk you through the chaos until you feel a bit more grounded. There is nothing wrong with admitting you need that help. Trust me on that.
Mental Health America – Provides resources for finding local mental health professional, digital outreach, and care specific to your living situation.
Veterans Crisis Line – Call 1-800-273-8255 press 1, or text 838255, to get help from someone trained to help the veteran community.
Crisis Text Line – Text 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. The website also has articles and advice for those just looking for coping techniques but that do not want to talk to someone yet.
American Psychological Association – Provides resources for finding local mental health professional, digital outreach, and care specific to your living situation.